Last week I wrote about an epiphany, a moment when I noticed that I was judging the people in my life, my husband in particular, according to a storyline that I’d written in my head. I’d cast myself in the alluring role of pissed off and withdrawn second wife, and my husband, as the thoughtless, insensitive male lead.
I was relieved for this insight because once I could clearly identify the mental framework I was operating within (as opposed to, say, real life), I realized that I could also find the way out. I could set about unfogging my storm-coloured glasses and replace them with a different perspective, one that might allow me to just accept the frequent moments of warmth and love offered to me instead of always throwing up a wall and looking for gravel to throw.
When my mind is clear I know that I have a marriage worth cherishing. I just don’t always see it.
Surely if I had created this plot, I could un-create it, right?
To that end, I posed a series of questions to myself – if I see it’s just a story, how can I write a new one? What should the new story be? What will our roles be, what’s the happy ending? – and I promised to share what happened.
And what happened was this: I was stumped. I had no idea how or where to begin that didn’t feel completely false. Somehow, that’s not surprising, is it?
So I put the question down, and left it alone. Out of fatigue, as much as anything else. And in its place, I picked up something else, something I tripped over one morning, when I was out for a morning stroll during our March break holiday in Florida. I had left our condo with my sunglasses and an audiobook cued on my IPod, intending to walk one loop of our block. I was enjoying the solitude and the breeze so much that I went further, slipping out the front gate and wandering over to the mall next door. I strolled along the sidewalk passing the dentist’s office, and the realtor until I finally arrived in front of the Barefoot Yoga studio and their small rock garden. Tucked in among the pedestrian shrubs, the garden is a tiny oasis of sand and rock decorated with a child’s shovel and pail. There are smooth beach stones scattered throughout, each one bearing a word written in black marker. Love. Patience. Wisdom. Joy. Please take one, a hand-written sign says. I kneel down and consider which one I need most right now. And when I see it, I know immediately.
I don’t need more attention. I don’t need more love. I have these already and I don’t know how to accept them. I need something even more fundamental. The greatest of these is love, it is said, but I wonder: what reach does love have without belief to welcome it? How do we accept what we can’t see, touch or get our hands around? Can faith open the heart to allow love in?
I pick up the rock and slip it into my pocket, and later, I place it carefully among the books stacked on my bedside table.
The following day, my husband and I are out on an evening walk, walking silently arm and arm, when the shard of a new story suddenly juts into my consciousness.
“I think you should be my Prince,” I say.
It seems incomplete. But maybe it’s enough. A start.
“Deal,” he says, squeezing my hand, as if that is enough for him. Maybe, just maybe, it’s the role he has been playing all along, and I was just too busy writing my own tragedy to see it.
When I wake up the next morning, I look for him beside me, my Prince, the one who kisses my forehead before he gets out of bed. We go out for morning coffee together, and I see him again, in the way he shares a story from the newspaper with me, and in the ten minute debate that follows, the way he listens thoughtfully to what I have to say. Later in the day, when I walk into the kitchen to put on the kettle for tea, he slides up behind me and rubs his nose in my hair. There he is, I realize, that Prince. When he offers his help to my ailing dad, I see it again, and when he agrees to accompany my daughter to her next cheerleading competition, and to make all the travel arrangements because I’ve done the last four in a row. Huh, what do you know?
It’s not that simple, of course. Soon enough my old lenses slip over my eyes and it is hard to see him as knightly and noble. He jumps up from the dinner table when his cell phone rings and my immediate thought is: thoughtless. I have to rub my eyes and remind myself to look again. Husband supporting family; he’s caught up in work when he’d really rather relax for five minutes and enjoy time with us. And you know what? I feel better, and I appreciate him.
No one is so perfect or one-dimensional as to be the Perfect Prince, Husband, Wife or Companion all the time, of course, but the difference is now I go looking for him. I never used to see the Prince at all because I was expecting the frog, all the time. When the Prince appeared, I didn’t believe it. I didn’t buy in. A friend of mine wrote a piece about this habit of ours lately, about how we can go blind to the things in front of us, how we adapt and, in effect, stop seeing. And so it was with my husband. I’d written his role, and that’s all I could see. When the Prince showed up, he was lost in the haze; all I could see was the cad.
So the answer is a simple, you see, and it is also a long life’s work: to recognize the stories we’re writing, to see where they are damaging us and those around us, and to take responsibility for seeing more clearly, and rewriting those roles. That’s as good as it will ever get, and the process never ends. For my part, it’s taken twenty-five years just to get to the place where I can see my part: my place in the director’s chair in the story of my life. I can write this story any way I want to. And not just once, but over and over and over again.