Tag Archives: Love

About Us

Today is the anniversary of the day Jim and I got married. I’d love to tell you that it was a perfect fall day like today, sunny with crisp, cool air, but I don’t remember. In fact I think there were clouds for at least part of the day.

I do remember standing at the front of the small chapel with Jim, our family members in pews behind us. Jim’s sister played guitar as my brother-in-law sang “The Wedding Song.” The church organist indulged us with harpsichord music, including “Ode to Joy” for the recessional. I remember our wedding reception, surely the most boring one in history. Even I was bored! And the photos, almost all taken with the top of the tallest person’s head missing.

Like our wedding, in some ways our marriage is really ordinary, and in other ways it’s quite unusual. I’ve learned over time that no one has a very good view into someone else’s marriage. What on the outside looks very solid can be built on sand. Other marriages may look destined for failure, but in reality be full of strength we can’t see. So I am not the best judge of what parts of our life are unusual and what parts are typical.

What I do know is few women grow up planning to marry a man who already has two young children. When our older daughter was 19 and the younger 16, we had our son. If only in that, our life together has been unusual. But I think there is more. For more than three decades we’ve worked as partners, rarely at odds on any substantial issues. Long ago we understood the value of “giving in” to the person who cares more about something. Fortunately neither of us is a recreational fighter, and our values are so similar that giving in doesn’t need to happen much.

We find the same things funny, as well. Jim could always make me laugh, from when we first met. He told me jokes about the hippopotamus or the school bus… We made up limericks and word play as we drove from one place to another. Now we tell each other stories about the people and places we see, making up long narratives about what led to the current scene, or what the outcome will be. The stories almost inevitably end in laughter.

He taught in three different high schools from the time I met him, and finally retired from school teaching in 2007. Then he spent several years as an office worker before retiring again. I was a student, an office worker, a teacher, at varying times. His work was in physics, mine in finance.

Our professions were in different realms, but our outside interests overlap. We both love sharing and teaching on our blogs, and in person when opportunities arise. Politics and policy are important to us. Our similar values place us on the same side of most policy issues. We both love hiking, and try to stay physically fit through activity and what we eat.

Is this like most couples? I don’t know. What I do know is, whether or not our marriage stands apart, Jim does.

To put it simply, Jim is the best person I know. He treats other people with respect and kindness that seems to be exceptional in the world these days. The way he treats others is not for show. It’s how he is, and how he also treats me, his children, and his closest family members and friends.

More than that, Jim is a rock. He is MY rock. Some people think rocks are boring because they don’t change, but this is not how I see rocks or Jim. Rocks are solid and tangible, but not unchanging through time. They can have many layers, each with a little different character. They wear and weather, changing their shape and revealing new colors. Forces can change their location, leaving them to settle into new circumstances. Sometimes they sport colorful lichens or ferns that grow on rough surfaces or in crevices.

Jim is solid, a rock in my life. He changes but is not fickle or surprising. He reveals new layers to me through time. He makes himself at home in new locations, finding comfort even after upheaval. And he makes room in his life for color, enjoying adventures both at home and away.

Is our marriage unusual? Again, I don’t know. When Jim and I attended a wedding a few years ago, those at our reception table commented about how long they’ve been married. When I noted the length of our union, one of the guests asked, “And how much of that has been happy?” The question startled me and made me wonder. Is a happy marriage so atypical that a question like that is warranted? I answered, “Almost all of it!”

Indeed there have been unhappy days and times of great stress. We’ve negotiated our way through numerous transitions, with multiple homes and states and jobs over time, with distant family support, with our age difference.

Even so, the sun shines most days, as it does today. And when it does not, I have a rock to shelter me.

Jim here… I want to add a few things. You surprised me with this. That’s one of the things about you I like. Thank you for the kind and flattering words.

You are honest and generous. You let people know how you feel without playing games. You try to make the world a better place for those near you. You bring color and beauty to our home. Those are only a few of the reasons I love you. I am blessed.

