I’ve been reading an amazing book this week. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. Strout is a beautiful writer, so skilful with words and images. Her work puts me in mind of Alice Munro, and of another Canadian writer, David Adams Richards. I love how all three of these writers make me feel as if I’m crawling right inside the lives of their characters. Characters who are not obvious heroes, who are not necessarily beautiful or exciting, but who are living ordinary, often difficult, lives with dignity and honour.
Yesterday, I plunked myself down amidst the muddle and mess of our renovations to have a cup of tea and a short read. I was struck by a scene in Olive Kitteridge where Olive’s son, Christopher, gets married to a woman he’s known for only six weeks. During the ceremony, Olive feels a sense of disquiet, of fear for her son. Of course she wants him to find happiness, to not be lonely, but still, she’s wary of her new daughter-in-law, and worries “at the way the bride was smiling up at Christopher, as though she actually knew him. Because did she know what he looked like in first grade when he had a nosebleed in Miss Lampley’s class? Did she see him when he was a pale, slightly pudgy child, his skin broken out in hives because he was afraid to take a spelling test? No….”
This scene had me musing all afternoon. As Hubby and I worked to put our house to rights, I thought about marriage. About that old cliché of two becoming one. About the idea and the reality of matrimony, holy or otherwise. How two people who probably, as Olive points out, know little about each other commit to each other for life. Supposedly. And how the marriage ceremony itself does little to unify a couple, to make two people become one.
|Climb every mountain together? Yukon, 2006|
That scene in Olive Kitteridge had me thinking the rest of the day about my own marriage. How well Hubby and I thought we knew each other when we got married, after having dated for a year, and lived together for another three. How much we’ve discovered about each other in the almost twenty-nine years since then. And what has made us more unified as a couple, what has helped us to become if not exactly “one,” then certainly more “one” than we were on our wedding day. Ha.
Because that’s what marriage is, to me at least. An adventure where we have to figure things out on the fly, make it up, so to speak, as we go along. And looking back it’s the moments where boulders were bearing down upon us, where we had to commandeer a truck and take off after a passel of Nazis, figuratively speaking of course, which helped us to move forward in our relationship. We faced adversity, figured things out together, and were stronger as a couple as a result.
Hubby and I have not had to face the kinds of challenges that some of our family and friends have faced, that’s for sure. I know that some challenges are so devastating they can break up a relationship, rather than make it stronger. But still, we’ve weathered loss, and illness, and other stressful situations together. And we’ve learned about ourselves and each other, what to do, and what not to do, in order to best support each other.
Freezing on Mount Kosciuszko, New South Wales, Australia 2008
Like how I learned that nursing is not my forté when Hubby had his heart and his shoulder operations. And that he doesn’t like to be coddled. Conversely, he’s learned that coddling is the way to my heart of hearts. And so when he’s sick I leave him alone, and when I’m sick he panders to me. When we were in New Zealand a few years ago, I had a killer cold: sore throat, couldn’t talk, felt like death. I woke up in our motel room to find that he’d been to the grocery store and bought oatmeal to make me porridge for breakfast, plus fresh lemon for tea, and chicken noodle soup for lunch. Then he “loaded me into the car” (as he tells it) and we set off for our next destination. We had our camp stove with us, and at noon, he pulled off the road beside a farmer’s field, and made me soup and tea for lunch, while I slept on a blanket in the sunshine. We don’t have any pictures of me looking dreadful that day in New Zealand, but the shot above is of me not feeling too swift the day we tried to hike up Mount Kosciuszko in Australia. Clearly I had not come prepared for the temperatures or the wind chill.
Travel has been a great relationship coach for us over the years. When it’s just us, together in a strange place, well, we have no option but to rely on each other. And we have been in some strange places. We still laugh about the night on another Australia trip when we stayed in the worst hotel ever. We’d booked a room through a tourist information site a few hours away, where the lady agreed that a night in a classic Aussie pub, in a small town in the middle of Western Australia, would be great fun. And from the pictures, it seemed the Goomalling Tavern with its shady second story wrap-around balcony was a classic, just what we were looking for. Ha.
|Not happy at Not the Ritz, in Goomalling, 2008|
|The exit to the balcony at Hell Hole Hotel.|
|When the road is closed, I guess you just have to find a different route. Kind of make it up as you go along.|
So how about you my friends? Where do you stand on that old cliché about two becoming one? Have you had to dodge any boulders, or chase any Nazis, metaphorically speaking of course, in your relationships?