Tag Archives: Marriage

We got next

This week. This life. I can’t believe what I’ve seen and heard this week. Really. It’s as though every cell of my body is simultaneously ecstatic and exhausted.

On Sunday night, at an interfaith prayer service to honor the Charleston Nine at the historic Charles AME Church in Roxbury, the attorney general of my state, Maura Healey, gave a rousing sermon in which she said this:

Today we talk of mourning, the hurt we feel, of healing, and coming together – and that is right. But that is not enough. That will not do. We have work to do. In basketball we say, “I got next” when you want to challenge someone. Tonight, I got next, you got next, our government’s got next. Each and every one of us has got next. We must challenge ourselves and our leaders, every day. Every day, every person must make this their own, to see the world through the other’s eyes, to live the world through the other’s experiences, the other’s circumstances.

Two days ago, the governor of Alabama, Robert Bentley, ordered all the Confederate flags removed from the grounds state capitol. In one of his statements about the situation, he said this:

“I said ‘we’re going to remove them,’ and I did,” Bentley said. “I’m the first governor that has removed a Confederate flag.”

This morning, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a 5-4 ruling making marriage equality the law of the land. The concluding paragraph of the decision, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, said this:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is Reversed.

It is so ordered.

Today, my marriage to PW is legal in every one of The United States of America. Today, I listened to my president praise this decision, with a challenge, when he said this:

Those who have come so far on their journey to equality have a responsibility to reach back and help others join them.

As the news spread on the equal marriage decision, political people in opposition to it began their predictable chorus of outrage and rebellion. I felt compelled to write a post on Facebook, in which I said this:

Can you hear it? The reactions of people insistent on not obeying this new law of the land (equal marriage) echo the refusals to adhere to the 14th amendment when it first became the law of the land in 1868 (protecting newly free persons who had been enslaved). Are you listening? Are you paying attention to what you hear?

Queer people and allies, do not limit your joy today. But know this: our freedom is inextricably linked to freedom for ALL society’s disenfranchised. We cannot be rest or be satisfied until ALL are free.

In short, we need to work our asses off to end white supremacy and the myriad forms of racism it generates, from the benign to the murderous. It will be difficult. It will require our hearts to break open. It will require each of us to be willing to sit with and hold the justifiable outrage and despair of people we do not know and who do not look or think like us.

Love one another. Live for each other.

As I was typing that, our president began to sing “Amazing Grace” at the funeral for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of the Charleston Nine, cut down in the middle of a Wednesday night Bible study by a white supremacist.

Hearing President Obama lead thousands of mourners in that song gave me such a strong memory of my friend and mentor, the late John Shepherd, who died of AIDS on October 7, 1993, in Washington, DC. He was 48.

I remember a passionate speech John gave during a worship committee meeting on the subject of the hymn “Amazing Grace.” John said he would not play it unless the words “that saved a wretch like me” were changed to “that saved and set me free.” In his speech, John said this:

All my life I’ve been told I’m a wretch. Or if not told that, then treated like one. So while I love this hymn, and I believe in grace, I will not be labeled as a wretch any more. And I don’t want anyone to take that label on. Let’s focus not on who we are before grace arrives, but on what grace does. It sets us free.

Ever since that day in 1991, I have always sung the line that way. Thank you, John, for teaching me to focus on freedom. May we honor the millions who died, enslaved or free, to bring us to this place of a new kind of freedom. May we all find the strength, the wisdom, the grace, and the courage to go out of our way to bring freedom to those are not yet free. If you know what freedom tastes like, don’t you want it for everyone else?

We got next, people. We got next.

The Algebra of Life

Only an infrequent blogger such as I would have ears so tinny as to pose a mathematical riddle on a Sunday. Today’s algebraic challenge?

When does 62 = 24? Show your work.

The answer is June 7. Today is a mixed bag in our house. In the algebra of life, each June 7 marks another year of marriage for my parents while also marking another year that PW’s dad has been dead. Today is my parents’ 62nd wedding anniversary. PW’s dad died 24 years ago today.

Isn’t that so like life? One person can be experiencing a transcendent moment of awe while the person right next to her can be staggering through the endless, rocky, unpredictable terrain of grief. Even stranger is when the same person is living in both landscapes.

