Still Alice is haunting me. Other than frequently losing my mind, there is another theme that resonated. I don’t like it. It comes from this passage:
“I wish we’d spend more time together,” she said.
“What do you mean? We just spent the whole summer together.”
“No, not the summer, our whole lives. I’ve been thinking about it, and I wish we’d spent more time together.”
“Ali, we live together, we work at the same place, we’ve spent our whole lives together.”
In the beginning, they did. They lived their lives together, with each other. But over the years, it had changed. They had allowed it to change. She thought about the sabbaticals apart, the division of labor over the kids, the travel, their singular dedication to work. They’d been living next to each other for a long time.
“I think we left each other alone for too long.”
“I don’t feel left alone, Ali. I like our lives, I think it’s been a good balance between an independence to pursue our own passions and a life together.”
She thought about his pursuit of his passion, his research, always more extreme than hers. Even when the experiments failed him, when the data weren’t consistent, when the hypotheses turned out to be wrong, his love for his passion never wavered. However flawed, even when it kept him up all night tearing his hair out, he loved it. The time, care, attention, and energy he gave to it had always inspired her to work harder at her own research. And she did.
“You’re not left alone, Ali. I’m right here with you.”
He looked at his watch, then downed the rest of his coffee.
“I’ve got to run to class.”
He picked up his bag, tossed his cup in the trash, and went over to her. He bent down, held her head of curly black hair in his hands, and kissed her gently. She looked up at him and pressed her lips into a thin smile, holding back her tears just long enough for him to leave her office.
She wished she’d been his passion.
Oh my, I adore this couple. (and people say I look just the same – ha!) This couple is so young, now changed, but better too. I think so. I hope so.
When I read the Alice passage, my heart beat abnormally fast. I felt a cold flash of fear.
It happens so easily and innocently, doesn’t it? The separating is so slow and natural that it’s hardly even noticeable. “Separate” is a necessary, normal, and healthy part a marriage. But there’s this passion thing I can’t stop thinking about.
Alice’s neurons are literally dying and she knows she’s going to lose even the memory of knowing her husband. It is the end of their life as it was. There’s that word: regret.
Alice’s husband loves her, but he’s not facing THE END. Maybe that’s the difference. Or maybe he likes their life and their space. Maybe his other passions are enough.
When we were first married I went everywhere with Gregor. In the beginning, they did. They lived their lives together, with each other. We always found each other. Everything was so new and exciting – I mean, I was living with A MAN! We taught and coached and then I’d come to his soccer field and we would shoot on the net. Then we would shower and go eat at the dining hall. I pitied those couples who entered and left the dining hall without each other, who were too busy to coordinate dinner together, who sat separately. I felt secure, that our love was strong and impenetrable, that we must like each other more than others. How lucky we were!
When we had our first babies, our love was even stronger. Children made us a family and we loved them more than we loved our own lives. There came a need for a division of labor. I wanted to be home with baby, and I was nursing. So I was the one getting up at night so he could work the next day. I still went to all his basketball games, even the away ones, even when they were in Roxbury Massachusetts and I drove for six hours trying to find that stupid gym.
But over the years, it had changed. They had allowed it to change…Then we had more babies and our older children started school. What a wonderful unit we were! And as was necessary as responsibilities were bigger. The “divide and conquer” method was needed for home, work, church, hobbies, and volunteer work.
They’d been living next to each other for a long time.
Then came all those lessons of one kind and another: soccer, baseball, swimming, basketball, cross-country, dance, scouts, camp-outs. Our children made friends and went to their houses. And the mall! One of us was (is) always driving in the car, picking someone up and dropping someone off while the other was (is) at home doing bedtime, teeth-brushing, and homework.
And the work became even more important. I sometimes worry about this, all this time spent apart. But we make efforts. It’s been good. It’s been enough. We’re happy.
But this past fall, our friends: the “perfect couple” with the “perfect family,” with four children the same ages as our own, quietly divorced. It was shocking. Obviously, “the perfect” was not. I cried, got angry, asked really personal questions, and felt a sad soul-sucking hopelessness.
It happens all the time. And it scares me. Couples “drift.” We “grow apart.” Over time, the little things become “irreconcilable differences.” Most couples who divorce probably wouldn’t say it was one big thing. They say, “we were too young,” “I don’t know what happened.” “He just wasn’t there for me.”
Or are those just things we tell ourselves?
So I’ve been thinking. This is what passion looks like to me:
- find one another when you come through the door after being away
- say good-bye with a kiss
- date nights. and often.
- get-aways. just the two of you.
- small, considerate acts of kindness. (he scrubbed the carpet this morning. WIN.)
- “I love you.” every day.
- pray together. every day.
- his interests are my interests – not because I like electronic stores, but because I love him.
- when we speak to one another, it’s always with respect.
Nothing on this list is big. Everything is very small. And critical to a marriage. It’s this couple. It’s Exercising our Kindness Muscles. It’s the small things that keep the passion, not just the grand overtures, diamond rings, and over-the-top birthday parties (I mean, honey, those are nice too!)
I guess I don’t want it to take tragedy or feel a great regret that we could have done it better. I want to say he was the love of my life, because I chose him and he chose me. That we loved each other on purpose. While the neurons are still alive.
She wished she’d been his passion.
The heartbreaking thing here is, too much time had passed and Alice couldn’t do anything about it.