On Paper

Relationships are so damn hard.  All kinds.  Every day.  It’s exhausting.

I can’t think of one relationship with a human being (I’ve never been that mad at a dog) that hasn’t involved tension at the least and heartbreak at the most.  In love, in friendship, even in acquaintance (though lessened) the opportunity to be hurt exists.  If you looked at it through the lens of pure pessimism, or self-preservation, or in weary defeat, interaction with other people would seem ridiculous.  A futile and even damaging endeavor.  From the just-touching-the-surface discomfort of miscommunication to the violent wrenching open of your heart, letting pain and hollowness pour in simultaneously, human contact is absurd on paper.

And then there’s the untouchable, indescribable, incalculable other side.  The part where your heart stops with joy.  Where you swear death-by-happiness is a thing.  Where a friend writes you a birthday card full of the right words that couldn’t be more tailor-made and you remember why you shouldn’t give up.  Or when the man you love hugs you tight in response to your snarky, hateful comment and you get a glimpse of mercy that you wouldn’t know if you retreated into yourself for good.  Or your blue-eyed four-year-old says with a lisp that she’ll take care of you when you’re old and your heart gets soft and open and ready to love the whole world in response.  This loving stuff.  This caring about others.  This willingness to be vulnerable despite how it looks on paper is actually worth every ounce of effort.  I know.  It doesn’t make sense.  Welcome to being homo sapiens.

Yes, if you looked at if from an evolutionary point of view, relationships have helped us stay alive, create communities, thrive better than we technically could as singular people.  Let alone the propagation of the species.  On paper it does seem scientifically sound to relate with others.  But science can’t put love on paper.  It can measure brain waves and how they change due to circumstances, how chemicals and hormones can affect the way we think and feel, how brain injury can make us completely different people.  But there has never been a scientific study that explains sacrificial love.  The act of putting another’s needs above your own.  And I would argue that loving people is a sacrificial act in general if it is really love at all.  That relationships take mercy, overlooking wrongs, or dealing with them head-on in a way that is uncomfortable at best, in order to continue for a lifetime.  Which is exactly how long I want to know my favorite people.

So this is how I choose to live.  To end my days knowing that what looked like a bad move on paper – setting myself up for pain by investing in other, jacked-up humans and not giving up on the whole thing – was energy and tender heart well-spent.  Even if it got bruised along the way.  Even if it’s wilted and used up at the end.  I plan to wring it out for every last drop of affection and call it a day.  Hanging around a few, equally beat up souls who chose the same hard-but-worth-it way of life.  Drinking tea and margaritas and reading and writing and watching movies together.  And laughing.  Always laughing, with our worn out lungs and our knees that don’t bend and our hunched over backs.  And I’ll head into the everafter having tasted, just slightly, the goodness of the love that is to come.  All because I decided way back when that the way things look on paper doesn’t always matter.

When I’m buying a house, yes.

When I’m giving away bits of my heart, not so much.

“Good luck with that,” you might say.  And I’ll reply, “Luck is for those waving cats.  I’ve decided.  It’s as simple and super-hard as that.”

Everyday Days

I had a hard time letting go of Christmas.  And I’m having to talk myself into facing the new year.

As I sat in Christmas Eve service, in the very back because we are always, always late, I had a view of the entire sanctuary full of fellow human beings, singing hymns I’ve known since before I could sing along.  My back row seat forced perspective on the experience.  Our inability to arrive on time was good for once.  This familiar, happy tradition was working it’s magic on me.  There was no place I would have rather been.  Even Hawaii.  It was warm, the lights were low, the excitement of present giving and getting was in the air.  But beyond all of the comfort of tradition, beyond the good feelings floating around the room, this was a solemn celebration of something greater.  Of the very hook on which my life hangs.  The fact that I got to share it with others who agree was sweet icing on the cake.  This was what all the hype is about.  

Then Christmas Day – the intense joy of giving my family gifts they will love.  One of my favorite ways to spend a morning.  Then good food with my people.  Remembering who made any and all of his possible.  Just. The. Best.

And after all the anticipation, the preparations, the world lit up with twinkly lights in shared revelry – it was over.  The let-down, for me, was heavy.  “Only 87 days until Easter,” Luke said cheerily a few days later.  Which fell with a thud on my heart.  I saw the expanse of cold, dreary winter before me and wanted to get in bed.

Not surprisingly, as soon as the Christmas decorations were put away and I had turned to face the next few months, my desire to travel kicked in.  It always does this time of year.  The internet conspires and sends emails about all the trips I can get – to Europe and the Carribbean and Mexico – for a steal right now.  Clicking on them and scrolling endlessly while I should be folding laundry is my addicted response.  It’s hard to decipher how much of the this is a good, natural longing to explore and how much is me trying to escape reality – the source of all addiction, though travel is less detrimental to my health than others I could choose.  Marc does not have this addiction/virus/inborn personality trait, so he can’t relate.  And he gave me a taste of my own medicine the other day – one of those times when your spouse tells you something you don’t like, to which you react poorly but later realize was wise and worth taking to heart.  He reminded me of the strategy of self-talk.  I preach this all the time.  Reminding yourself of what is true – in this case that we have a great family, a lovely home in which to spend time, that winter doesn’t last forever, that life isn’t only about excitement and things to anticipate.  Yep.  All true.  He was right.

So, I’m taking my own advice.  I’m telling myself what I need to hear to move into these next few months of wintery blah with, hopefully, contentment.  Maybe even happiness.  And I’m going to remind myself that the hook on which my life hangs doesn’t disappear when the twinkly lights are packed away.  The fanfare is gone – the everywhere and communal reminders aren’t present to help me – but these are the moments of truth.  The regular, everyday days that are full of smaller, less flashy hopes and joys.  When you have to look harder for them.  In the way your kids play a board game and giggle and grow a touch closer.  In the blessed warmth of long underwear and good slippers.  In your four-year-old’s desire to nuzzle noses.  In hot green tea and a scone, in your husband’s blue eyes, in a God who is not fickle like you.  In a new year to start small.  To go back to the basics and let that be enough.

So here’s to a new year and all it will be – big and small, flashy and simple, amazing and ordinary.  And the ability to appreciate every bit.