Monday, April 11, 2011

Unsolicited Counsel for those Contemplating Love

 There was a time, when I was adolescing, a song was popular, with this refrain:

            If you can’t be with the one you love,
            love the one you’re with.

At first hearing, this might strike you as shallow;  as word-play, epigrammatical;  there might even be a reading (horresco referens) whereby it is downright cynical.  But now at last, I understand it aright:  and it is more than just good advice:  it goes to the heart of our human situation.  And its applications are manifold -- implying,   for instance,  the parish principle of congregational organization, rather than the Country Club style.  (In Princeton, when I lived there, all the choicest citizens attended Nassau Pres;  Negroes and sinners attended a different Presbyterian church  a few blocks away.)

Let us explore the implications of this insight.

(1)   Finding Mr. Right

Trying to find Mr. Right… is a fool’s errand.   (A novelist phrased it more candidly:  Looking for Mr. Goodbar.)   As soon seek a diamond, in a field of wheat.  But the wheat itself, each ear -- the wheat is good.

            There was a woman I knew in college;  I was much taken with her loins.    I knew little of such things.  She knew a bit more.   She agreed, we’d have a fling (and we flung), but she one day mentioned -- in passing, I suppose -- that I should understand we’d never marry.   I was indeed nowhere near, as yet, being ready for any such adventure;  yet her remark astonished me.  Why not?  “Because you’re not Jewish,” she said.
            At the time (as yet unbaptized), I presumably shared, without thinking, the goodthink of  secular liberalism, which no doubt would tut-tut  such a prejudicial idea.  Oh ho ho, we’re all just one big happy family here;  let Mormon wed Zulu, let prophetess and priest be wed.   I don’t quite remember whether I did partake of this opinion, nor by which path, if so, I came gradually to abandon the idea -- so wilting is that plant, which has its roots in nothing real.   Anyhow  it rather quickly became clear, that such a criterion, while by no means a skeleton-key to life’s locks, is still a pretty sensible sort of thing to bear in mind.
            After college, she moved to Manhattan -- that citadel of the love-lorn -- and I’d see her from time to time, when I’d visit back East.   And she would update me -- resignedly, glumly -- on the detours and divagations in her search.   The latest was Allen, he’s an accountant,  and he has good points  and not-so-good points, an upside and a down;  but she was getting tired now, and thinking of finally tying the knot;  even though  she couldn’t truly say that he was “Mr. Right”  (for thus she styled the object of her quest).   -- I replied, sympathetically, and wryly/diplomatically, that I hoped he would anyhow prove  “Mr. Approximately Correct”.
            The phrase  for some reason caught her fancy;  and from then on, that was her name for him,  whenever she spoke with me:  “Mister Approx”.  (They did eventually go on to marry;  and there we must leave them, fading into the crowded canvas of all our lives.)

            Bottom line (write it for reference, on your inner arm):
            No match is made in Heaven.  Rather, it is sanctified there.

(2)  To Wed, or not to Wed:  that is the question
            Whoso weds, with an oath before the Lord,  is wedded indeed.
            It is not (as they say) a commitment to be undertaken lightly.   This is a thing, which would change your life forever;  you’re not just renting each other -- neither for a decade, nor for the night.

            Have a care:  I am not being romantic  or sentimental here -- almost the contrary.   Nothing is being…idealized.
            For there you both stand, with all your warts and faults.   Sir Galahad he is not;  and you are not Guinevere.
            Yet once you are wed, in the sight of the Lord:   as surely as had a statue come to life -- you are transformed,. 
            I was going to add, “like water into wine” -- only, that would be false.  Plainly, factually, both spiritually and practically false.   For wine is instantly a quite different beverage:  Whereas you and he  will both, for a time, taste pretty much the same.  You might even have your very first marital quarrel, when you are not yet quite halfway down the chapel steps.
            And that doesn’t much matter.  We fell in the Garden, and have been picking ourselves up ever since.  The change in this case  -- would we might avoid  such a big-barreled comparison, but you see, no other simile will do -- this change is comparable rather to that of the wine -- the rich red wine -- into the true and veritable blood of Jesus Christ.  Post-transubstantiation, it tastes exactly the same;  yet it is different:  inexpressibly, but in ways that matter.

            When the man who would be my father, proposed to the woman who would become my mother, he said:   I offer you my hand, but on one condition:   That you never get on to me, about my drinking.  I drink.
            And with time, it became clear, that he had been wise  to say that.  Not wise, perhaps, to continue drinking so much (well -- wise, not at all;  but perhaps justified, in that he had other dragons to go forth and conquer, at that time in his life, than John Barleycorn..)  But wise to make it plain,  that he was not signing up for a lifelong role in an Edward Albee play.
            Whether it be wise for a woman, to accept a man on these terms, I know not.   Some cases yes, some cases no, I imagine.  But if she does accept him, it had better not be with the mental reservation, that yeh, okay, she kind of plights her troth, but on the tacit understanding that she shall later be able to retract her pledge and to browbeat him into submission, break him upon the anvil of her righteousness, and bend his behavior to her will:  since after all, she is right, and he is wrong.   Not denying, she might be in the right, in some given situation;  only, there are just two good choices:  decline the offer;  or accept him with your whole heart -- and then so live and so love as to beckon the Holy Spirit into your home.  And in time,  your man will sense that presence in the room.     Then, whether with the lightest of lingering fingers, or with the brute brawn wherewith the angel wrestled Jacob,  the Spirit shall engage your husband indeed.  And it may be, later, each time the toper hoists the tankard to his lips:   behold!  the wine has turned to water in the glass.

(3)  The Adventure of Married Life

            A word chosen wisely:  adventure.   For you and he are sailing forth, upon a dark sea, beneath a brooding sky, towards horizons wherein lurk pirates.
            And no more could I advise you, concerning what you may face, let alone what to do about it, than I could tell you what to be sure to pack, when traveling to the Moon.   I barely understand my own life, let alone yours.   All that I can, is to wave from the dock, as your splendid ship sets sail.   And to wish you favorable winds -- But if that come not:   then stout hearts, and a sound compass:  each to the other  both captain and mate.   
            (And in secret, casting this gold ring into the ocean,   even now do I offer,  a prayer to Poseidon … Nay in a matter of such moment  -- may the One God forgive me -- I do offer this prayer to that old Greek seaweed-stained   god of the Sea . . . )

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