Cultivation

“A friendship is like a garden: You have to water it, and tend it, and care about it, or you lose it.” That’s from a musical called Merrily We Roll Along by Stephen Sondheim. The statement is doubly true for marriages. I know from experience how easy it is to fall into a routine of going to work, coming home, eating supper, watching TV, and going to bed. Routines are hard on marriages, because when a marriage isn’t growing it’s decaying. Or, to extend the analogy, the weeds grow while the gardener rests.

Early in our marriage, Mrs. Happy and I took sack lunches to work nearly every day. Each morning before leaving for work, I would usually pack the lunches for both of us. In the process of that, I would draw a little cartoon on her sack to make her smile during her lunch break. When I drew a cartoon, I liked for it to be relevant to our relationship at the time. For instance, one day we hardly got to see each other at all because I worked until 5:00 p.m. and she had class (she spent two years in a Master’s program) from 5:30 to 10:00. When she got home, there was a gentle rain falling, so we lay down in our bed, which is right next to a window, and talked to each other while we watched and listened to the rain. It was truly a sweet time and a relief after being away from each other for longer than usual. So the next day I drew a little cartoon of the two of us playing in the rain. Back then, I made it my goal to cultivate our relationship in such a way that I always had something to draw on her lunch sack.

She looked forward to the drawings every day. They meant so much to her that she saved them in a sack that I had decorated more elaborately than the others. Last night we looked through them again, reminiscing about the times that each cartoon represented and speculating about the events that led to some of the more bewildering drawings. Mrs. Happy picked out four that she especially loved and allowed me to scan them for posting here. I have included them below, with explanations of each. Click on each image to see the full drawing.

  1. One day I was doing some work in our attic when I heard a crash and a scream. I rushed down the stairs to find Mrs. Happy frantic and crying and running around in circles. I was eventually able to determine that she had spilled boiling water on her foot, so I administered as much first aid and TLC as I could muster. This cartoon is me showing sympathy and kissing the wound to make it better.
  2. A couple of years ago, my wife developed a buildup of impacted wax in one of her ears. She could not hear out of it for about a week, and it made her ear feel large and mis-shapen to her.
  3. It took me seven years of going to school to get a bachelor’s degree. It took my wife six years to get both a bachelor’s and a master’s. I drew this around the time that she received her master’s degree.
  4. There have been a few times in our 5+ years together in which it seemed that we might have a Happy and Unexpected Baby on the way. This particular time, we (and me in particular) were nowhere near ready for it, but Mrs. Happy was still a little disappointed when the test came back negative.

These days, we don’t take our lunches to work so much anymore. But now I make it my goal to cultivate our relationship in such a way that I have something to blog about every day.


My wife went to a meeting at church last night at which one of our friends pulled her aside and asked her very seriously, “What did you mean about people wearing things across their butts? I can’t figure it out and I can’t remember anything from the Web site but that.” So, in case anyone else is wondering, here’s what she meant: She saw a teenage girl walk past our table wearing what appeared to be pajama bottoms with the word LUCKY written across the rear. Mrs. Happy is not opposed to that sort of thing in principle, but she does think it a little immodest to wear lucky pajamas in public.

Freaky stuff across the pond

File this under People Who Don’t Understand the Concept #16. According to The London Mirror and The Washington Times (which ran the story from UPI), Alison Smith married George Greenhowe in Scotland in 2001. Ten days after the wedding, she caught him in bed with Pat, her mother. She filed for, and received, a divorce. Earlier this month (or so it seems—the two articles are sketchy on the actual date), Alison served as a bridesmaid at their wedding, saying, “Mum makes George happier than I did.” She even calls her ex-husband “Dad” now, even though he’s never even apologized for any of it.

Also disturbing is the fact that Scottish lawmakers actually anticipated this sort of situation, making it illegal for a man to marry his ex-wife’s mother while his ex is still alive, which is why they had the wedding in Britain.

Love, fidelity, commitment, honesty, and concern for someone you’ve chosen to marry…it all seems so simple, but people still manage to get it so, so wrong.

I love feedback

I encourage everyone who reads this blog to send me feedback via the e-mail address at the right. Very few people do. I did get some feedback last week, though, so on Friday I posted some comments sent in by Nick, which I prefaced by saying, “Since I began <blogging> on August 20, however, I have received no feedback and few hits. I figure that either I have nothing interesting to say, or else my friends just suck.” It was quickly brought to my attention that I had actually received feedback from my friend Jeff long before Nick contacted me:

I suck??

I’ve given you feedback… I said that your links had smart quotes in them.
And I said something in passing about Dave Barry.

I’ve been reading your posts
on most days, but I haven’t had much time to actually write back in reply.
I’ve gotten as far as writing things like “Yes, good point…” and “I agree…” but
nothing too substantial, so I didn’t send those.

