We are in Starbucks, near Lincoln Center, on Monday, killing time before a movie (a Korean film called The President’s Last Bang, about the assassination of former President Park in 1980, FYI—darkly entertaining). My husband, Brian, walks toward me, carrying two cups and a bag of treats. I watch his face, full of serious concentration as he sets the cups down and takes the lid off my steaming tea. He looks at the color appraisingly, pulls out the teabags, and places them in the lid, stirs in one and a half sugars, takes the lid and empty sugar packets and tosses the teabags and packets away. He comes back, puts the lid back on tightly, checks it with an earnest frown, feels the cardboard sleeve to see that it is tight, puts the napkin precisely at my left, pulls out a gluten-free Rice Krispie treat in the center, and right in front of me and places the cup of hot tea at my right. All of this time, his face is pure business, as if he is doing the most important job in the world. It is something he has done a million times before. He always makes sure that my tea is just perfect. But the pleasure of watching him without him even knowing I am watching him, catching this quiet kindness, gives my heart a fresh jolt of love.
Today is the 39th anniversary of the greatest mystery of my life. On July 9, 1976, when I was 18, I met a boy named Brian Harding. I was at a summer program at Syracuse University between my junior and senior years of high school. He was visiting his friend Jon Liffgens for the weekend. I was, as Brian remembers, lying on the floor of the elevator reading the dictionary. Jon, who was my friend, too, had already told Brian that I was somewhat eccentric. And when we met, at least, as I recall it now, it seems that something electric passed between us. And so, after he left Syracuse that weekend, we started writing letters. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of pages of long, passionate letters.
It wasn’t an easy relationship. We fell in love too young. We came from two different religions—he is Jewish and I am Protestant. And his parents disapproved mightily. Our relationship was long distance for the first five years. Some of those years we lived three thousand miles apart. One year, we were six thousand miles apart. We broke up at one point because we couldn’t reconcile our religious differences. We both knew we had to grow up and have other relationships and try to forget each other, but we couldn’t. There was something I felt with Brian Harding that I never felt with any other of the lovely young men who cared for me. It was a feeling of rightness, inevitability, trust, togetherness, peace. Between us, there was something gentle, quiet, true. It took eight years before we were married, but marriage, and raising children, and facing life together, has only added to the depth of the bond we felt so quickly toward each other. Although I have spent almost 70 percent of my life loving him, a lifetime seems too short to get to know Mr. Brian Hanson-Harding and all his very quirky ways.
I remember one time when I was angling for compliments from my handsome young Brian and he said, staunchly, “I don’t love you because you’re more beautiful or more smart or more anything than everybody in the world,” he said. “I love you because you’re YOU.” I still think about what a smart thing that was to say. Because I think that is a very fair thing to say about love. First of all, it it means that good people who are rejected in love are NOT rejected because they are “lesser” than anyone else, it is just a matter of how they fit with another person. And second, it means that each soul is not about percentages of qualities, but is unique in him or herself.
Anyway. There is a lot to say about someone you’ve loved for 39 years. And I can’t say it in a day. But what I can say is that just as in a vicious circle, small acts can drive cruelty ever downward, in a virtuous circle, the tiniest kind acts can bring small shocks of joy that make life better and richer all the time. To see Brian bring me tea with such kindness on this day reminds me of a million other times he has brought me tea. It reminds me that he is the kind of man who brings his wife tea with love and seriousness. And that I am that wife. And that I know what a good man he is. And that he knows that I see that. And that if I have my tea, I will have the strength to let the world know that the world is full of mysteries, and of those mysteries, the greatest is love.
Happy 39th anniversary, Brian Hanson-Harding. May the honeymoon never end.