Saturday, October 4, 2008

What's Love Got To Do With It?

(This was originally written in February, 2008)
This past Thursday was Valentine’s Day. I dressed in pink in observance. It was the first day that week that I had worn actual ‘work clothes’ since the weather had been bad (I hate falling down in the parking lot at work especially in dress clothes, for some reason). For some, that day is full of promise, for others, it can be a real ‘downer’.

Within a matter of 24 hours I found out that one of my husband’s cousins had fatally shot himself, I wrecked my car, and my mother-in-law was hospitalized for the second time in one week.

My husband emailed me the only two sentences he had received about his cousin, stating that he had shot himself and was not expected to recover. Although David and his cousin had never been close, it was sad and so abrupt. This guy’s parents have both died in the past 18 months; he has one surviving sister, and one half sister. None of the siblings really speak to each other. The cousin and his wife were in the process of divorcing, and his belongings are spread out with various people with whom he had stayed during the last several months of his life.

Trying to get home in time to make a dinner reservation with the two guys who were taking me out for dinner that night (David and Phil), I ran into a delivery van. The heavy-duty bumper of the delivery van completely missed my bumper, instead making contact with my headlights, grill, and hood causing my hood to crumple up into the shape of a roofline, parallel with my windshield.

The next day my sister-in-law called to tell us about David’s mother going back into the hospital with pneumonia and having a reaction to medication she had been on for 9 days to treat it.

Although my car is just a “thing”, something that can be replaced or fixed it was a gift to me from David, and for some reason, I have had some kind of sentimental attachment to it. From the time I was really young, I had always wanted a Volvo wagon. I think my parents knew someone with one when I was a kid, and even though I was never a ‘car’ person, I always wanted one. When David bought that car for me, I was shocked and touched that he wanted to give me something that I had always wanted. Another gift he gave me was a garnet ring that looks much like a ring I got out of a gum-ball machine when I was little. I wore that ring until the fake stone broke off. I was really sad to see it go. When David was getting me that ring, he showed me all different kinds of fancy rings with rubies and diamonds and stuff like that, but all I really wanted was a ring that looked like my gum-ball machine ring.

It is funny to think about the things we really wanted when we were kids, and why we wanted them. It is interesting to see how those things sometimes stay with us as adults. I’ve been reading a book called “The Tipping Point” about how some things become the catalyst for change in society, and it makes me wonder about personal ‘tipping points’; about the things that influence decisions that set a particular course for our lives. David and I met on a blind date. What would have happened to the course of both of our lives if either one of us had said, “No”, when asked about being fixed up with the other, for whatever reason? Saying “Yes” was a tipping point. As a kid, I wonder what some of the ‘tipping points’ in my life were, and it makes me wonder about the ‘tipping points’ in other peoples’ lives. The ‘tipping points’ for my brother; for David’s cousin.

This weekend was spent doing some reflection as we traveled to West Virginia to be with family and see what we could do to help with my mother-in-law. I thought about my shallowness in being even briefly upset about my car. We heard stories about how people had hurt other peoples’ feelings; how this family member does not talk to that family member anymore; how someone looking back on their life, in some ways, never felt truly ‘known’ by anybody else; how some family systems are full of assumptions and bottled up feelings; and I wondered what the purpose of all of any of that was.

One thing we did was listen. Something I came back with was an appreciation of my crazy, ‘pit-bull-style-of-communicating’ family I come from and that I kind of have. Another thing I realized is that it ain’t over till it’s over, and we are never to late for the chance to change.

I feel horrible for the cousin and his family, and his sisters who have each other (they are half-sisters), but don’t even speak. I find both David and me looking back, wondering what kind of difference we might have been able to make in some random encounter that we might have had with him, but I’ve learned through experience that there is no way to ever go back and change anything no matter how hard you might wish it. Instead, we have to allow ourselves to be changed by whatever that experience was, realizing that we are not the center of the universe, and that this thing most likely had absolutely nothing to do with us, anyway, but also realizing that we knew this guy, and doesn’t that cause us to bear some responsibility in reaching out to him? On the other hand, with nearly 30 first cousins on David’s side of the family, how can we possible know all of them? Questions, questions, questions.

I have been asking David recently, “What the heck are we doing here?”, seemingly suddenly finding ourselves in our 40’s with all of our children nearly grown, two dogs (ugh!), responsible jobs and a mortgage. That question dawns on me out of the blue, sometimes. He usually laughs and says something like, “Well, if I remember correctly, you were a willing participant in all this.” In his Valentine Letter to me on Thursday he wrote:

“…what are we doing here? We are living a great gift – life. Even more so, we are doing it together and learning and growing all the time. I really believe that is what makes it work for us.”

I feel sad that some people get to the end of their lives and are still asking that, and have never gotten an answer, especially one like that. It is never too late to change. It’s never too late to change and grow and learn, and reach out to encourage others to change and grow and learn.

I guess it is about love. Love and looking for the opportunity to put somebody else first. It’s not about the ‘things’ in life, but all about those meaningful encounters.

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