I have had several conversations
in the last two months about my perspective on marriage as a single 30-something
and as a youth director. I’ve realized that
I have a fairly unique and healthy view of marriage. I’ll jot some thoughts
down.

My pastor is currently doing a sermon series on Christian Relationships.
Some of the sermons are related to your posts. I’ll send you copies of
the series
when it is done.

Oh, and for the feedback: Keep up the good work! I enjoy
the site! I highly recommend your website…I’ve mentioned it to at least
two people. You
will soon double
or even triple your readership!

Jeff

What he says is true. Jeff was my roommate during the time I was courting
my wife, and from that time I learned that he has a healthier view of relationships
than most married people. Also, he actually played an essential role in this
blog’s technical refinements. He alerted me to the problem of the smart quotes
that prevented certain links from working. He alerted me to a couple of problems
with Internet Explorer’s interpretation of this page, for which we have found
no explanation and therefore no solution—please take a stand against shoddy
software and download Netscape, Opera,
or Safari (the best browser in existence,
but it only works on Mac OS X, the best operating system in existence). And
he alerted me to the reason Dave Barry ignores me: “Dave Barry doesn’t want
to talk with you because you
said ‘buttload’
.” He’s probably right.

In this past week, I also received
feedback from my parents. They both think I’m brilliant, though my mother may
change her mind when she reads the Dave Barry post in which I said “buttload.”


I want to say a special thank you to Chris Noble over at The Noble Pundit. I’ve been enjoying his political/economic/societal blog for several months now, and today I realized that he has added me to his blogroll (the list of blogs on the left-hand side of the page). It’s my first piece of validation from the blogging community, and I am grateful.

The unbearable perception of being

People are selfish, which is only to be expected. We see the world from our own perspective, after all, a point of view that makes the self-centered approach to life more sensible than any other. I periodically notice this sort of attitude in myself. I often fail to even fully understand the humanity of other people as I deal with them throughout the day. Since I look out at my environment from behind my own eyes, I tend not to even recognize that other people are doing the same, that behind their eyes lie personalities just as vibrant, thoughts just as complex, desires just as illogical, and emotions just as intense and hidden as my own. Sometimes, though, I do notice:

  • It happens when I see someone engaged in a solitary activity, focusing on their task to the exclusion of the rest of the world. I see this most often in children, who frequently become absorbed in such affairs as chasing grasshoppers, drawing doodles, exploring their own fingers, and singing silly songs.
  • It happens when I see someone speaking earnestly about something that holds no interest for me and has nothing to do with my own life. I vividly remember a man I met in college explaining to me his passion for model electric trains. His basement housed an elaborate network of tracks, controls, and beautiful scenery for the benefit of his trains. I didn’t understand the purpose of it all, and I still don’t, but his zeal drove home for me the point that he existed entirely apart from me and my perception of the world.
  • It happens when I see someone startled out of their self-consciousness. I remember walking along a street in Austin behind three Asian men speaking an Asian language to each other. As they passed the gate to an apartment complex’s parking lot, it issued a loud noise and began swinging open. The man closest to the gate yelped, jumped, and flailed his limbs about. I saw the startled look in his eyes, which turned almost immediately into recognition and laughter. For that instant, he forgot about the “proper” way to stand, speak, and relate to other people. And for that instant, so did I.

Mrs. Happy and I visited a local eatery last night. We sat and talked, unwinding
from a day that was pretty tense for both of us, enjoying the food and each
other’s company. There came a lull in our conversation. Neither of us said
a word for several minutes, then she looked at me and said, with a disgusted
expression, “What is it with people wearing things across their butts?” I had
no idea what she was talking about. Furthermore, the fact that I had no idea
what she was talking about made me wonder whether a question that begins with
the words “what is it with” really makes any sense at all. I was trying to
decipher the meaning and hopefully the etymology of those four words when I
responded by saying quite seriously, “I don’t know. What. Is. It. With. That.”

Neither
of us knew what to say, so she said, “What is it, indeed… with that.” We stared
at each other for a beat, then burst out laughing. We kept laughing for a long
while. When we both stopped, I looked across the table at her. She was still
glowing from the laughter. And she was an individual, complete with a vibrant
personality, complex thoughts, illogical desires, intense emotions, and an
all-encompassing sense of being. Every day I tell her that she’s beautiful
and I love her. Every week I tell her that she’s “such a person.”

My
periodic realization of individuality in other people always surprises me.
My periodic recognition of my wife’s humanity overwhelms me, and I thank
God for that.


I told a bunch of people just yesterday that I usually update this blog by 7:00 p.m. Eastern time, and here I am already late. My excuse is that I had to play tennis with my wife before darkness fell. We played one set, which she won, of course. But I won two games and took a third to three deuces. I’m getting much better.