The Day We Met | 7-8-1980

It was hot that July. I was attending summer school to earn my master’s degree. I sat down to lunch in the dorm cafeteria next to Dan, my resident assistant. Almost immediately, Dan asked if I had met Melanie sitting at the other end of the table. Oh, I had seen her walk through the cafeteria several times. I had definitely noticed her. We exchanged greetings and ate lunch.

Melanie and I got better acquainted quickly. I won’t go into detail except to say it got even hotter that July. Then, the darnedest thing happened. The AC in my dorm broke. I had to find a cooler place to study. I wondered if Melanie would let me study with her. Lucky for me, she was okay with that. What a great summer that was.

Now it is 35 years later. To celebrate the day we met, we decided to do two things. In the morning we visited the National Czeck & Slovak Museum in Cedar Rapids, IA. It had suffered a devastating flood in 2008 sitting next to the Cedar River. By 2012, it was moved and raised and re-opened. Details are in a video in the link above. We had lunch nearby in the old Czeck Village at the Meat Market and Cafe. What great food it was.

After lunch we drove 15 miles through the rolling Iowa countryside to the town of Solon. We changed into hiking shoes and shorts for a brisk hike through the woods, prairie restorations, and along the shore of Lake MacBride. It was good to get out and walk off some of the food from our delicious lunch. Here are a few highlights of the scenes along the way.

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Noxious Weeds Where Love Should Grow

Some people have weeds growing in their hearts, noxious weeds like hate, anger, resentment, disrespect, greed, and self-righteousness. They have let these invaders flourish too long, crowding out love, humility, respect, and kindness.

Yesterday was one more day that showed us the best and worst of people. The best and worst of family, even. Early yesterday a close family member called Jim and me, excitedly telling us of the Supreme Court ruling on legality of same-sex marriage. In a happy glow we enjoyed Facebook posts of our friends celebrating for much of the day. For me, it was expected that my friends would approve of the ruling or be silent. I have a very short friends list on purpose.

Not everyone was so fortunate to bask in that happiness on Facebook. Another family member was deeply hurt seeing some comments from a nephew. The nephew is one of those whose heart is weedy, full of poison. That nephew’s weeds, in fact, have acted as the catalyst for several major rifts in the family over the last few years. My relationship with him broke last fall after I privately told him he was treating someone badly, that I thought he was a better person than that. Turns out he isn’t.

There is no means to breed hate and disrespect out of people. It is resistant even to culturing. That nephew has siblings who are loving and accepting, who don’t see it as their role in the world to point out everyone else’s “sins.”

Siblings. Why are some loving while others grow up with hate? Why do some choose to be respectful of the person, even if they disagree with the opinion, while others feel that it’s their right and duty to disagree in the most tactless or deliberately hurtful ways?

Those who are habitually disrespectful seem to take one of two defenses. Either you misinterpreted what they said, or they have the right to say it and if you’re hurt, it’s your fault. Either way, they are blameless in their own eyes. Defending yourself doesn’t teach them, as I found out with the woman who used to be my sister. After I defended myself against years of her disrespect, she shut me out of her life. While that has been a blessing, the amazing thing is that she sent Jim an email urging him to take me to a psychiatrist for my “paranoia disorder.” I guess standing up for myself was seen as paranoia by her. Weeds…

You can’t teach people things they don’t want to know. It doesn’t matter how reasoned your arguments are, or how correct your facts, or how lovingly you present yourself. People who are filled with negativity cling to that, and they are unmoved. The only ones who can pull the weeds and cultivate more love are the same ones whose hearts are weedy.

I’m tired of hate. I am tired of family discord. I am tired of weeds growing where love should grow. I’m tired of the regular upsets created by the toxins of particular family members. To the extent I can, I avoid them, but that doesn’t prevent a spillover effect.

For me, I choose to tend my garden. Where I can, I will cultivate an attitude of love. I choose love.

