Despite many things to celebrate (my mom is turning 69 today and we are celebrating our 18th wedding anniversary on Sunday), I am thinking mostly about my beloved high school teacher and speech coach, Mr. Hyler, who passed away yesterday morning.
I am also thinking about Sally, his wife, who was with him in those final moments. I am remembering an earlier time. Let's call it "When Jerry Met Sally". They were both speech coaches and got to know one another from meetings and tournaments. I was a major speech geek and spent lots of spare time bugging Mr. Hyler so I witnessed the spring in Mr. Hyler's step when he knew he would be seeing her. I saw physical evidence of him wanting to get this right. I found many yellow legal pads on his desk or on the floor of whatever room we might be practicing in with failed attempts at correspondence on them. Each page contained a different heading. Dear Sally, Hi Sally, Greetings!, Hey Sal, Hi Sally! Obviously this initial stall-out didn't last and progress was made. They married and enjoyed a rich and full life together.
Of course this is the simple version. But what I am really thinking about is how it felt to be with them. Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." No matter how much time I spent with them or when it occurred, I always felt afterwards that I had been in the presence of an active love. I felt it in their first meetings and sporadic visits over the years. That feeling never changed. The love and adoration Jerry and Sally had for each other was apparent in words and gestures. Their eyes sparkled for each other...it was clear to everyone.
I recently read an article about the secret to long and happy marriages and it comes down to this: kindness. And kindness comes from showing up. Do you turn toward your partner in even the smallest of exchanges? Is their interest, inquiry, concern, excitement about something enough to initiate a response of affirmation from you? It seems so small and yet I get it. Too many times I have been in a room where someone says something and it is greeted with silence, or worse, a look of derision. Sometimes in the busyness of life, even polite dinner conversation becomes abrupt and unsatisfying because we are all lost in our own worries of what we have to do next and it takes work to come back to the moment, to be present and participate. And it made me realize that on all occasions and in every situation, Jerry and Sally turned toward each other.
But there is more to it, I know. I think you have to be aware, be present enough to make the conscious choice to turn toward someone.
Big Man and I are working a bit on this. We are trying hard to be a bit more mindful and present in general. Recently, we were helping my daughter through a stressful time and it was clear she was working herself up. Big Man stopped her and said these words, "Can you feel mom's hand on your back? Can you feel the soft blanket on your lap? Can you feel my warm leg against your cool one? Be here, Lucy."
Her breathing slowed as she started paying attention to what he was asking. As her attention shifted to each sensation he called out, she visibly relaxed and eventually we were able to have thoughtful and more reasonable conversation.
I have practiced this myself....in driving and getting lost, in hearing bad news and struggling to maintain my composure, in trying to usher (yet again!) Thing 2 through his latest emotional lament. I have to say it is hard because it is not my normal, but I am working on it.
On a recent trip I was a bit worried about lack of planning. I gathered all sorts of free literature in an attempt to make a haphazard plan and headed toward the beach. My head was buried when I caught the glimpse of a seagull and I am proud to say I looked up.
Be here now, I thought.
The sky was a brilliant blue, the crashing waves of the ocean were hypnotic, and my son was taking on the ocean with the unflagging spirit of a ten year old boy. I watched him jump and roll with the waves oblivious to everything but the bracing feel of the water on his skin and the roll of the tide. He wasn't planning anything. He was in the moment so completely that I wondered how life might feel if I could take it on in just that way every single minute.
Because isn't that all that we have? The gift of the minute we are in? Be with your kid, be with your beloved, be with the person right in front of you, be with your pet, be with a book, be in this piece of writing. It is the very essence of kindness to yourself. Showing up and being present. And offering that kindness to the one you've vowed to make a life with seems the most logical conclusion. It seems foolish to do otherwise.
What a gift Sally gave to Jerry, staying with him until his last breath. I am not surprised because they have always turned toward each other, and it gives me hope and comfort to know this did not change.
I am taking notes.
Be here now.
Turn toward each other.
Don't hide the sparkle.
It's all mixed up, my wedding anniversary and Jerry's passing. It's circular and interwoven and a gift to my marriage. This reminder that love endures and grows and pulses through the gentle kindness of simply showing up.