An acoustic afternoon

I stepped out of my comfort zone again yesterday by taking my wife to a concert in Central Park. (Read my post about the last time I left my comfort zone.) The concert, dubbed “An Acoustic Afternoon” by its promoters, featured Mary Chapin Carpenter, Shawn Colvin, Patty Grffin, and Dar Williams. I’m not familiar with any of them (I didn’t recognize a single song they played), but an opportunity arose last week for me to get free tickets to the concert, and my wife is a fan of Shawn Colvin. So I got the tickets, and we caught a train into Manhattan right after church on Sunday.

I’m
glad we went. The concert was in the format I like best, with the performer(s)
talking to the audience and playing their music without making a huge
production
of
it. In this case, the four musicians sat onstage together and just took turns
singing. All four sang backup for each other, and their banter between songs
felt lively and unrehearsed (at least I can’t imagine Shawn Colvin planning
ahead to tell a story about how she peed herself in front of ‘N Sync at Disney
World). For me, the concert highlights included Mary Chapin Carpenter’s impression
of Julie Andrews auditioning for Oklahoma! and not getting the part,
and a collaborative reinterpretation of the Backstreet Boys’ I Want It That
Way
in
an acoustic/folk style.

Afterward, we went to our favorite restaurant in Manhattan.
Actually, we tried to
go to our favorite restaurant in Manhattan. We both know generally where it is—somewhere
within a three-block radius of Radio City Music Hall—but neither one of us can
ever remember exactly where
it is. That, combined with my abysmal sense of direction and insistence on being
the leader, makes for a lot of frustrated wandering. Last night we never found
our restaurant, which gave us a good opportunity to practice our conflict resolution
and forgiveness skills. We ended up eating at a pretty decent pizza place near
Rockefeller Center.

Good music, good fall weather, decent food, and excellent
company made for a
fun evening all around.

If you’re ever in Manhattan and looking for a good and
inexpensive place to eat, try our favorite restaurant. It’s called La Bonne
Soup, and it’s located
on 55th
Street between 5th and 6th Avenues (about five blocks away from Radio City
Music Hall).


This
is the kind of No Parking sign you find in New York.

Marriage links for the week

Modern television may be eroding marriage (as I mentioned in a recent post), but ancient television probably created unrealistic expectations. From a fellow 5-year veteran: “I was going to be the perfect wife and mother. I was never going to run out of milk, laundry was always going to be done, we would never have to use Kleenex in place of toilet paper, my husband was always going to have a hot breakfast before leaving for work at 4:30 a.m. and the house would always be spotless.” Real marriage isn’t like Ozzie and Harriet. It’s so much better.

Two party people celebrate their 60th.

If you get married to enhance your own happiness, you will find only misery. No person on this earth can make you happy. If two people get married to devote themselves to each other, the experience will be more rewarding than either could have imagined (another person can make you happier). These two perspectives cast radically different lights on marital conflict, both while it is happening and when we look back on it.

Researchers and long-married couples talk about what makes a good marriage.

A happy marriage can help prevent cancer. (Scroll down to No. 3: Lifestyle.)

This article is sort of a commercial for a dating service, so you have to take it with a grain of salt, but it makes a good point about finding a soul-mate (something I discussed in a recent post). Two people don’t fit together like pre-cut puzzle pieces. People invest themselves in each other’s lives, build a solid relationship, and grow together like grafted plants.

I’ve got mail!

One thing I looked forward to when I began blogging was reader feedback. I didn’t expect a whole lot at first, since I mentioned the existence of this blog to only a few friends. Since I began on August 20, however, I have received no feedback and few hits. I figure that either I have nothing interesting to say, or else my friends just suck. I received my first piece of feedback today, though, and it contains some excellent and encouraging thoughts, so I’m marking the occasion by sharing the feedback with both of my other readers. This comes from Nick:

TV totally reflects and reinforces society’s views against marriage. A friend of mine and I were talking about this a few weeks ago, how people are now wary of anyone who gets married without living together first. Stuff on Friends would have been taboo not more than a few decades ago when we were kids. Even the older generation, the ones who stayed married for 30+ years, happily or for whatever reason otherwise joke about it…this one old guy in one of the bands I play in is always musing how he “would have been a millionaire if he’d stayed single instead of broke and having headaches with his kids,” and he berated the band leader’s son when he settled down and got married a few years ago for doing so. People feel pressure from peers, from adults, from media to act contrary to traditional values, and it’s all flipflopped. Still I look at my parents and how they did things, and I want to follow their example (except for the part where they got married late and now risk not living to see grandchildren at the rate I’m going). They fight sometimes (moreso when they were younger) over stupid things like most couples do, whether it be tracking grease in the house or overwaxing the floor then telling my mom he didn’t touch the floor when she gets home even though you can smell it and it’s mad slippery etc. But they do stuff together like gardening and shopping, and just the other day they went on a “date” and drove out east to go apple-picking, and they’ve stayed together for over 30 years and always went to church. I’d love to be able to say the same when I’m in my 70s.