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Love Anyway

[I posted this about a year and a half ago. It’s a helpful read when I’m feeling sorry for myself and less generous. This is a good time to post it again.]

There is a quotation often attributed, incorrectly, to Mother Teresa. One segment of it reads, “People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.” Certainly the generosity expressed here is reminiscent of the blessed sister. But they were not her words.

I quoted a portion of the same text about a year ago. At the time the attribution I saw, and used, was incorrect. Since then I’ve learned the truth, and want to share with you the whole, original version. It was written by Dr. Kent M. Keith.

The Paradoxical Commandments

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

© Copyright Kent M. Keith 1968, renewed 2001

http://www.paradoxicalcommandments.com/

Lines | Connecting Past to Future

My daughters joined me to visit teaching colleagues on July 2, 1979. They had some sparklers in preparation for the July 4th celebrations. Of course, the girls wanted to play with them. It was getting dark as evening neared. The camera needed a longer shutter speed of a half second or more. The pictures turned out much better than I expected. Sparks flew and burst into small branches before dying out. What fun we had.

In 1985, the Chicago Tribune Magazine ran a photo contest. People were invited to submit photographs with the theme ‘Lines‘. These two pictures came to mind from six years before. I submitted this top photograph in the color category. In October I got a big envelope in the mail from the Tribune with a framed certificate inside. I won second place and $250.

Fast forward to today. These beautiful daughters have children of their own. Some are the same ages as in these photographs. Much has changed in our lives. A few things are the same. I hope they will be able to look back a generation or more and see some of the lines that connect their past to what came about later. I hope they will be lines full of happiness and not much sadness.

Love Anyway

There is a quotation often attributed, incorrectly, to Mother Teresa. One segment of it reads, “People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.” Certainly the generosity expressed here is reminiscent of the blessed sister. But they were not her words.

I quoted a portion of the same text about a year ago. At the time the attribution I saw, and used, was incorrect. Since then I’ve learned the truth, and want to share with you the whole, original version. It was written by Dr. Kent M. Keith.

The Paradoxical Commandments

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

© Copyright Kent M. Keith 1968, renewed 2001

http://www.paradoxicalcommandments.com/

Who is that guy?

He was handsome, with round blue eyes and dark thick lashes, his ready smile showing off his straight teeth. Time after time I saw him in the cafeteria line, and I was curious about his presence with college-aged students, his age outside the norm. He was dressed too casually to be faculty or staff, but my limited imagination didn’t help me answer the question: who is that guy?

All of nineteen, I was still a kid that summer. I was unmotivated and adrift, in college with no purpose, not in danger of going under, but riding the surface, swept by currents I couldn’t master. Summer school and the university job I held were just a means to bide my time, until what, I didn’t know.

The cafeteria was a broad expanse, pale linoleum floor underneath, long rows of tables end to end. Finding friends and acquaintances in the room was easier than one might think, as there was little to impede the view from one side of the big room to the other.

At lunch one early July day I found and sat with my friend Dan, one of the resident assistants in the dorm attached to the dining hall. “Who is that guy?” I asked, gesturing to the man twenty feet away from me. Dan looked that way.

“Don’t you know Jim?”

I shook my head. “Who is he?” I repeated.

“He’s on my floor,” he said to me, before hollering down the table, “Hey Jim!” Jim turned our way. “Hey Jim, have you met Melanie?”

Jim shook his head and smiled at me, waving hello.

A high school science teacher, Jim was in the first summer of a three-year masters program and was living on campus, the cheapest and most convenient housing for students like him. His real home was an apartment more than three hours away.

We got acquainted quickly after that, falling in love faster than good sense dictated. We ate pizza and drank beer and necked in the garden next to the biology building. We watched the Perseids meteor shower and walked around the pond, camped in the state park, rolled hedge apples. We listened to Bob Seger and James Taylor and dreamed of the day we could be together every day, not just five days a week for another five weeks.

I told my mother I’d fallen in love, something I expect she’d heard before. I told her about the two pretty little girls, ten and eight years old, and she told me it was foolish to get involved. It wasn’t the only bad advice she ever gave me.

