Tag Archives: love

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.

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135journals Book Club: In Search of Lost Time (Remembrance of Things Past) by Marcel Proust, Part 5: Grandmother’s Death

18 May

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Photo: Super famous Dr. Jean-Marie Charcot teaches a lesson on “hysteria” at his also super famous clinic at Salpetriere. (Wikimedia commons/Public Domain)

 

After attending a very elaborately described party, the narrator turns his attention to the growing weakness of his grandmother and his youthfuly blasé manner toward her as she got sicker and sicker. Indeed, this section of Guermantes Way is extremely harrowing and horribly comic as the same time. Physicians are called in, and one is more useless than the next, adding “milk diets” or, more repulsively, leeches, among other ineffectual cures. But at the same time as the narrator presents himself as insensitive toward his grandmother’s suffering, his later reflections show that he has thought deeply about it. This could be in part because of his own suffering. As he writes, pain is a fierce enemy:

“It is in moments of illness that we are compelled to recognize that we live not alone but chained to a creature of a different kingdom whole worlds apart, who has no knowledge of us and by whom it is impossible to make ourselves understood: our body. Say that we met a brigand by the way, we might yet convince him by an appeal to his personal interests, if not to our own plight. But to ask pity of our body is like discoursing before an octopus, for which our words can have no more meaning than the sound of the tides, and with which we should be appalled to find ourselves condemned to live.”

Meanwhile, the narrator watches his own impatience as he takes her out on a day he had friends to meet, with dreadful results. When he returns with her grandmother in a terrible state, When his mother sees her, she is appalled, protective, full of tenderness. Proust wrote, in words that actually brought tears to my eyes, and made me think of the preciousness of my own mother. “. . . my mother went up to my grandmother, kissed her hand as though it were that of her god, raised her up, carried her to the lift with infinite precautions in which there was, with the fear of hurting her by any clumsy movement, the humility of one who felt herself unworthy to touch the most precious thing, to her, in the world.”

Yet despite the family’s evident wealth, their ability to bring in the most expensive doctors, the grandmother is treated with little but condescension as she suffers dreadfully.

In one terrible but funny scene, an imperious Doctor De Boulbon, who is a former student of the famous neurologist Dr. Charcot (Dr. Charcot is real, often called “the founder of modern neurology” and is a remarkable figure—among his discoveries was Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS), Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease and research into other diseases such as MS and Parkinson’s disease, though he was also controversially involved in his experiments with “hysteria”) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Martin_Charcot

who basically tells the suffering woman that all she needs to do is change her thoughts and stop malingering. Proust writes “Dr. Du Boulbon when he came decided against . .my grandmother . . . Instead of sounding her chest, fixing on her steadily his wonderful eyes, in which there was perhaps the illusion that he was making a profound scrutiny of his patient, , . . .  tells her, “’ You will be quite well, Madame, on the day. . . which you realise there is nothing wrong with you, and resume your ordinary life. You tell me that you have not been taking your food, not going out?”

“But sir, I have a temperature,”

He laid a a finger on her wrist.

“Not just now, at any rate. Besides, what an excuse! Don’t you know that we keep out in the open air and overfeed turbuculosis patients with temperatures of 102.” .

. . . it was with the superior smile of a Parisian who, in conversation with a peasant, might hope to surprise him by using suddenly a word of the local dialect that Dr. du Boulbon said to my grandmother: “Probably a windy night will make you sleep when the soporisfics wold have no effect.”

“On the contrary, Sir, when the wind blows I can never sleep at all.” But doctors are touchy people. “Ach!” Muttered du Boulbon, knitting his brows, as if someone had trodden on his toe. . .

In the land of well-meant-(perhaps) but  ineffective care,  many positive thinkers are inclined to dismiss the very real and damaging sufferings of those in pain. There is almost a comedy of errors. The Duc de Guermantes walks over to shake the father’s hand in condolence while the grandmother is in her death throes—and doesn’t want to be kept waiting. Her two sisters don’t want to leave Combray to come to Paris because they found a musician they love to listen to, and his music is much more pleasant than sitting by the bedside of an old dying lady. On the other hand, their friend Bergotte, the famous writer (whom the author, unfortunately, no longer venerates as he once did) visits frequently.

One of the things that is so excellent in the narrator’s recounting of this sequence of events is that again, he is able to be very clear about what is going on without connecting the dots for the reader. A few comments make it clear where the narrator’s sympathies lie. Naturally, old ladies are known to die, but how difficult it is when a family is confused, when nobody knows the right thing to do, when a good and gentle lady cannot advocate for herself, and, even though she belongs to one of the richest families in Paris, gets not one to take her seriously. This sort of thing goes on today. One WANTS to believe doctors. But when one is both in agonies of pain and is bein accused of being neurotic and of needing to have a sunnier attitude and to get —when one is being “Brightsided,” as Barbara Ehrenreich called the phenomenon, in the book of the same—it can add to the pain a hundredfold. This unforgettable section of Proust’s masterwork is a reminder that the pain of those who are old, even if inevitable, matters as a deep human tragedy.

 

Writing Prompt: Have you ever suffered and felt as if you have not been heard?

July is Journaling Month Part 4: Decisions

7 Jul

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Yesterday I got some more great responses to Prompt 1, about describing where you were at that very moment, and soon I want to share them, because they have inspired some new ideas. I also received some great lists. But first, I myself am lolling around on my friend Dan’s couch in his quaint house in Rhinebeck, New York. He is away and lent it to us and we LOVVVVE him. I am taking advantage of my time in this beautiful natural setting by lounging around reading books (parts of Joseph Campbell, the Meaning of Myth, a really compassionate book called The Lonely Patient and the first half of Antigone) and writing. I hardly moved until evening. It felt like heaven. Mr. Me went on a mere 40 mile bike ride looking at all the stone houses and fields and bosky glens and whatnot. He listened to the 17-year-cicadas and a couple of dead ones got stuck in his bike wheel, making a strange humming even after death. He bought locavorish cherries and sausage, and fresh figs, blueberries and bread. Later, we went out to eat amazing hamburgers and fresh-cut French fries from a tiny place called The Matchbox, sitting at a picnic table and watching soft evening  light shine through leaves. We took a long walk around cute, trendy little Rhinebeck, then came back. He worked on a NYT crossword puzzle and complained that it was fiendishly difficult, so I sternly said that somebody had to do it, so he’d best carry on.  He laughed, then picked up the book he is reading, Michael Pollan’s Cooking. We went outside in the dark and heard the music of frogs and watched thousands of fireflies sparking light among the dark trees, while overhead the sky was filled with stars. And we reached our fingers out and they touched, and that, too, felt like electric sparks. We held hands, standing there in a field at night full of wild wonder and soft air. It was the last night of our 28th year of marriage. And now, July 7, 2013,  it is the first day of the 29th.

Prompt #3: What’s the best decision you ever made?