I never met PW’s dad, but I’ve heard enough stories to wish I had met him. And not a week goes by that I don’t ask him, in case he’s hanging around within earshot, “Did you see that? Did you hear that? She’s stunning, isn’t she?”

160 PARTY BARB 01_0003.1

My parents on their wedding day in 1953.

As for my parents, well, in their 62 years of marriage, I’m pretty sure they’ve reinvented the institution of marriage at least a handful of times. Probably more. I’ve never understood why people are afraid of marriage being reinvented. It seems to me that every couple who enters into this covenant will reinvent it, shape it in their own way, learning how to love each other as they come, to paraphrase Kristin Diable’s “True Devotion.”

image001

My parents on PW’s and my wedding day in 2004.

I don’t know the particulars that have gone into my parents’ reinvention. I know some of the components that loom large: admiration, humor, and forgiveness.

When PW and I were watching the Belmont Stakes yesterday, we were both struck by how newly minted Triple Crown-winner American Pharoah finished the race–after a mile and a half, it seemed like he was still accelerating. That’s what my parents’ 62-year marriage looks like to me today,  as though their union has more forward momentum than ever before. I also happen to know that their church congregation gave them a standing ovation today, so there’s something else they have in common with the thunderous thoroughbred.

For some reason, this poem comes to mind on this bittersweet anniversary. It’s from Mary Oliver’s 2014 collection of poems entitle, Blue Horses, which PW gave me last Christmas:

RUMI (for Coleman Barks)
 
When Rumi went into the tavern
I followed.
I heard a lot of crazy talk
and a lot of wise talk.

But the roses wouldn’t grow in my hair.

When Rumi left the tavern
I followed.
I don’t mean just to peek at
such a famous fellow.
Indeed he was rather ridiculous with his
long beard and his dusty feet.
But I heard less of the crazy talk and
a lot more of the wise talk and I was
hopeful enough to keep listening

until the day I found myself
transformed into an entire garden
of roses.

Which brings us to another math problem:

When does 62 + 24 = infinity? Live your work.

Lucky Seven

Last page of the poem "Us Two" from PW's mom's childhood copy of A.A. Milne's "Now We Are Six"

Note: I posted a lot of this last year under the title “Now we are six” for PW’s and my sixth anniversary, but I’ve made a few changes for Lucky Seven.

When I was first starting to come out to people in the early 1980s, two of the laments that I often heard were that I’d 1) never be able to have children and 2) never be able to get married.  Well, never say never to a Bull Girl. GForce is closing in on 15, and PW and I are celebrating our seventh wedding anniversary today.

Truth be told, it took me a long time to figure out how to get here, and like so much of life, some of the getting here happened while I was headed in the wrong direction.  I have needed massive amounts of patience, help, and luck along the way in order to hit this double jackpot at the end of my double rainbow. I still need massive amounts of patience, help, and luck to become both the mom and the wife I want to be.  Simply put, I always want to be better than I am so far at both of those roles.

I often marvel at the unrelenting surprise of getting to be married to PW. “Thanks for being married to me” is something we say to each other a lot. We’ve known each other for more than 22 years, we’ve been together for more than 12 years, and yet I continue to feel surprised after seven years of marriage.  Is it a constant state of grace, or an early sign of dementia?! Maybe there are cases where there’s no difference between the two and maybe this is one of them.

In the wee hours of the night, my Bull Brain is prone to some pretty goofy maneuvers — things I’d never let it try in the light of day.  What I wrote down some time last year — in the dark — was that marriage is like being pregnant with a child while you are raising it.  I would never have remembered this thought if I hadn’t been able to decode the scrawl in my bedside notebook, sandwiched between similarly scrawled lines of Lily Tomlin’s character Trudy from her one-woman show “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe” and a reminder to look something up on the Internet. [Last year after the “Now we are six” post, a childhood friend mailed me a pen that has a light at the end of it. No more writing in the dark! Thank you, Saundra, for helping to light my way.]

The idea of marriage as an exercise in being pregnant with the child you are simultaneously raising seems so much more appropriate to me than the metaphor of building a plane while we’re flying it, or of making it all up as we go along, both of which have their moments of truth as applied to the enterprise of marriage.  So much of the growth and development in marriage, or any covenant relationship, happens under the surface, deep in the bones or connective tissue of the covenant itself.  And sometimes it’s possible to see external evidence of this growth and development, but not always.  At least, not for me.