Today we celebrate our 32nd wedding anniversary. Recently someone asked how much of that had been happy. The question dumbfounded me. “Almost all of it,” I said.

I’ve heard other people answer that question other ways. Despite our age difference, despite the fact we weren’t an obvious couple, despite our differing interests, we have the important things in common. Our values are similar, our sense of humor is similar, we appreciate the same activities, the same aesthetics. He could always make me laugh. So yes, almost all of it has been happy.

We still eat pizza and drink beer and neck in the garden, walk around the pond, watch for meteors, and roll hedge apples. We listen to more blues and jazz now than pop and rock. We still love our pretty little girls, with children of their own, and our son and his fiancee.

Today we celebrate our 32nd wedding anniversary. What would have happened if I hadn’t asked Dan, “Who is that guy?” What would have happened if we hadn’t been so foolish, he to get involved with a nineteen-year-old girl, me to get involved with a man who already had two children?

Today we celebrate our 32nd wedding anniversary. I love you, Jim. I’m ready for 32 more.

Last Night I Lost My Husband

In a crowd of thousands, I was helpless, unable to move. Jim, my love and companion for 33 years, was gone. And rarely have I felt more alone.

We went downtown for the soul music festival. Icon Buddy Guy was to perform as the headliner of the evening. The weather clear, the air silky on my skin. Bass thundered, echoing in the canyon of buildings. People stood or sat listening, bobbing their heads with the music. Those moving wound their way slowly, snakelike in the cool of evening.

The intersection was blocked, stage to the north, canvas sling seats filling the space south of it. Some concession tents and the “beer garden” took up much of Iowa Avenue to the east. We got blocked trying to move through, to find our friends. A two-step here, a triple-step there, not in keeping with the music… We dodged others as we moved.

Jim got caught. I side-stepped the blockage and kept moving, him behind me at that point. I stopped a few feet away, when I reached the corner. I stood next to a man so I wasn’t in the way, and looked down or around or … something. When I looked back, Jim was gone. He’d passed me and I couldn’t see him. I couldn’t see him crossing the street, and I couldn’t see him going down the sidewalk. He was just gone.

I waited but kept looking, and started to feel a little panicky. Nothing too bad would happen — I knew where we parked our car and in the worst case I could just go back there and wait for him. But I still couldn’t see him. I thought about how we never take our cell phones when we’re together, because we’re together, so we don’t need them. So I couldn’t call him or text him.

Helpless, I waited a few minutes, just looking for him.

All of a sudden he was with me. He’d thought I was right behind him, and then I disappeared from view. So he stopped to wait for me. He hadn’t followed me at all.

We were only a few feet from each other, but there were so many people we couldn’t see each other.

Losing him, even in such an innocuous way, rattled me. It was a vision of aloneness I’ve no wish to recreate.

We’re home. We’re fine. I lost him, but he found me. And we’re where we belong. Together.

84

by Melanie in IA

He reaches for me, his hand thin and spotted. The skin is smooth but cool. I’ll need to trim his nails tomorrow. I pull the faded quilt up to his shoulders but he shrugs it back. Blue eyes, wet with age and grief, he cries for losing me.

The machines maintain their low hum. Pushed back against the wall, they are unobtrusive. Still I know they’re there, monitoring his heart, feeding him.

We did not want this, but we cannot seem to make it stop.

I stand and turn so he won’t see my own tears. Catching a glance at the mirror, I wonder who that is with white hair. Where did the girl go, with her long brown hair? The girl who fell in love so long ago … is she here, too?

What about the young man, dark beard and lean body? I miss him, though he lies quietly near me.

***

The day we met I was all of nineteen, captivated by those blue eyes, the straight white smile. Jim and I got acquainted quickly, falling in love faster than good sense dictated. We ate pizza and drank beer and necked in the garden next to the biology building, floral scents mingling with our own.

