“So, is this an all-time low?”
My parents laugh. It‘s their wonderful sense of humour that is sustaining them through this low. It’s sustained them for 55 years of marriage that they mark today in a hospital cafeteria eating ice cream bars with their second son.
I bring a big hanging basket of flowers that just happens to have a place – I was wondering where they’d put it – on the bar that runs over mom’s bed. The bar that’s there for lifts and pulleys – for limbs that’ve become too heavy or painful for muscle and tendons and mere willpower to move. Mom’s second knee surgery follows the second major surgery for her spine last fall. Dad says the hanging basket will replace the wilting pansies at home perfectly.
We chat about the various flowers on the tiny night table. He explains that the three white roses are his anniversary gift. “Three is significant for us.” he says as if I should know this. I look at him quizzically - realizing this is a piece of lore he intends me to keep - and ask “Three?”.
“Faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love.” He quotes from perhaps most familiar – next to the 23rd psalm and the Lord’s Prayer – verses in the Bible. “I courted your mother with those words.” the old poet tells me one more time. “there were three stones in her engagement ring” he goes on before mom makes a joke to kid him about his sentimentality. But their second son is a poet too and the power of three in one is not lost on me.
I tell them a story about meeting some Vikings on the northern peninsula of Newfoundland. I clashed swords with them about just why it was they left a thousand years ago. “Was it the weather or was it the hostile natives? I heard they whipped your asses.” I took a stab at the Chief with scant information gleaned from a children’s book browsed through in a tourist shop.
“No, it was jealousy amongst the men over the women” the Chief explained. “The only way in with the locals is to marry their daughters and once they have your children – they can’t kick you out.”
“So, you’re saying that the women just didn’t like you guys.” I suggest.
“To be sure the women would have had a say. In the native culture, as in ours, women were held in high respect as the source of generations and so the key to survival.”
Dad’s read John Ralston Saul’s “A Fair Country” and he tells me that’s how the poor Scottish and French voyageurs would establish themselves in the wilderness. “They’d marry the Chief’s daughter and achieve a social standing they never dreamed of as landless paupers in the old country.”
“Kind of like you marrying into the Jay family eh Dad?” (now I was jousting with him). He assured me that his father’s status as a railway engineer was equal to the clergyman’s status in those distant days. Mom told of a conversation with her mother who’d asked during their engagement whether she was comfortable with my father’s family. “I’ve never given it any thought.” was her reply “I’m in love with Dave and that was all I’d considered.” Her mother had tried to explain that while love will take you through the early years - that family roots tend to make more of a difference as time goes by.
Was it the shared family values of hard honest work, sacrifice, and stubborn household economy that held tight the reins of spending with one hand while opening the other in generosity that sustained them over the decades? Was it their ability to laugh at self and at the world that was the beginning and end of every fiery fight? Was it my Father’s romantic notions of faith, hope, and love that kept his mission to ever love his chosen mate burning?
Or was it my mother’s sainted unshakable good sense – of humour and perspective - that provided a shield against the storms of suffering all mothers must endure - that kept the candle burning bright? Surely it was that same good sense that enabled her to sit in the choir her whole life long while father, husband, and son preached their boring blasphemies and evoked from listeners the inevitable stream of judgment and rumour? When you tickle her funny bone, her laugh can be heard throughout the house. Her pain she keeps mostly to herself.
This low ebb of celebration after 55 years wasn’t lost on me. I too am at a romantic low tide. I’m licking my wounds after losing a soulmate to life’s bootkicking, The 25 years of romance has come to an end for me and my chosen one. My chance for a long and enduring love is lost. The cut is sharp and deep and stings like hell.
“But the greatest of these is love.” quotes the poet. So ends the chapter of scripture most used in weddings and funerals. The first half of the chapter is for weddings and the last half for funerals. Together they speak of what’s eternal in this life and beyond. “Love is gentle, love is kind – doesn’t keep score” (“yeah right” I often comment.) The love that belongs in the three human attributes of faith, hope, and love is only our best effort – on a good day – when we’re being more holy than human.
But the LOVE that encircles those three human efforts – the “greatest” that provides the container - the bowl within which we swim – remains mostly mystery. That kind of LOVE is what happens to us – not what we choose or control. That LOVE comes and sweeps us together forever can also tear us apart. For that is what always must happen sooner or later. We are torn from our lover’s arms to make way for a new beginning. For some that new beginning is beyond the last breath. For some that seed of a new beginning is watered by the blood that flows from a broken heart.
“For now we see through a glass darkly – as if in a fog.” I paraphrase “but then – then we’ll see our MAKER face to face” And what I always add to Paul’s poetry is what seems to make sense as the next step…”and our MAKER will reveal to us the world seen through the MAKER’s eyes.
We’ll get the perspective that wise ones glimpse on earth. We’ll see how the paths we’ve walked are like the lines on a wrinkled old brow. All intersecting and connected. We’ll see how all of life, all things living, all that ever lived and all that ever will live - are connected. Every one we’ve made love to, and every one we’ve ever battled with. Every four legged, winged and finned creature we’ve traded oxygen with. Every green and earthy cell we walk over or under is united in the greatest mystery that sustains it all. That thing called LOVE.