As Normal as the Sky

Dearest Rachel –

For all that is said between us as we walk through Harms Wood, the conversations that I have with Lars are generally like whatever happens proverbially in Vegas; everything is meant to stay there, not to be repeated. But when the topic turns to the relationship you and I had – and his outsider perspective on it, and how it differs from my own – I feel the need to write you, and let you know about it. To be honest, I wish I could ask you whether you would agree more with him or me on the subject, but I know better than that.

As a doctor, he’s seen his fair share of patients – and, of course, their spouses. If his view on relationships were considered to be based more on anecdotal evidence than hard data, even then, he’s working with a vastly larger sample set (and a much deeper dive – be it physically, emotionally or mentally – because all of these aspects of one’s life affect one’s health, and he needs to know these things about patients in order to appropriately treat them) than your average person. I might be dismissive of his viewpoint, simply of its distance from the two of us (and thus, lacking in a certain depth), but I cannot question the breadth of his experience from which to draw upon.

And I find myself having to rely upon his word when he tells me that ours contained a closeness most marriages (let alone other relationships) could only dream of. By his rough estimates – and to use a metaphor we could both relate to as competitive students – ours was well within the ninetieth percentile, possibly much further up than that.

That’s hard for me to grasp – and I would expect you might have the same difficulty in relating to this assertion – since those around (and, more importantly, above) us seemed to also have the secret to a close and happy marriage. Your parents nearly made it to fifty years together, only to be cut short by your dad’s stroke a week before their anniversary; had they met and married sooner, they would have likely gotten much further. The same goes for my folks, who are, as Paul Harvey would say, more than 62 years along on the road to forever. A close, healthy, loving relationship seems to us to be as normal as the sky.

But of course, I’ve learned that there are a lot of divorced people out there in the last couple of years – and in some cases, I’ve discovered that there are certain attitudes that just kind of get in the way of a happy, symbiotic relationship (which, as weird as it may sound, might be a good definition of the ideal marriage – each of us brings something to it that the other lacks, and can benefit from. It’s the sort of thing that makes marriage – in its ideal state – so much better than… singledom? Singularity? Well, whatever, it’s what God said was ‘not good’ right from the start – although, now that I think of it, He specifically said it was not good for the man. Make of that what you will). Moreover, there are others that just kind of stay together out of inertia, rather than any real spark between them; they’re little more than ‘roommates with benefits,’ at a certain point.

While the former concept is alien to me, the latter I can grasp, somewhat. Day-to-day life was not always brimming with romance. We had many days where we simply went about our lives, both separately and together, with little opportunity for those grand romantic gestures (not that those would have likely appealed to you, not being a fan of surprises, even pleasant ones). Little ones, sure; a kiss in public here, picking up breakfast for each other there, but not those big ‘white-knight-on-a-horse-saving-the-day’ sort of things. After all, we had our own real life troubles to deal with, both at work and at home, and those aren’t exactly conducive to an enduring state of ‘happily ever after.’

With that phrase being said, it’s possible that I don’t understand the concept of what romance really is. We’ve been taught, perhaps unintentionally but nevertheless, that there’s this sort of fairy-tale ‘happily ever after’ state that we need to strive for. This is ‘Romance’ in the vein of one of those ‘bodice-ripper’ books from Harlequin Publishing or another of that ilk. By that yardstick, we weren’t even close; ours may have been a contented existence, but we would have been much more like “Mr. and Mrs. Boredom,” than, say, “Love Bunnies.” I can’t speak for you, but there were occasional moments, when the three of us congregated in the family room around the screen (and with our own respective screens in our laps), I wondered if we were really all that close in the moment, aside from our proximity at the time.

And that’s another thing that leaves me questioning him; we never got to the point where we knew where the other was coming from. It may have been possible that you could read me like a book, but I think there were a few things that you never knew (or wanted to go into detail) about me. Meanwhile, even as I’m going through some of your Bible studies, it’s dismaying to see your struggles that I might have been able to help with; I simply assumed that you would tell me if you wanted help – at which point, I could lend a hand – and the fact that you didn’t indicated that you were content with the status quo, so I didn’t try to make a big deal out of things I might otherwise have preferred to change. There are so many situations where, if I were to ask ‘what would Rachel do in this situation?’ I think I would be stuck for an answer. Sure, I might know a couple of things you wouldn’t do (some because I would, and either you left it to me to handle, or you would prefer I didn’t do that either), but that doesn’t reduce the possible options by much.

Although… one thing that always struck me was your reliance on prayer. If you were looking for something that was lost amongst the piles – especially if you needed it urgently and were pressed for time – you would pray something quick, along the lines of “Lord, help me find this thing,” and more often than not, you would.

Two thousand years and half a world away
Dying trees still grow greener when you pray

Bruce Cockburn, “All the Diamonds in the World,” from Salt, Sun and Time (1974)

And, in the same way as I find myself doubting the depth of our (or maybe it was just my) love at times, I admit to being severely lacking in that kind of faith. When I hear of Jesus talking about the faith that can move mountains, I think of a visionary builder, bringing in his construction teams and equipment, to move it shovelful by enormous mechanical shovelful, in order to put up the buildings – or even an entire city! – he has in mind for the site. I can hardly begin to imagine an actual mountain, observing an individual yelling a command and gesturing in a direction, and simply sliding from its place on the earth, across the landscape, and into the sea as directed.

To be sure, maybe that’s not something you ever imagined, either, or maybe the thought never crossed your mind. But you had the faith and love to make up for what I lacked, and here I am, contesting it, when someone who has experience observing others (even for a living, no less!) tells me otherwise; if he says what we had was special, perhaps I shouldn’t argue.

Even if what we had seemed as normal as the sky.

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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