Tag Archives: Brian

135Journals Blog: Love, the First 39 Years

10 Jul
Graffiti: I was born to love you

I saw this when I was taking a walk in the woods. Guess I’m not the only one who feels this way. (photo by Alexandra Hanson-Harding)

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.

Yup, that's us (couldn't find a picture with tea in it, sadly).

Yup, that’s us (couldn’t find a picture with tea in it, sadly).

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.

135journals: My husband’s first day as a free man

30 Jun
My dear husband will be wearing these glasses every day until forever. Promise!

My dear husband will be wearing these glasses every day until forever. Promise!

Yesterday was the first day of the rest of  Brian’s life. That is to say, it was the first Monday of his life as a member of the retired. What will he do with this endless expanse of possibility? Right now, his intention is to keep it open. He hasn’t spent the last whatever years of his life teaching Asian literature for nothing. The beautiful spareness of Chinese poetry pulls at his heart. So does the Japanese concept of Ma, or negative space. Although, in the Japanese thought Ma has a much more dynamic and interactive meaning than not being. It is part of the fabric of the whole, a part of the dance of possibilities. Oh dear, I am getting very abstract here. What I mean is, my husband is bravely trying to let himself be open and to find out what calls to him. And I am very interested to see what this human being to whom I’ve been married for the past 30 years is going to discover.

His first no-longer-employed Monday was not entirely filled with Ma. I had an appointment with a famousy-famous hip surgeon to see if I needed hip surgery at the famousy-famous Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan. I didn’t think I needed hip surgery, but another one of my doctors thought, well, maybe, I don’t know, just check it out, so grumblingly, I did. I reorganized my gigantic binder of tests and visits and brought it in. And this time, I brought Mr. HH with me. Despite my relative certainty that I wouldn’t need surgery (maybe some kind of injection though because of osteoarthritis?) I did feel afraid. I’ve gone to many scary doctor appointments by myself, and most of the time I’ve managed okay, but sometimes I come out of them with this jumble of notes that don’t make any sense because I’ve felt a rushing of panic clogging my ears when the doctor was giving me information. So the dear husband and I agreed that he would come to scary appointment and be a second set of ears for me. Anyway, I had some X-rays, talked to perfectly nice doctor, don’t need surgery, then husband and I had a pleasant walk around the Upper East Side.

“Look at that building,” Brian said, pointing to an old brick building. “A Czech gymnasium. I see a lot of Czech names around here” (near 70th and York).

“I think  a lot of Czechs and Germans settled this neighborhood,” I said. “Every part of Manhattan is so different.”

“It’s so different when you walk it,” he said.

“I know what we should do!” I said. “We should get a big map of Manhattan and get a yellow marker and color in every street we walk after your retirement. And we should walk every street in Manhattan!”

“Where does anybody even get a map nowadays?” he said. “Everybody has GPS.”

“Huh.” I was stumped, too. Maybe off the internet? Barnes and Noble? I don’t know.

He looks at his phone. “There’s a gourmet shop ten blocks away. We can get cheese.” Cheese is part of his holy trinity of consumables, along with coffee and bread. So we wandered uptown past more stores. We people watched. I saw lots of people walking dogs. I saw a woman carrying a dog. I saw lots of doggy day care businesses. There is no shortage of dogs in New York. And I almost never, ever see dog poop. So, good work, New Yorkers. The Upper East Side is full of uniformed private school kids who burst out into the streets at 3:30 or so, along with moms and dads and nannies with strollers. I see a schlumpy looking guy in a Gilligan hat and pink socks lumping across the street. People wearing neon-bright sneakers–that’s a thing now, I guess. Lots of women with pretty legs and short skirts and little sandals. Workers with hard hats ignoring interested onlookers. Street sellers hawking fruit, scarves, books, watches.

At the gourmet shop we buy two small pieces of ridiculously expensive cheese and linger over other delicious but outlandishly expensive items–gluten free lemon bars, figs, bright red $5.99 a pound tomatoes. As we leave we see the pasta hanging on the line. They had gluten free ravioli for $12.99 a pound. We passed. We’ve made homemade pasta before, but it is a pain. Still, I liked watching it hanging there.

We two flaneurs amble back to our car, driving home through rush hour,  but the traffic still isn’t TOO bad. We listen to a podcast. “The drive was only one This American Life long,” Brian says. He makes chicken and salad and pasta for dinner and I fold clothes. I run off to my book group and when I get home, he is sitting on the back deck in the semi-darkness,  looking at the trees and the sky above.  His hands are folded behind his head. He smiles at me, and in that smile I see a happiness formed of the possibility of a joyful anything to come.

Writing prompt: What possibilities do you see?