Marriage

Nico_0001This past summer my family and I traveled to the countryside of France for my brother’s wedding. He and his bride gave me the honor of not only walking my beautiful niece down the aisle, but also of speaking to what I know of marriage. My hard-earned wisdom on the subject came as the following.

As a point of reference, my brother’s name is Nicholas. Born to different mothers, perhaps our father knew somehow that he could not provide us the stability most siblings share, so he gave us names so closely related in order to thread us together the best he could. My brother is one of the great gifts my father has given me and I’m so very grateful that our families have come to know and love each other.

Love coming in a way that is unexpected and, yet, just the way it is supposed to. That, in itself, is marriage.

***

IMG_8077Nic and I have had an unusual vantage point when it comes to marriage. To say we grew up without a traditional model is probably an understatement, yet for whatever reason both of us have chosen faith over fear. I did so very young and with reckless abandon; Nic has done so thoughtfully, reflectively, and with great intention. He may be my younger brother, but often times and in many ways, he is far wiser.

There are many cliches about marriage–the journey not the destination, the marathon, not the sprint…and they are all true. However what I’ve come to understand after being married almost 16 years is that each marriage is unique to its participants.

So rather than speak about marriage in specific terms, I will share a perspective. In very general terms there are three ways to view a marriage. There is the romantic version of marriage that lasts about five minutes and, while wonderful in the moment, is destined to end in disappointment. And there is the institutional version of marriage, an agreement between two people to create a practical set of mutually agreeable routines that guide their days. Then there is a third version of marriage, one I see already blooming between Nic and Nejma, and that is one of spiritual partnership.

From this perspective the two people involved consciously view their roles as partners in an evolutionary process. Sometimes this can take the form of nurturing support. When one of us is afraid the other is there to guide, ushering us through doors we know are right but we are afraid walk through on our own. These are the kind of times when gratitude comes easily and love flows freely.

Choosing a spiritual partnership, however, means accepting the reality that the lessons we are on this earth to learn are not always easy and that our greatest teachers are also the source of our greatest frustration and pain. Everything we avoid in life comes to pass again and again until we learn the lesson but when that lesson comes haunting in our marriage it can make our partner almost unrecognizable.

This is disconcerting and can be deeply frightening because in our marriage is where things are supposed to be most safe. When we remember our purpose for one another, however, built on a strong foundation of trust and clear intentions, then we can be vulnerable enough to stop defending ourselves against this stranger in our home and instead ask ourselves what lesson our love is trying to teach us.

Choosing learning over fear isn’t easy, but it is as simple as making the choice. It is a choice made day by day, sometimes moment by moment, and it is a gift we give to one another in love and for love. And it is this love that will sustain and grow us into the people we are meant to be.

Learning to lean into marriage as our greatest classroom and our partner as our greatest teacher is where true Love resides. Nic and Nejma have crossed this threshold and to you both I say, welcome home.

The Curve Ball

Screen Shot 2013-10-04 at 3.48.44 PMI’ve made it clear to the universe and my family and friends that this will be my last year teaching in a traditional classroom in a traditional high school. Something else awaits and, while I know not yet what it is, I know that something exists. Something that does not deplete this introvert’s energy so completely, something that does not weigh on this soft heart so heavily, something that, after 19 years of teaching high school, will offer me a new and exciting professional challenge and will allow me to use my gifts in a way that serves me as much as it serves others. It’s out there and I trust it’s bought a ticket to get to me and it will be here sooner rather than later.

And yet.

I walked to the computer lab from my classroom today, all the way down one hall, through and down the breezeway, and all the way down another hall.  The whole way there I was greeted with smiles and hugs and high-fives and kindness. Doors were held open, papers I dropped were picked up, offers were made to carry my bag. This relentless warmth from students past and present, sent my way for particular reason other than they saw me walking down the hall, filled my chest with breath and made my eyes wet with tears.

I met my third period at the computer lab where the big topic of conversation was the SAT’s most will be taking tomorrow morning. So many worried about such a high-stakes test, more so than the average set of seniors because these kids are almost all first-generation college students who see higher education as the way out of the struggle most of them live as a daily way of life. Their grades are great, their extra-curriculars are strong, their habits—considering they are still teenagers—are mostly solid. The only thing standing in the way between them and their dream school is this one test and they are scared to death.

