On NPR I heard about a colossal blunder. In a park in northern Galicia there was an ancient underground tomb which was topped at ground-level by a granite slab with ancient writing on it. City workers who were installing permanent picnic tables in the park thought that the slab was some kind of stone bench… which they blasted to smithereens. Once the slab was taken care of they then saw a hole in the ground (the tomb underneath); they completely filled it with concrete and topped it off with a picnic table! Talk about not knowing what you are doing! And much the same can sometimes be said of relationships.
Once, while listening to Prairie Home Companion I heard Garrison Keeler say, “Marriage is God’s way of keeping people from fighting with complete strangers.” Why is it that relationships never come with an Owner’s Manual? Why are they all on-the-job training? In the beginning it’s so easy: the Other is fascinating, a delight, a refreshing drink upon which we have stumbled during our parched journey! Nothing is too much to do for the beloved, no request by them is unreasonable, and the early stages of a relationship are often a time of extravagant gestures, and a time of being in love with being in love.
And then, somehow, we become used to one another. We become used to knowing the other’s habits and way of thinking. The first horrendous argument is completely disorienting, the end… as we see it at that moment… of all happiness! It is at this moment that “relationship” calls for us to grow away from an immature, ME-centered understanding and, instead, to reach out and embrace an adult love. The fights to which Keeler refers often arise out of what we do not understand about ourselves, although we often see it as being provoked into bad behavior by the other. The truth is, actually, that the frustration of not understanding ourselves often provides the fuel for the explosion. And then the one with whom we have laughed and loved and fought… dies. Half of our “normal” moves on, leaving us behind, leaving us caught up in a hurricane of feelings: The nasty thoughts we had about the other, the stinging things we said, our stupidity at not appreciating what we had while we had it! And there is the disorienting ache of missing the other. We are completely confused. How could it be possible for one person to feel so many conflicting things?
Relationships: from the moment of our conception we are born into them, we spend large chunks of our life yearning for them, we chaff when within them, and then we yearn for them again when the other has passed on. The cost of relationships is the struggle to try and learn how to be happy again beyond the grief. The primary work of relationship seems to be that of learning to be kind to others… no matter what we feel.