Swift summer days filled with each other, against each other. The heat was intense, recorded temperatures matching our desires. We watched the Perseids meteor shower and walked around the pond, camped in the state park, rolled hedge apples. We listened to Bob Seger and James Taylor and dreamed of being together every day, not just five days a week for another five weeks.

We married more than a year after meeting, in the small chapel of a large Protestant church. The ceremony and reception were small, planned and paid for by us, only family in attendance. The reception featured cake and punch and bored guests, eager to retreat. I’d hoped the two families would interact but they did not. The wedding photos, taken by Jim’s brother, each reliably cut off the top inch of the tallest person’s head. It was not the wedding of anyone’s dreams, but it served the purpose.

Still, things happen in a marriage that can change its course, for better or for worse. Things happen that a young woman can’t anticipate on her wedding day. Deaths and births, job changes, other people, all have an impact.

***

A small moan draws my attention back to him, where he dozes restlessly. I sit again, holding his hand, assuring him I will not leave. He quiets.

***

We’re unusually compatible, I tell people. Despite our age difference, despite the fact we weren’t an obvious couple, we have the important things in common. Our values are similar, our sense of humor is similar, we appreciate the same activities, the same aesthetics. He could always make me laugh. Together 64 years, almost all of it happy.

The hardest year was the year I made the quilt covering him now. “Quilt therapy,” I called it, a way to focus on something besides my own stew of emotion. I made it without a plan, not knowing what it would be. Like a marriage, perhaps, each layer built on the one before. I cut and stitched, trying to fit the pieces together.

The quilt is faded and worn now, like him, like my memories. I do remember how distant I felt that year, on a journey alone through dark and uncomfortable places. With an anxiety disorder that came from nowhere, it took over every part of my life. I was overwhelmed with questions I couldn’t answer, pieces I couldn’t fit together. The questions spun through my mind, like the chorus of a bad song played endlessly for months. What happened? Why did it happen? How could I fix it?

Self-doubt replaced self-confidence, as I questioned my judgment and behavior. Panic attacks left me doubled over, gasping and helpless. Obsessed with my own concerns, I withdrew from people who cared about me.

We’d always felt like one body, not two, as if an organ transplant between us would be perfectly accepted, no risk of rejection. That year was different. I could not mold myself to him, relax into the oneness we’d always enjoyed. Our pieces did not fit. Yet he had to hold me; I clung to him, begging him not to leave me. Though all of my focus was away from him, that was the year I needed him most.

He did not waver. Enfolding me day after day as I muffled my sobs against his chest, he reassured me, though I could not be reassured.

***

Again I want to beg him, don’t leave me. Again I cannot be reassured. Surely he will leave me, and soon.

Our son will arrive tomorrow, joining the rest of us. He looks so much like Jim, but with green eyes, not blue. And the beard. He never could talk Jim into shaving it, and Jim never could talk him into growing one.

The beard. I turn back to him, to this old man, and touch his beard. Petting the side of his face, I’m rewarded with a slight smile.

The machines continue to hum. We did not want this. Our son will arrive tomorrow. Maybe, just maybe, then it will stop.

Mom

by Melanie in IA

The years jumble in my mind, some years of soul-lifting joy, others of great sorrow, pain, or stress. They look like baseball cards with the year on top instead of the player’s name, a couple of images, a few stats, the cards all tumbled out of their box, out of order. Fifty-one years, 51 cards, all out of order. The stats have smudged and run, lines of text fallen off and out of place. I sort through carefully, delicately moving the text back onto the correct cards, sorting, taking in the images again.

Just like with any box of baseball cards, many of them seem ordinary, others distinguished. Cards from my adulthood, 1980, ’81, ’88, ’92, … Mom appears on some of these cards and then she is gone, 1997 the last.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my mom, the memories jumbled, the pain and sorrow, some joy. She died in 1997 but she spent many years disappearing, fading from view. I had so little of her, not just now, not just that she died “too soon” at age 65, but even while she was alive. I had so little of her.

