I made an unforgiveable disaster of Mother’s Day. Sentimentally aggrieved over failing to place an annual memorial on the newspaper’s obituary page the previous December, I sought redress when I read of a Mother’s Day tribute to be published in May. I found a nice old photo of my late mother and her only son, made sure it was published, and felt good about it. Only to totally forget to include a photo of my living wife with our children. Abashed, the egregious oversight I thought could be assuaged through delivery of a unique floral display, or so it looked online. Reality produced a comically small wilted mass that I demanded and obtained a refund for, but the moment was irretrievably lost. Yet would a photo in a newspaper or even a nice bouquet do justice to a woman, who for me, is “The One?” And short of these truthfully inane trite displays, how can I pridefully prove she is The One without violating tragic precepts in the style of Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again? That wonderful novel told the tale of an aspiring writer who used his hometown as inspiration, only to find its residents deeply unhappy with him for too truthfully showing them as they are. But sometimes in seeking to avoid to offend you commit the sin of denying the truth, so the truth I shall expose. I first met her via a dating ad, back in the days when those weren’t yet online, but at the time I was too immersed in a new political career, and I vaguely recall the first date taking a detour to check on some constituents’ roads that were being repaved, and the first date was the last. Then I went through a period of youth when I courted as many women as voters but was far less successful with the women than the electorate. To wake up one day in my late twenties and find I had no one but desperately wanted to cast off the youthful indiscretions and establish a household and family. Lying in bed in a luxury hotel at a conference in Washington, I awoke in the middle of the night and remembered her. Unable to find a pen and paper, I carved her name in a bar of soap from the bathroom. It actually was that dramatic, as unbelievable as it seems. No email yet. A simple written letter, something today already as forgotten as stone tablets or scrolls. Frankly I doubted she remembered me and if she did the impression I must have made on that long ago date must have been terrible. Yet I felt I had to try. The only sure way to fail is to not try, and because I tried, I did not fail. She did in fact contact me. We did in fact go out and had a wonderful time and swiftly consummated our relationship. Strangely, it did not seem rushed at all, but “right.” Thus my belief she was, “The One.” Even the baby seemed unsudden and right. When she insisted on helping me prepare a nursery in a spare bedroom, we worked together, as partners, I was so pleased. How many times had females I was with expected me to do everything and never pitched in? Tragedy nearly conquered. An emergency surgical delivery amid out of control bleeding left her whiter than the marble of a gravestone. The little boy had almost intractable problems, a rare genetic condition that required repeated life-threatening newborn surgery to connect his throat to his stomach, while he also suffered from kidney problems and had minor skeletal fusions. I never thought he would make it. She on the other hand, literally willed him to life. And in that little boy I saw her persistence and faith and from the fusion of us was born optimism. Nearly ten years old now and I have never encountered a person as optimistic and persistent and kind as my own son. Born of the mother. And the mother was the stronger of us. I failed in this crisis. She was like a rock. And that bred further love and devotion in me for her. Sadly, my esteemed grandmother became terminally ill, although she had lived a long and healthy life and dying in your late eighties is more a celebration of life than a tragedy. My grandmother, usually a hard judge of people, told me abruptly one day my wife to be was a keeper because she combined beauty with utter tenacity and few females possessed both. The insight of 87 years, and the sole comment my grandmother ever afforded me on any of the young women I had been with. I could not deal with women who make ridiculously expensive spectacles of weddings. This woman I chose made an amazingly affordable yet enviously memorable wedding in a sunset small ceremony on the beach of Grand Cayman in the Caribbean Sea. Learning just hours before my grandmother had succumbed, I failed again. And again my woman held me up. I could not catch a break. My relatively young mother, barely retired in her late 50s, was stricken with wasting fatal lung cancer just after I nearly lost my son, lost my grandmother, and due to a change in elected leadership, lost the town manager job that was my great accomplishment and daily challenge and joy. And of course the woman, now the wife was my support and extended a kindness to my mother I never expected in our hectic turmoil of establishing a household, caring for a medically challenged little boy and with a beautiful young female infant conceived in Grand Cayman now on scene, demanding time and sleepless nights. But my wife never faltered, allowing me to find a new job in faraway Washington and spend time rebuilding my position while she alone most of the time, managed our home, took care of the children and provided patiently kind attention to my failing mother through her last days. My horrible, traffic-clogged seven hour drive home upon learning of my mothers’ demise was one of the worst days of my life, but my wife remained calm and kept the house running and the children occupied as I did what needed to be done. And in my short sighted stupidity, I criticized my wife for not attending the frigid graveside service though in reality my wife was sad and did not want me to see her grief and as a mother was trying to protect her young children from truly terrible weather, but I just lashed out. And instead of being angry, she stood by me. And it birthed in me greater love and devotion.