When I was pregnant with GForce, I remember being deeply curious about the baby girl who did her first bit of growing up inside me.   Would she be cute?  Would she have a distinctive personality?  Please, God, could she at least be funny? I know now that these are all check, check and check.  But as my pregnancy wore on, the whole mystery of this individual who was living inside me but whom I did not know was increasingly preoccupying.

Somewhere around the sixth or seventh month, I dreamed that I got out of bed, went into the bathroom and delivered the baby in a dream-enabled no-muss-no-fuss kind of way, right there on the 50s era pink and black tile floor.  As I sat there looking at her, I felt a deep sense of dream-calm wash over me.  In that same moment, the newborn in my dream looked up at me and said, “See, Mom, everything’s okay!”  Then she crawled back into my body and I went back to bed.  My waking anxiety about who this little sprout was dissipated, probably supplanted by the growing dread of, “Oh my god, this huge thing has to leave my body through THERE?!?!”  But I digress.

Sometimes my marriage is like that dream.  I’ll be chewing on some baffling mystery that’s taking up an increasing amount of space in my Bull Brain, and PW will call to check in, or I’ll come home to a bunch of flowers on the dining room table, or she’ll reach over wordlessly and rest her hand on my leg, and there will be some sort of silent, psychic shift that creates space where there wasn’t any before.  I don’t know how that happens; I just know that when the two of us stick together, as Pooh says above, amazing things happen.  Plus, we both love soup, and we could talk or not talk forever, and still find things to not talk about. To ask for any more than that seems downright greedy.

Today’s musical offering is an interesting twist on the traditional love song, as one might expect from the singer/songwriter Ron Sexsmith. I was first introduced to the song “Hard Bargain” on Emmylou Harris’ album of the same name, which was released earlier this year, so I’m using a video of one of her performances. “Hard Bargain” seems like the perfect love song to celebrate the seventh birthday of our marriage. The line “How’s a girl supposed to fail/with someone like you around?” really says it all.

Thanks for driving such a hard – and beautiful – bargain, baby.

Lyrics to “Hard Bargain” by Ron Sexsmith

I’m a bit run down, but I’m okay
I just feel like calling it a day
But you send me back to the start
You drive a hard bargain

Each time I’m heading for nowhere
Doomed and determined to go there
It seems I never get far
‘Cos you drive a hard bargain
You drive a hard bargain

How’s a girl supposed to fail
With someone like you around?
I’ve tried and tried to no avail
You just can’t seem to let me down
You drive a hard bargain

How’s a girl supposed to fail
With someone like you around?
I’ve tried and tried to no avail
You just can’t seem to let me down
You drive a hard bargain
You drive a hard bargain

So I’ll keep on playing that old song
‘Cos for all I know it’s where I belong
When the world is breaking my heart
You drive a hard bargain

You send me back to the start
You drive a hard bargain
You drive a hard bargain
I’m a bit run down, but I’m okay

You name it

The last time I was in between jobs, I spent a lot of time doing genealogical research.  I was lucky enough to have a head start with the genealogy on my mom’s side of the family; to my relief and delight, a cousin of some level and remove had been working on that for years. So I focused on piecing together my dad’s side.  That endeavor was the research equivalent of playing Whack-A-Mole.

Challenge # 1:  My paternal grandfather hails from Norway and as an adult he took on several different names.  Challenge #2:  I had absolutely no grip on pre-20th century Norwegian naming conventions, particularly for women, so it was incredibly frustrating trying to follow the matrilineal branches of my dad’s side of the family.  Then I got a full-time job, and I threw all the research into a binder where it continues to sit.

At least once a day, though, I am reminded of the power of naming.  I go by my middle name, which has resulted in some funny conversations over the years. Truly, I cannot count the number of times that a woman I’m meeting for the first time will say, after I’ve introduced myself, “My MIDDLE name is Joy!” My response is always some variant of, “Mine is too!” Once, after having this exchange with a woman at a party, she looked really confused and said, “Sooo, your name’s Joy Joy??” Um. No.