When I was still a child I had some time with her. As the youngest of five children, I was the one left who was willing to go to the grocery with her, willing to shop for fabric for the costumes she made for community theatre. She taught me about the different weaves, satin, damask, homespun, taffeta, chiffon… Many of my happy memories are laced with these shopping trips.

She taught us core values of how to treat other people, teaching us real courtesy, not just manners. We learned industriousness from her example, and we all have a creative streak fed by her as well. She worked, and worked hard, child support meager, never enough to meet the needs. Creative and resourceful, she made do as well as she could, taking on homes that needed a lot of repair and doing it herself, the plumbing and carpentry and electrical work; refinishing cast off furniture; making our clothes herself; shopping at thrift shops and discount stores. Her determination always allowed us to live better than our income would have implied.

But she was not a great mother by any means, very hands-off in her parenting. There were few questions about school, homework, friends. As I grew older there were few checks on my whereabouts, no curfew, no constraints. We did not talk about my high school class schedule, my first jobs, my first serious boyfriend. We did not talk about dreams, goals, ambitions, college. I don’t know if she was simply so confident that I would figure it all out, or if it didn’t occur to her that she had something valuable to add.

Once I left for college (chosen on my own, applied for on my own, securing housing on my own) I would talk to her about once a week, if I called home. She never called me. If I needed money those first two years, she would send a check in a plain security envelope, usually with no note.

I met Jim when I was 19 and left school after another semester, marrying him the next fall. Jim and I planned our modest wedding; Jim and I paid for it. She was younger when we married than I am now.

Mom, 1981 at Jim’s and my wedding.

The next 16 years of her life were increasingly difficult. The recession and high interest rates at the end of the 1970s and early 1980s led to economic problems, her job dependent on the housing industry. She was an alcoholic, perhaps had been all along, but the disease took more of her over time.

In 1988 we experienced a family tragedy, a crime that further rent her fragile fabric. It was a difficult year in many ways, one of those “distinguished” baseball cards with stats that told stark stories. My father’s lymphoma diagnosis, the tragedy, concerns about both daughters, the birth of my son. She came to stay with us for a week after my son was born. I never had that much time with her again.

When Son was an infant, occasionally I would take him on an outing to a local mall. Seeing the other young moms with their own mothers, made me sad knowing I would never have time with her in such a casual way. We would never get to know each other the way these women did, languidly strolling the long mall aisles, window shopping and chatting.

She loved family gatherings with my siblings, our spouses and children, my step-father. Occasionally even my father would join us and was welcome. The happiness spread across her face, lighting it with the smile you see on the photo above. But the gatherings happened only at Christmas. Bringing us together for other reasons, or for no reason, was not something considered.

Her health continued to deteriorate, depression feeding the alcoholism feeding the depression. Liver damage, heart damage, ultimately leading to her death in 1997. Over the 16 years since our wedding, she had aged at least 30.

I had so little of her. She shared so little of herself. Early her parenting style was hands-off, though she had so much to give. Later she had nothing left she could afford to give away.

I think of her a lot lately. My own parenting style also is rather hands-off. Weeks can go by without communicating significantly with my own children. Holding my emotions and thoughts close, I do not share. I am confident in their abilities; I doubt that I can add anything of value; I worry about intruding on their precious time in their own busy lives.

But I wonder, do they doubt how much I love them, the way I sometimes doubted my mother’s love? Do they know how awed I am, amazed at their competence, their generosity, their energy and wit? Do they know I sometimes weep realizing how fortunate I am to be part of their lives?

The generations of baseball cards stack up with important stats for years I was married, when Son was born, when the girls got married, when their children were born. There will be more stats, more images added, more jumbled memories that will need to be moved gently back to the right cards. If she were alive, this year’s card would show 80 years since her birth. But my mother will be not be on it. She will be on none of them. For her I dig through the pile and try to bring up the happy images and memories from old cards, sorting them back into place.

There are few with her on them. I had so little of her.