So I did the only thing I knew how to do in a situation such as this. We set the study of leading economic indicators aside and we had a Life Skill Moment.

“Here’s what I know,” I said. “You are all wonderful, smart, capable young adults who will go on to make this world one I want to grow old in. My SAT scores were low and I didn’t get into the big impressive schools I wanted to get into as a result. You know what? I ended up exactly where I was meant to go. Exactly. I got an outstanding education at a beautiful school, made life-long friends, met the man who became my husband, and have gone on to live the American dream many of you so desperately want.

“Letting one stupid-ass test get between you and that dream is one stupid-ass choice. It’s one test on one day in your whole entire life. If it goes well, great; if it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter. Any school that is going to turn you away because of how you scored on one test is no school you want to attend anyway.”

They looked at me, eyes wide.

“Did she just say ‘stupid-ass’?” one student whispered.

“I think she did,” replied another.

Eyes wider. Mouths opened. And then the clapping. And then the cheering. It reverberated down the hall so loudly that another teacher came into see if we were ok.

Yeah, we’re ok, I mouthed and nodded. We’re actually great.

Who leaves this? Who walks away from kids who are so anxious to show you their love and appreciation? What kind of “something” could possibly give me more reward than this thing?

And yet.

Next to parenting, this is the hardest work that exists in the world. To be a teacher, a great teacher, it takes the deepest and most honorable kind of intention and thoughtfulness—on levels both academic and human—not to speak of the hours both at home and at school.

I’ve been doing this work all of my adult life. Teaching is just what I do. It’s as natural and close to my heart as mothering. I don’t know how there can possibly be another job that is better suited to who I am and what I do.

I also don’t know that there is another job that is least suited to who I am and how I do it.

It seems there is no easy answer. It seems that just when I think I have it figured out, God throws me the curve ball called “Are You Sure?”

I am sure.

And yet…

A Conversation with My 8-Year Old

2013-08-01 19.50.21Hey, Mom, did you know we have another teacher?

Another teacher?

Yeah, a math teacher. He comes in once a week. He came last year too.

Really? What for?

To teach math, duh.

Easy Attitude Guy.

Right, sorry. (hands up, palms facing me, eyebrows up as if to say, “Whoa, chill, I got it”) To teach math, Mom. He comes to teach math. Once a week—every Tuesday. He comes and we all listen and then Ms. Jones* learns how to teach us and then she helps us the rest of the week until Mr. Miller comes again to teach us something new.

Do you like that?

Yeah, it’s cool. And Brandon? Brandon is to Ms. Jones like Mr. Miller is to us.

Nice with analogies. Tell me how that works.

Well, number lines aren’t really Ms. Jones’ thing, so Brandon monitors her closely when she does them and when she makes a mistake her helps her fix it.

Like Mr. Miller monitors you and your classmates?

Yeah.

That’s nice of Brandon.

Yeah, he’s a nice guy.

So, tell me about this Mr. Miller.

Well, he’s bald.

Oh yeah?

Yeah, he’s bald.

What else do you know about him?

He’s married.

A husband or wife?

Wife.

How do you know? Does he wear a wedding ring?

No.

Well then how do you know?

He talked about her in a problem last week. “I have 287 pieces of candy; my wife has 218. How many do we have in all?” See? (Raised eyebrows, shoulder shrug) A wife.

Huh. Cool. What else? Is he young or old?

In between-ish (hand flat, rotating side to side). Probably middle 40’s-ish.

Like Daddy?

Yeah, except he’s all bald and Dad’s only a little bald on the top. Also, he doesn’t have a beard or mustache. Only a little facial hair.

Wait, what? He has facial hair but not a beard or mustache?

Yeah, you know, like scraggly short-ish hair (hand close to face making patting motion but not quite touching it).

You mean, like stubble?

Yeah, stubble. Dude needs to shave.

So he’s middle 40’s-ish, bald, has stubble on his face, he has a wife, and he’s good at math.

Yep (lips pursed, head nodding) that about covers it.

Cool.

Yep.

 

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