As those of you who go by your middle names know, the by-product of this alternative lifestyle is that filling out forms can be a tense moment, especially if you are plagued with the obedience gene.

Digression Alert!

Some of you who know me may be thinking, “YOU have an obedience gene??? How come I’VE never encountered it?!!” For all my contrariness — and I do have THAT in spades — I have a deep streak of obedienceness as well. If nowhere else, this is well-documented in a book my mother wrote on forgiveness. In the introduction of her book, my mom told an oft-repeated story of an obedience-fueled boneheaded thing I did as a child, prefacing it with the now-famous line “Joy was particularly obedient as a child.” Funny thing, the memory. All these years, I have remembered the line as “Joy was unusually obedient as a child.” But after fact-checking it in the actual book, well, to paraphrase Inspector Renault from the movie “Casablanca,” I’m shocked, shocked to find that I remembered it wrong. True confession: when my mom’s book was published, I wasn’t nearly as embarrassed by seeing in print the story of my boneheadedness as I was by seeing in print a reference to my obedienceness. Even though the book was about forgiveness — HELLO! — it took me a ridiculously long time to forgive my mom for outing my obedient orientation. No worries now, Mom. It’s all good.

End of digression.

Anyway, one of the complications of moving through life using your middle name is the dilemma of how to fill out forms that ask for your first and last name. Or maybe the problem is that I have never developed a standard approach to filling out such forms, so every time I fill out a form it’s like having a little adventure. Should I go for the adrenaline rush of pretending that my middle name is my first name? Is this a government form or a legally binding document? Will I get in TROUBLE for saying that my first name is really my middle name? Plus, each time I’m somewhere that has my name on file, I have to remember whether I’ve registered by my first or my middle name. Often, the authority figure behind the counter who can’t find my records looks at me like I’m either 1) crazy or b) trying to hide something.

I’ve always been intrigued by the phenomenon of women changing their last names when they get married. I have friends who have done it and friends who haven’t, and I have yet to detect a discernible pattern. Some of my friends have done it to seek the relief of a last name that only has, say, four letters instead of 10 or 15. But some of my friends have kept their long last names. Some of my friends have done it because they believed that their children would be confused if the parents have different last names, and if the mom has a different last name from the kid. I tend to think if THAT’S the biggest thing your kid is confused about, you are WAY ahead of the game! I’m sure there are all kinds of reasons for taking someone else’s last name, and they probably range from the practical to the personal to the philosophical to the political.

What I do know is that getting your original last name back involves a court and a judge and a fee. It’s curious to me that, social conventions being what they are, a woman can take someone else’s name with a stunning (to me) degree of ease, but there are all sorts of hoops you have to jump through (and monies to be paid) to get your original name back. Maybe that’s as it should be. I don’t know.

To a woman, the friends of mine who have taken the time and spent the money to regain their original last names have reported feeling a cocktail of sensations that include relief, sadness, glee, freedom, and whatever else those feelings are that have to do with coming home again. Given the complexity of feelings that we are capable of with regard to our names, my hunch is that there are some women who feel that same cocktail of sensations when they take on their partner’s last name. Whatever the case, it seems to me that the power of names, and of naming, cannot possibly be underestimated.

Back in 1992 I wrote a poem for PW on the occasion of her getting back her original last name after her divorce. I was reminded of it again this week when one of her friends from junior high (and my newest unmet friend) posted a status on Facebook celebrating the recovery of her original last name.

Your Name Again

for PLW


The old folk tale says

when a child is born

her first breath carries her name.


How many times in the course of her life

will she give up her name

or lose it

or have it written over

for convenience,

for tradition,

for the covering up of a mistake?


No matter.

Somewhere, her first breath is still circling:

pitched forward by trade winds,

pressing the feathers of the great blue heron,

spun by a spring cyclone.

Somewhere, her first breath is waiting

to come home.



Look.

Now.

In the wind sifting your hair,

in some fluttering papers,

in a gale of new snow.

Here.  Here it is.

Breathe it in, then out.

See it written for the first time

all over again.

Your name.  Yours.  Again.