Wow, that set me rambling. Good thought-provoking site, though.

Thanks, Nick.

A terrible anniversary

I was looking through some old files today, trying to see if I had a record of writing anything on this day two years ago. I was sure that I had written something, and was hoping that file names might jog my memory. It turns out that I didn’t need file names. I found a text file listing 9/11/01, 11:51 PM as its Date Modified. That took me aback. The date still causes me to catch my breath. The file itself, the stuff I wrote, seems pretty jumbled. Reading it again doesn’t make me relive that day’s emotions. The date itself, though, brings up some turbulent memories. I remember that my wife and I had been living in the tri-state area for exactly one year, almost to the day. I remember thinking about the time I had spent inside the World Trade Center during that one year. I remember that the radio reports were confused, and that the television reports were non-existent because the broadcast antenna on top of Tower 1 had ceased to exist. I remember irrational feelings of guilt knowing that since we didn’t live in Manhattan, didn’t work at the WTC or anywhere downtown, and didn’t know anyone who was killed or injured, that the biggest disruption it would cause us would be the temporary loss of TV reception. I remember writing about it and wondering what name to call the event (there’s still no word that adequately describes it). I remember crying compulsively at random moments throughout the day. Most of all, though, I remember stepping outside of my house in the early evening and smelling an acrid odor, and I remember taking a short walk with my wife, crossing a busy street, looking toward Manhattan, and—though we live too far away to see the skyline—seeing a gigantic cloud of smoke.

Now that I have some distance, it still makes me cry. I’ve visited the WTC site a couple of times, and it still affects me. And I still have the same inability to express anything meaningful about that day:

I want to say something profound. I want to draw a huge, life-changing insight from the devastation. I want to ask the terrorists what the hell they were thinking and what they thought they would accomplish. But it all seems so pointless. I can only say that in the end, all that matters is how well you know God. And since that’s all that matters in the end, maybe it’s all that matters now.

Here are some photos I took back in July (’03). Click to see a larger image.

 

Math and cell phones

This has nothing to do with marriage, but I have to say that sometimes I’m just staggered by the level of ignorance I encounter during the course of my day. I know that “ignorant” has become a synonym for “hate-filled, narrow-minded, and racist,” but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the sheer “I-don’t-know-squat-about-anything” brand of ignorance. Usually I blame the progressively wretched state of U.S. education for ignorance in people younger than me, but I met two people this past weekend who both had a few years on me and couldn’t do simple division.

I won’t mention names, but our Sprint phone had died, and the people at the Sprint store were downright rude and condescending to Mrs. Happy when she asked to have it fixed or replaced, so Sprint has lost our business. First thing Saturday morning, I went to Best Buy to check out phones not branded by Sprint and calling plans not on Sprint’s network from a company that doesn’t manage its stores like a DMV office the way Sprint does. I spoke with a friendly, helpful woman who explained to me that I could get two phones and put them on the same plan. The plan came with 5,000 minutes, which means, and I quote, “that on each phone you could use…um…uh” here she hung her head “I can’t think.” I suggested that perhaps she was looking for the number 2,500 (minutes), which brightened up her saddened countenance considerably. She quickly agreed that I would be able to use each phone for 2,500 minutes without fear of incurring additional charges. I passed.

From there I visited a local store dedicated to a single wireless company. A salesman there asked me how much time I expected to spend per month using my new cell phone. I told him probably four or five hours. The word “hours” had an affect on him that I would only expect from a word such as “vasectomy.” His eyes opened wide and darted around while he stammered under his breath, not knowing what to say. You see, cell phone plans come with minutes, not hours, and he couldn’t translate my response into terms he could understand. He managed to find a calculator, and after pressing a few buttons and staring at the floor, he asked sheepishly, “Is 400 minutes enough?” I told him it was, and things went smoothly from there.

Now we have a new cell phone. I think this next Saturday I may go to the Sprint store and tell them about the Let’s Make a Deal brainteaser. That’ll show ‘em.

A rare occasion

I would like to offer warm and affectionate congratulations to my parents-in-law, who celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary yesterday. It’s because of them and their marriage that my wife has such a strong idea of how good a marriage can actually be. They taught (and, more importantly, showed) her how to maintain a solid relationship through prosperity and hard times, through agreement and conflict, through stability and change. She, in turn, has been able to relate some of that to me, for which I am eternally grateful.

After spending 30 years as husband and wife, they still love each other. And after 30 years, they still like each other, which is even more impressive. From what I can tell, theirs is a deep, lasting, intimate marriage of two best friends. My wife and I are best friends as well, so this occasion encourages me to think that we have many wonderful years ahead of us as well.

Happy anniversary!