Then came my charming little blonde daughter. Now three little ones and again the strain of a newborn. And again my wonderful wife shouldered the load especially at the outset when in my weakness I was mired in depression over my mother and did not even take care of the house as I had, let alone helped with the kids. And my strong loving wife gave me my space. Like anyone, I might sometimes get depressed, but I am a very optimistic person. I never give up, and I wake up each morning ready to do something good in the day. I would like to think my wife considers me as the girl considers the Colonol in Ernest Hemmingway’s Across the River and Into the Trees: “…the girl loved him because he had never been sad one waking morning… he had experienced anguish and sorrow. But he had never been sad in the morning. They make almost none like that, and the girl…knew one when she saw one…” Warm and fuzzy and family oriented I shall never be. I was not raised in a large family. I am extremely problem-solving and goal oriented and don’t make small talk well. Truth is I am as married to my work as my wife and I am not ashamed of that. I love to help people, I love to help people help themselves, I love to make communities better places to live with greater opportunity and comfort for everyone. “Government belongs where evil needs an adversary and people in distress cannot help themselves,” Bobby Kennedy once said and I have always belonged to government. But it’s hard to explain to a devoted wife and young children that they have to share you and I’ve always done an incredibly poor job. And I guess my love of long distance running does not help either, everyone remembers, “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner.” Not exactly a family activity. Yet I recall the insight on love in spoken in Kahlil Gibran’s beautiful work, The Prophet: “You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore. You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days. Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God. But let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another, but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.” And I think this is where many modern marriages fall into difficulty. Love does not mean being together all the time. Marriage is not a fusion, but rather a collaboration that makes each stronger and better together than apart. But while I fall sadly short on the intimacy, I try make up by relentlessly providing. I literally drive 500 miles a week to my faraway job, where I work 10+ hour days, and spend 2+ hours a day commuting. Then I come home, manage a rental property business, and relentlessly worked on renovating and repairing and improving our house. I went deeply into personal debt to ensure the wife and kids had everything. And it was a struggle for me because as an only child I was used to accumulating things for myself and now I had to fight to think and do differently but I never said anything. And I never said anything the days I was deeply tired and deeply depressed. Gamely I just kept at it, always providing. It was my way of showing everyone how much I loved them. But that was the fallacy. Why would they necessarily have to believe my relentless providing was demonstrating love. In their eyes I fear the time I spent working was instead viewed as selfishly maniacal; that my work, not them, was my love, and the providing was merely a curious effect, not the expression of love. I forget the words of The Prophet on Giving: “You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.” I fell down again, but on this, my wife did not and could not help me. And thus, Mother’s Day. A day to celebrate The One which I turned into a debacle of self-centered uncaring. There was nothing wrong with memorializing my mother; but honoring my wife should have come first. There was nothing wrong with wanting to provide a unique bouquet; but the effort should have been made in person at a florist’s, not impersonally over the internet. And above all, the need, however difficult for this remote impersonal man, to emote in person, in words, the sense of love, wonder and appreciation. Or the requiem shall not be for a lost Mother’s Day, the requiem shall be for love lost.
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