Jim and I have been together for nearly 25 years. Like many long-term relationships, we have our ups and downs and in-betweens, commonalities and differences. Sometimes, it seems like there is an invisible natural rhythm occurring in our dynamics, like the ebb and flow of the tides that lap the shore a short walk from our house. But one part of our relationship in particular still surprises me a quarter of a century in — our differences.
There’s the superficial stuff like food preferences. I love all veggies cruciferous. Not Jim. He blasts Zydeco and disco. I toe-tap Roxy Music and all things David Bowie. I walk, he bikes. Perhaps, you can sum us up like this: I say “tuh-may-toe” and he says “tuh-ma-toe,” but we do not call the whole thing off.
And, sometimes we go our separate ways, as we did on a recent long weekend. Group activities with a spiritual theme are just not Jim’s go-to event. My response: sign me up. So, there I am at the annual Gladdening Light symposium, https://gladdeninglight.org/, titled The Spiritual Lens Evocations on Poetry, Music and Film. This year the line-up featured Krista Tippett as the keynote speaker, and poet, Billy Collins, composer, Gustavo Santaollala and film critic, A.O. Scott, presenting and engaging with the crowd in various configurations. Wow! Just wow!
I’ve gone the last three years and Gladdening Light is always set in historic Winter Park. Out-growing previous venues, this year the symposium moved to the campus of Rollins College regularly voted one of the most beautiful campuses in the country with its Spanish Mediterranean style buildings against the backdrop of lovely Lake Virginia. I park my car on arrival and do not drive again until departure. An easy-to-walk community makes this bi-ped very happy.
I suspect we all could do with a dose of extra loveliness these days. Randy Robertson, the Director of Gladdening Light, opened the symposium with a warm welcome and a thank you to Rollins. When Randy asked if Rollins would host, President Cornwell said, “You are welcome here. Please come.” I feel an immediate catch in my throat as I take in this gracious response. Surely, I am not alone in craving acts of kindness these days.
Over the next three and a half days, Gustavo, a two-time Oscar-winning composer played his award-winning music, including the elegiac melodies from Brokeback Mountain, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TtXOMp9JfHY, Billy spoke about poetry, his practice of avoiding sarcasm and sentimentality and aiming instead for irony, read several poems, including this one about a dog called Dharma, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gh6NUtHm3Tc, and A.O. Scott highlighted films like Ghost Story, Coco and Personal Shopper, as stories with an underlying spiritual dimension. Scott also reminded us of the value of the communal practice of watching a movie together in a theatre – that there is something special about a shared experience.
Krista Tippett, an unknown to me before Gladdening Light, but known to many as the host of public radio’s podcast, On Being, described on their website “as a social enterprise with a radio show at its heart,” https://onbeing.org/about/, and a 2014 recipient of the National Humanities Medal at The White House, connected deeply with the audience. She radiated warmth and goodwill from the stage that I swear raised the temperature in the auditorium by a few degrees. For a little more than an hour, our heart strings joined together as she spoke about spiritual genius; embodied, sensate and experiential, and the need to repair the world. A chord was struck inside me with that word, repair, not fix, not save, but repair – and she went on to suggest that we focus on what we can do up close and personal, locally, and in a way that we can see and touch. And, in staying true to what she espouses on her podcast, she ended by suggesting that perhaps the greatest gift we can offer to one another these days is generous listening, being truly present with another.
Easy to hear, harder to practice.
I was not lonely at Gladdening Light. Sometimes roaming as a singlet in a crowd brings out the gregariousness in me. I connected with fellow seekers in a way that I doubt would have happened if I had been there with Jim. And, yet I missed him. I know with absolute certainty that he would have laughed at Billy’s wry observations and cried (or at least teared up) listening to Gustavo’s musical laments. I bet our shared experience would have added elasticity to the bonds between us. But, maybe being there alone was just what was meant to be. I knew without a doubt that if I hurled myself into the Gladdening Light experience, that I couldn’t help but emerge with stronger connections to myself — and therefore to Jim and others.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me back home, Jim was hurling himself into his own projects, including repairing an old Miele vacuum cleaner we brought with us when we moved to Florida nearly 13 years ago. This little Miele has been great, portable enough to haul up and down multiple flights of steps without too much effort, and powerful enough to keep the house relatively clear of cat hair. All in all, it’s a great little vacuum clad in a snappy maroon coat, with great suction, and a relatively quiet motor that only sends one cat (Cayce) fleeing in terror.
But one day the Miele started misbehaving. The cord stopped retracting and then a few weeks later, with no advance warning, the switch simply stopped working. For many months the Miele sat in the corner collecting dust with its unretracted cord spooling out around it, while I used a less satisfying back-up.
Then, one day in the way that husbands do, the Miele became a focus of attention. Jim went on-line and finally found a place in England that had a replacement Miele switch that fit our old model. He ordered it and then waited, and waited. Every day after work he’d ask if the switch arrived, and when it didn’t after a couple of weeks, he contacted them to confirm what he suspected. It was lost in the mail. They gave him a refund, and suggested he order it again. However, when he did that, a notice came up on the screen that it was out of stock. A non-Miele alternative was procured from another establishment. Jim felt confident he could figure out how to make the substitute switch work.
So, while I was away, Jim was taking apart the Miele (using the bed as his work table), and putting it back together, not with ease but with obstacles to overcome along the way, persevering through frustration and several self-inflicted power outages. But, ultimately my smart, mechanically-inclined husband succeeded. He sent a text, “Frankenvac! Blew the breaker 3 times before I got wiring right. Running smooth and the cord retracts.” I texted back, “Glad you didn’t electrocute yourself. Thanks for fixing Frankenvac.” I bet he felt great satisfaction actually fixing something that could be fixed in his immediate environment. And, I suspect he knew too that this would make me happy and that that gladdened his heart.
Maybe Jim will want to go to Gladdening Light with me next year. I know from our years together that if I tell him I really want him to go, he will. And, after some initial resistance that he will let fall away, he will click into his willing spirit and I know with absolute certainty that he will enjoy himself. And we will have yet another shared experience to add some elasticity to our bonds.
I know too with that same conviction that Jim will never expect or ask me to fix a broken vacuum cleaner. I can only hope that we have another twenty-five years together, but whatever time is ours to share, I can continue to accept that we are different people, sometimes very different people, and that’s exactly the way it’s supposed to be.
Reader’s Invitation: Please comment on anything this post evoked in you. How have you been surprised by a friend or partner or family member in a long-term relationship? How are you repairing your corner of the world?