Monday, February 14, 2011

Grace and Grief

For the last several days I've been thinking about miracles. Two posts over at Segullah, here and here, tell moving stories about miracles in daily lives--and about one miracle that wasn't as expected (involving the death of a beloved son). Yesterday, in one of those odd confluences (that are probably less coincidence than tender mercies), we talked about some of the miracles of Christ. I was overwhelmed initially reading the lesson about the love and grace of those individual miracles; I was also moved by the teacher, who spoke of losing her daughter and the miracles that surrounded that death (specifically, that she was able to do what was necessary). The message I took away from all of these stories was this: God is always with us, but that does not always mean that he will protect us from the things we fear (pain, heartache, death). (This talk, given almost ten years ago by Lance Wickman, expresses that sentiment so well: "but if not . . ."; but if God does not protect us, we will still have faith, we will still move forward.)

In some ways, perhaps all this thinking was preparing me for something I would, frankly, just as well not have gone through. Last night, I experienced some signs that I might be miscarrying (a gush of clear fluid, bleeding). At 15+ weeks, this was not a good sign. Our faithful neighbor came over and helped my husband give me a blessing: among other things, my husband promised me that I would be safe, that God loved me. And I felt that love--I think it helped carry me through what followed. We also talked briefly, after the blessing, about grace--about how we, as Mormons, don't often talk about grace enough. But last night, in that blessing, I felt the touch of grace, of God.

Not too long afterward, we found ourselves in the ER. After some time of uncertainty and waiting, one of the techs took us for an ultrasound, where we saw confirmed what we had already suspected: no fetal movement; almost no amniotic fluid. Still, it was a wrench, that moment when I had to finally give up on the hope I almost didn't realize I was still clinging too. (My husband had very pointedly *not* mentioned the baby in his blessing; he said afterward that he felt that he couldn't.) The nurse told us afterward that the baby had probably died some days earlier, that the body was already starting to deteriorate when we came in. In other words, there is nothing we could have done.

I know miscarriages are nothing new; I know many women have them--some women have many of them. Still, this was my first; being wheeled into the bright operating room was disorienting and frightening. But we survived. We came home to a night of little sleep, and in the morning the sight of my children's faces--my two healthy children--reminded me again that I*am* loved, that God is aware of me, even if that awareness does not protect me as I had hoped. Thus this day, and this post-a curious sense of grace commingled with grief.

(I realize this is quite personal, but few enough people read this blog as to make it almost private--and this needed to be recorded while it was still fresh).

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The flaws of romantic love

I'm over at Segullah again today, talking about the kind of powerful sisterly love that can exist between good friends. The post originally started out as a critique of romantic love--can you tell I'm just a little sour by Valentine's Day?--but it shifted to a more positive direction.

But I still have some thoughts on romantic love that I wanted to get out there before I lose them. And I don't need to be as articulate here as I do on Segullah (not nearly as many readers; although I daresay those readers are just as discerning!).

I spent most of high school and college hating Valentine's Day--it seemed like just one more day when I was reminded of my romantic inadequacies. I don't think I had a boyfriend for Valentine's day until the month before Dan and I got engaged. When we were dating, of course, Valentine's suddenly seemed like a fun idea--an excuse to get out and do something special for one another. It didn't hurt that I suddenly had a passport to inclusion in the romantic ideal.

I should note before I get much farther that my issue isn't with romance itself--after all, I enjoyed being courted, and I still enjoy a good chick flick or romantic novel. My problem is with our tendency in society to glamorize romance as an end in and of itself. To do so, I think, overlooks the fact that true love between couples entails much more than romance. C. S. Lewis talks somewhere (I tried and failed to find the quote) about how romantic love is a powerful emotion, but it's impossible to sustain--and those who enter marriage believing that this romantic high characterizes real love are bound to disappointment. Slowly, something deeper and more enduring replaces those initial exalted feelings. And honestly? I'm glad they do. When I look back on the year and a half that my husband and I were dating, most of what I remember are the discomforts of the drama, the uncertainty (and of course, uncertainty is a key part of the romantic tension that draws us to the romantic story), and the roller coaster highs and lows. To be honest, I'm often surprised that Dan still wanted to marry me when I remember the emotional basketcase that I was for much of our courtship.

Romance overlooks the idea that love is work. In the article by Patricia Holland that I quote in the Segullah post, she quotes author Eric Fromm: “Because one does not see that love is an activity, a power of the soul, one believes that all that is necessary to find is the right object—and that everything goes by itself afterward. This attitude can be compared to that of a man who wants to paint but who, instead of learning the art, claims that he has just to wait for the right object, and that he will paint beautifully when he finds it.” This, I think is one of the dangers inherent in romantic love--first, the idea that you only have to find the right object (I'm not a believer in soul mates--although obviously I think some people are more compatible than others); second, the idea that real love shouldn't entail work. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

One of the most eloquent passages I know on the idea of deep, committed marital love comes in George Eliot's Middlemarch (which in many ways reads like a primer on marital love, showing the spectrum from relationships founded on the illusion of romantic love, to the more enduring relationships between flawed human beings). Towards the end of the novel, one of the characters finds himself socially disgraced when some misdeed in his past comes to light. His wife, according to the social dictates of the time, has to share in his disgrace. But movingly, when she finds out, she comes home and, rather than reproaching her husband, she goes quietly upstairs and removes the frivolous bonnet she'd been wearing out visiting, and replaces it with a quieter, simpler one, symbolic of her acceptance of the situation. She'd married her husband in prosperity, but she'd married the man and not the position, and when he lost his position, she was still willing to stand by him. That, I've always thought, is what real love should look like.

The final issue I have with romantic love is that it sets most of us up for disappointment, somehow conveying the idea that if your relationship doesn't look like this, then there must be something wrong. But truth be told, neither Dan nor I are much for romantic gestures; I'd rather he didn't spend the money on the flowers (I don't mind them other times of the year, but I'd rather save the $30 at V-day); and I can't imagine Dan reciting a poem to me to save his life (well, maybe to save his life). Instead, our "romantic" gestures are much more mundane and domestic: he gets up with the kids in the morning to buy me an extra forty minutes of sleep; I try to keep things somewhat organized around the house so that our domestic routines are smoother. Not the stuff that romantic songs are made of, but they do make our lives richer.

Now, I'm not trying to dissuade anyone from celebrating Valentine's Day (if they so choose--our few experiences with over-priced meals on the day itself have kind of turned us off it), only saying that there's more to life than romantic love. And more to love (I suppose I should have clarified in the beginning that I mean eros when I talk of love--not philia, storge or even agape--none of these have quite the same issues of commercial distortion) than just romance.