Friday, November 27, 2009

The Double-Sunrise Shell

I like picking up stones and shells to mark experiences. It's taken me a while to realize that relationships are made up of a lot of unremarkable finds -- gravel, beach pebbles, skipping-stones, broken shells. It's a rare day when one finds a green stone on a beach or a large piece of sea glass, or a pebble shaped like a heart. But these, of course, are what keep us looking.

When I was home for Thanksgiving, I started thinking about this one evening when my dad and I sat in the semi-dark living room speaking more honestly than we usually do. His tenderness during that conversation is one of the perfect white stones I will carry in my pocket.

I realize that I wish relationships consisted of those remarkable moments all of the time -- the close, intimate, and undivided ones. I am reading Gift from the Sea* by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. She talks about how the stages of early love, friendship, and even parenting are "pure" -- they exist in the sweet spot of fresh, early love where a relationship is a world unto itself, unhindered by the responsibilities and complications of life. In this early stage we are "loved alone" -- completely and exclusively, outside of all other affections and distractions; we are, as Donne says, in that small time, each other's whole world.

From Lindberg's chapter "Double Sunrise":

"We all wish to be loved alone. Perhaps, as Auden says in his poem, this is a fundamental error in mankind.

'For the error bred in the bone

Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love But to be loved alone.'

...In discussing this verse with an Indian philosopher, I had an illuminating answer. 'It is all right to wish to be loved alone... mutuality is the essence of love. There cannot be others in mutuality. It is only in the time-sense that it is wrong. It is when we desire continuity of being loved along that we go wrong.'"

One comes in the end to realize that there is no permanent pure-relationship and there should not be. It is not even something to be desired. The pure relationship is limited, in space and in time. In its essence it implies exclusion. It excludes the rest of life, other relationships, other sides of personality, other responsibilities, other possibilities in the future . It excludes growth...
One learns to accept the fact that no permanent return is possible to an old form of relationship; and, more deeply still, that there is no holding of a relationship to a single form. This is not tragedy but part of the ever-recurrent miracle of life and growth. All living relationships are in process of change, of expansion, and must perpetually be building themselves new forms." (73-75)

Though what she says holds true for all relationships, I have thought about it especially in terms of marriage (the relationship she most specifically addresses here). Ben's brother Zack is getting married in February. I have loved watching him and Beth the past few months-- how they talk to each other under their breath in a way that's almost their own language, look at each other with small smiles tucked in the corners of their mouths, wend through their weeks popping in and out of thrift stores, and photographing each other in greenish light. Fresh love.

Watching their world has also heightened my awareness of what a different world Ben and I now live in -- a world orbited by two dancing moons, a world with lots of life to maintain. But Lindberg reminds me that change can be life-giving, a mark of expansion and growth, that instead of trying to return to an old form, we can work to reconnect and create new forms. She talks about how we can rediscover "the miracle of the sunrise" shell (the rosy early stage where two are joined by a perfect simple hinge) when we duck out of life's rush together. "What unexpected joy... to leave the children, the house, the job, and all the obligations" and find the "sudden pleasure of having breakfast alone with the man one fell in love with... Nothing [to separate each other] but a coffee pot, corn muffins and marmalade." (70-71) (I don't much like marmalade, but that sentence makes me want a whole jar of it on the kitchen table).

For now, I am off to make breakfast with Silas -- not quite the same, but doesn't it help to remember his downy-headed little self while he is yelling the entire house awake at 6AM?
And yet wouldn't I be even more exhausted had he stayed that nursing baby? (Oh, so grateful not to be in that stage any longer!) Reminders all around...

*If you are not familiar with the book, a little background: each chapter is an essay based on a different shell she's found. She writes from a bare-bones beach house during a week of solitude. The book, written in 1955, pre-Feminist movement, is definitely dated in parts, which she addresses in an afterword, but the heart of her musings stand true.

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