The Heart of the Matter

We’re just home from a short trip to Florida - to the Disney World Resort, where we have a membership in their Vacation Club, which gives us the ability to stay in any of the properties scattered across the mecca that is Walt Disney’s magical “World.” We bought our membership back in the early 1990’s, and have used it to good advantage over the years.  Now that we have a child in the family again, I expect we will continue to make good use of it as we introduce Connor to the wonderful world of Disney.

The resort we like best is Old Key West - it’s style and architecture is modeled after the Florida Keys, and our one bedroom apartment offers a view of a quiet lagoon, with blue herons standing knee deep in the rushes, and willow branches sweeping gracefully over the balcony.

On this occasion, the trip was just for Jim and I, a few days getaway from the pressure of the nine-to-five. Or in his case, the nine-to-seven-or-eight, as it’s been many nights for the past few months. His work life has been extremely harried of late, something he’s not had to contend with for a number of years. So he was definitely in need of a respite. 

As was I. You’ve read my posts about the difficulties of this past winter, the chronic illness, the constant cold weather, the feeling of sadness and want and need that seemed to pervade my spirit. All of those feelings were evident in my writing, and certainly in the way I conducted my life in general here at home. I could put on a pretty good front in public, but at home the guard came down and the frustration and irritability took their toll.

These past few days as we meandered around the resort, wandering hand in hand along familiar sidewalks and avenues, lingering over a glass of wine at outdoor cafe’s, we began to feel all the tensions of everyday life disappear, and with it the tensions that had grown between us. We realized it had been almost two years since we had been away together as a couple. We’ve not been able to travel much recently, and when we have it’s been with friends, musical groups, or family. As enjoyable as those trips can be, it’s not the same as having unscheduled time for just the two of us, where we have only ourselves to amuse, only our own timetable to meet, only our own pleasure to consider. 

It was wonderful and much needed. 

When you’ve been married for nearly four decades, it’s natural to let many things go unspoken. You develop a short hand language - a glance here, a sigh there. Sometimes a raised eyebrow or an irritated shake of the head. There is a collective intelligence you have as a couple based on years of experience and daily life: each individual knows their role, and it’s easy and expedient to remain in the groove of it, to silently follow the familiar path you’ve created. 

But sometimes in marriage, as in life, it’s important to stand back and take stock of where that path has led you. Perhaps it’s to a place as lovely and tranquil as our resort in Florida; but perhaps it’s a prickly thicket of weeds. 

Perhaps it’s a little of both.

Part of the appeal of our trips to Disney World are all the memories we have there. For nearly every place we go throughout the 17 miles of “world” we found ourselves recalling a moment from the past. “Remember when we took Brian and his friend James on the speedboat ride at night to watch the fireworks?” "Remember when we came with the Birkby’s, and Cara was dressed up as Snow White for the Princess Breakfast?” “Remember when we would come here and spend the weekend while Brian was in college?” “Remember how Brian loved to swim in the pool after dark?”

We remember it all. Fondly.

But we aren’t the same people we were in those days. We’ve suffered losses, our health isn’t always good, we get tired much easier than we once did. We worry a little about keeping up with Connor on all those trips we hope to have with him here in the future. We worry a little bit about what life will be like for us in the years ahead, knowing how easy it can be to drift apart, to huddle silently in separate corners of misery.

Katrina Kenison writes about this very thing in her book, Magical Journey. “To grow without growing apart,” she says, "to allow the one you love to be different today than he or she was yesterday and to love him or her anyway, even as you struggle to figure out what has changed: Perhaps this is the challenge that must ultimately be surmounted in every long-term relationship if it’s to remain fresh and resilient, rather than growing stale and stiff with age, too brittle to bend and stretch with time. 

As we age and mature into marriage, we define and redefine “love” so many times. What was considered love in the early days - the intimate pleasure taken in all those “firsts” as a couple; the excitement of building a home and a shared future - all that changes as the “first time experiences become few and far between, as the future begins to look a little grim with worries about health and finances and long-term care. 

“I know my husband and I love each other,” Kenison goes on to say. “But it seems we’re both coming to see that love alone isn’t enough to keep a commitment alive; we need imagination, too. And enough courage and creativity to create a new form for our marriage, a marriage that’s growing old and being forced to adapt, just as we are.”

And there’s the heart of the matter. “Love” - however you define it - isn’t always enough. Yes, it takes imagination to find new ways of relating to one another. Yes, it takes courage to veer off those tried and true pathways, even if they are flat and devoid of scenery. It also takes time and energy, and all too often I spend so many of my resources in those areas on other things that aren’t nearly as important.

Already this morning I awoke feeling threatened by the overwhelming “to-do” list that runs like ticker tape through my brain. Make doctor’s appointments; straighten out a mixup with my mom’s medications; cut the dog’s hair; water the plants; steam clean the wood floor in the kitchen; have the windows washed; return all those shorts I bought that didn’t fit; go grocery shopping; take shirts to the cleaners; write reviews for those books I read; clean the stove in the kitchen...You all know the kinds of lists I’m talking about. They’re all things it seems necessary to get clear of before I can focus on the things that are my true heart’s desire.

The past few days reminded me of how much my husband and my marriage really are my heart’s desire, and how (despite a long daily list of chores, tasks, and modern-day dilemmas) finding ways to make that relationship a priority is what will make my heart sing with true happiness.