© Joy Howard, 1992

Now we are six

Last page of the poem "Us Two" from PW's mom's childhood copy of A.A. Milne's "Now We Are Six"

When I was first starting to come out to people in the early 1980s, two of the laments that I often heard were that I’d 1) never be able to have children and 2) never be able to get married.  Well, never say never to a Bull Girl.  GForce is closing in on 14, and PW and I are approaching our sixth wedding anniversary.

Truth be told, it took me a long time to figure out how to accomplish both of those things.  I needed massive amounts of patience, help and luck along the way in order to hit the double jackpot at the end of my double rainbow.  Truth be told, I still need massive amounts of patience, help and luck to become both the mom and the wife I want to be.  Simply put, I always want to be better than I am so far at both of those roles.

The other night I was marveling at the unrelenting surprise of getting to be married to PW.  We’ve known each other for more than 21 years, we’ve been together for more than 11 years, and yet I’m still surprised after almost six years of marriage.  Is it a constant state of grace, or an early sign of dementia?!  Anyway, it was the wee hours of the night, so my Bull Brain was doing some pretty goofy maneuvers — things it would never think to try in the light of day.  What I wrote down — in the dark — was that marriage is like being pregnant with a child while you are raising it.  I would never have remembered this thought if I hadn’t been able to decode the scrawl in my bedside notebook, sandwiched between similarly scrawled lines of Lily Tomlin’s character Trudy from her one-woman show “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe” and a reminder to look something up on the Internet.  I wish I could figure out how to write while I’m sleeping, like Coleridge did.  Alas, I’m not (yet) willing to become an opium addict, so unless I can figure out another way to achieve that, I’m stuck with the adventure of writing blind.  News flash: a friend just told me about a pen that has a light built into it.  My writing blind days may be coming to a merciful end!

But back to that idea of marriage as an exercise in being pregnant with the child you are simultaneously raising.  It seems so much more apt than the metaphor of building a plane while we’re flying it, or of making it all up as we go along, both of which have their moments of truth as applied to the enterprise of marriage.  So much of the growth and development in marriage, or any covenant relationship, happens under the surface, deep in the bones or connective tissue of the covenant itself.  And sometimes it’s possible to see external evidence of this growth and development, but not always.  At least, not for me.

When I was pregnant with GForce, I remember being deeply curious about the baby girl who did her first bit of growing up inside me.   Would she be cute?  Would she have a distinctive personality?  Please, God, could she at least be funny?  I know now that these are all check, check and check.  But as my pregnancy wore on, the whole mystery of this individual who was living inside me but whom I did not know was increasingly preoccupying.  Somewhere around the sixth or seventh month, I dreamed that I got out of bed, went into the bathroom and delivered the baby in a dream-enabled no-muss-no-fuss kind of way, right there on the 50s era pink and black tile floor.  As I sat there looking at her, I felt a deep sense of dream-calm wash over me.  In that same moment, the newborn in my dream looked up at me and said, “See, Mom, everything’s okay!”  Then she crawled back into my body and I went back to bed.  My waking anxiety about who this little sprout was dissipated, probably supplanted by the growing dread of, “Oh my god, this huge thing has to leave my body through THERE?!?!”  But I digress.

Sometimes my marriage is like that dream.  I’ll be chewing on some baffling mystery that’s taking up an increasing amount of space in my Bull Brain, and PW will call to check in, or I’ll come home to a bunch of flowers on the dining room table, or she’ll reach over wordlessly and rest her hand on my leg, and there will be some sort of silent, psychic shift that creates room where there wasn’t any before.  I don’t know how that happens; I just know that when the two of us stick together, as Pooh says above, amazing things happen.  Plus, we both love soup, and we could talk or not talk forever, and still find things to not talk about. To ask for any more than that seems downright greedy.

Today’s musical offering has the benefit of perfect lyrics for a celebration of marriage, plus the whole lovely dynamic of musical improvisation, which is way better than watching the improv of marriage, but which requires a lot of the same skills.  We saw Bobby McFerrin at Symphony Hall in March this year.  Near the end of the show he sat down on the edge of the stage and invited people to come improvise with him, as he does in this video.  One woman came up and did this same song with him.  For all I know, it was the same woman and she just follows him around doing this same song with him in a different city every night.  Whatever the case, it was stunning, and I am so pleased to have found this video.

Oh, and Baby — you’re my centerpiece.  That’s how it is.