Monday, October 13, 2008

One of my all-time favorite articles...

The following is the full reproduction of an article my dad gave to me to read back in 2005.... a rabbi's outlook/perspective on relationships and marriage. Of the many articles my dad has forwarded to me, the message of this one has stayed with me. The D.H. Lawrence excerpt at the end is particularly powerful. **I guess looking back at my posts over the past month.. I tend to lean to the sentimental/nostalgic. I am aware of this however I can do nothing but embrace this trend/personality characteristic. Please bear with me and my sigh-worthy postings.

The Spiritual State: A Voyage Apart in the Same Direction
Marc Gellman
Newsweek Web Exclusive

Since the author of The Spiritual State in June is overscheduled with weddings, this seems to me an appropriate time to tell you everything I know about brides and grooms. I have watched a parade of them enter my office, enter the holy state of matrimony and enter the world as its newest family. Marrying these people (and naming babies) has made every fractious and interminable committee meeting I have ever attended seem to be merely a minor annoyance.

At first, 33 years ago, I used to ask everything and listen to everything brides and grooms said as they gurgled out their love for each other. Now I ask less and listen and watch more. This is what I have learned. I am sure that other preacher folk have learned the same things from touching other springtime loves. Do they touch and do they laugh? This is the single most important question I ask about people in love who want to get married. They are all I look for now.

Brides and grooms who do not touch each other, hold hands, sneak a kiss, touch the other's cheek or brush away a stray lock of hair, but instead sit apart as if they were riding on a bus alone, they have no chance. Of course I cannot know this for sure, but I am sure nevertheless. They may stay married for 60 years but they have no chance of ever having even a single day of true passion and true love. I am not looking for physical lust. What I am looking for is the sheer joy of touching the one you love. You can learn this lesson in death as well. We bury our loved one in the ground and put a marker stone on top of the grave so that we can touch the stone that touches the earth that touches the one we love. Touching is the way love begins and it is the way we try to keep it from ending even in the face of death. Once, at a funeral I was told by a couple's children that they used to walk in on their mom and dad slow dancing together in the living room. I was entranced by that image because I know that in dancing with the one you love, it is never the music that matters, it is always the touching.

I also watch to see if the brides and grooms sitting across from me laugh at anything. I am definitely funny enough to deliver some sure-fire laugh lines, but even in the absence of my own humor, I watch to see if they find certain things about their wedding, or their relationship or the world in general so silly, so amusing, so ironic, so joyous that they just cannot hold back a giggle or a laugh. Unlike touching, which is an obvious consequent of physical passion, laughter is not. Laughter can be caused by many things, love is but one of them. But for me, laughter reveals trust and joyousness, humility and helplessness in the face of love. In older people who have not been Botoxed, I read their wrinkles for signs of laughter. A life of laughter puts laughter wrinkles at the corners of your eyes (crow's feet be damned--they are laughter wrinkles). Conversely, a life of frowning imprints itself on your face with frown wrinkles between your eyebrows. You can pretend to be an optimist or a cynic, but your wrinkles will always give your real self away. When brides and grooms giggle and laugh it shows me that they are genuinely happy to be with each other, and that they are similar enough to find the same things funny.

I will marry people who do not touch, and I will marry people who do not laugh, but if they don't touch or laugh I try to talk up the virtues of the other rabbi down the street or I tell them that on the day of their proposed wedding I suddenly realized that I will be in Patagonia herding penguins. If you are in love, or if you are watching your child or grandchild or friend fall in love, take my advice: don't listen to anything they say about their love for each other. Just watch and listen and ask the only questions I ask: "Do they touch and do they laugh?" It really is all that matters.

One final thing. I always ask brides and grooms what they love about each other, and then I listen to their lists. If the list is filled with qualities that will not fade in time, I know they are OK. If the list is filled with self absorbed or outward attributes, I use the penguin line. And if anyone dares borrow the line from the movie Jerry Maguire, "he completes me," I threaten them with bodily harm. Mostly, all brides know what they love about their fiances. Mostly, all grooms know what they love but have no real ability to put it into words. That's OK with me. Men are limited creatures. Except for David and Dana. When I asked them what they loved about each other, Dana said, "Once we were driving over the Triborough Bridge on a blazing hot summer Sunday. There was a guy at the approach to the toll booths selling newspapers. David bought all the guy's newspapers and told him to go get out of the sun." Then David said, "Dana teaches kindergarten, and one morning she was sitting on the bed naked working out some project with little stick-on letters for the kids. She would not go out for breakfast until she finished her lesson for her kids. When she was finally finished, she got out of bed and walked away from me to the bathroom. I saw that a little silver 'A' was stuck to her butt." They both asked me why I was crying, and I just could not explain that in my line of work you just don't hear perfect answers that often.

When I marry brides and grooms who have passed the laugh/touch test and who love things about each other that have nothing to do with their abs or boobs, I bless them. Rarely, and only if they are like David and Dana, I will share with them these unpublished words about marriage written by D. H. Lawrence from the Modern Library edition's introduction to "Lady Chatterly's Lover":

So it must be: a voyage apart in the same direction. Grapple the two vessels together, lash them side by side, and the first storm will smash them to pieces. This is marriage, in the bad weather of modern civilization. But leave the two vessels apart, to make their voyage to the same port, each according to its own skill and power, and an unseen life connects them, a magnetism which cannot be forced. And that is marriage as it will be when all this is broken down.

And then, to myself, as they are dashing off to eat the little hot dogs with the crusts around them, I offer a personal prayer, also in Lawrence's words: "May you have the courage of your tenderness." That is my prayer now for all the brides and all the grooms who are just beginning their voyage apart in the same direction.

P.S. Please let me know where to send the gift.