Saturday, January 10, 2004

Marriage links for the week  

Most Republicans and married people are very happy; a lot of Democrats and unmarried folks are not. So sayeth a recent Gallup poll. Key quote: "…marriages properly entered into are arrangements truly made in heaven. That some couples turn them into battlegrounds from hell does not diminish the marriage compact's capacity for producing bliss."

60 years of marriage and history. "They try to explain the reasons for 60 years of happy marriage, Mary chatting away and George looking very stern indeed. It goes on like this for some time, and many explanations are offered, including Mary's simple and witty 'marry young and live long.' But it’s clear some things just can’t be explained. Some things are ineffable, beyond the reaches of human language, though not comprehension."

A 93-year-old man looks back on his marriage of 63 years and offers his own ten commandments for a happy marriage. One that I plan to implement starting today: Tell her you love her and kiss her 30 times a day. READ THIS ARTICLE.
Update: I tried counting how many times I kissed my wife today. I stopped counting after 50, and I wasn't kissing her any more than I usually do. I do need to make more of an effort to hold her hand when we walk, though.

Friday, January 09, 2004

The Princess Bride  

I recently purchased a DVD copy of The Princess Bride. It has long been my favorite movie, one which I have seen more than 20 times and could easily see 20 more. Watching the movie again after several years of not seeing it has reminded me how much I love it. There are two scenes that resonate more with me as an adult than they did when I first saw it in high school (on tape, not in a theater). First, this exchange:

Westley and Buttercup run along the bottom of a ravine, eluding Prince Humperdinck and his hunting party.

A few more steps and we'll be safe in the Fire Swamp.

We'll never survive.

Nonsense. You're only saying that because no one ever has.

I love Westley's attitude here and try to adopt it in my own life every day. For a number of years, my own insecurities made me think that I would never be able to make a marriage work. In addition to my lack of discipline, maturity, and emotional stability, I knew that the divorce rate among children of divorced parents was two to three times higher than in the general population. With all that stacked against me, how could I possibly hope to succeed? I eventually came to the conclusion that in the area of relationships, statistics and probabilities don't apply to me—which is how the Westley character tends to look at everything.

Here's the second scene:

Westley and Buttercup emerge from the Fire Swamp to music reminiscent of Beethoven's Pastoral symphony. They exchange words and looks of love. Humperdinck emerges from the woods on his horse, Count Rugen beside him. Three warriors, armed and ready, are mounted in formation behind. Buttercup looks beyond exhaustion. Westley looks worse.


You mean you wish to surrender to me? Very well, I accept.

I give you full marks for bravery—don't make yourself a fool.

Ah, but how will you capture us? We know the secrets of the Fire Swamp. We can live there quite happily for some time. So, whenever you feel like dying, feel free to visit.

Armed warriors begin emerging from behind trees all around.

I tell you once again—surrender!

It will not happen!

The warriors have now cut off any possible avenue of retreat, and they all have loaded crossbows aimed at Westley.

(drawing his sword and roaring)
For the last time—SURRENDER!

(roaring right back, bigger)

I like this scene because I like to think that I would behave the same way in a similar situation, putting myself between my beloved and whatever unfortunate army might try to threaten her or take her away. I hope that I would, without hesitation, die before letting that happen.

This is a great film and a great love story, appropriate for anyone who likes comedy, action, romance, drama, suspense, sports, family relationships, or movie monsters, as well as anyone of any age who can handle mild violence, kissing scenes, and one powerfully delivered "SOB" profanity. If you haven't seen it, do. If you have seen it, see it again soon.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

A marriage joke?  

It was either 1998 or 1999 when Mrs. Happy and I decided to get a new television, since we had been using a 13" TV that I received as a high school graduation gift in 1990. I felt flush with success from my recent acquisition of a job at Dell Computer Corp., and we were primed to make our first major purchase as a married couple. So we borrowed some relevant issues of Consumer Reports from The Happy Father-in-Law, gathered up Mrs. Happy's 14-year-old brother just for the heck of it, and headed off to Best Buy, a store that recent advertisements had led us to believe was holding a huge sale.

The advertisements grossly exaggerated the extent of the price cuts. We found sale stickers on two of the television display models broadcasting an array of insipid music videos that offended me both as a music lover and as a consumer. The lack of variety in the video images did nothing to sell me on the quality of the TV sets, and the horrid popular music of the time just made me want to leave the store.

Then a funny thing happened. A new video began running, and instead of cursing it and looking away, I watched. I had never seen the video, heard the song, or seen the young female performer, but I was mesmerized. The energy in her voice and the charisma in her dance kept me enthralled, stock still, with my mouth open until the picture faded to make way for a trite piece of video garbage. I don't remember if I said this out loud, but I know I thought it: "If there is any justice in this world, that girl will be the biggest star of her generation."

That girl did go on to become one of the biggest stars ever, and certainly the biggest star of her generation so far. Her popularity grew and her record sales skyrocketed (though, for the record, I have never purchased one of her CDs), but the general public's respect for her gradually waned until it seemed that few people cared about her except 14-year-old girls and dirty old men. Nevertheless, her most recent album debuted at No. 1 on the charts, and you would have to live in a cave (or possibly outside the United States) to go an entire week without hearing her name or seeing her picture.

Throughout the years, she has released some songs and pulled some stunts that I don't approve of. But remembering my initial reaction to her, before I heard the hype, before I heard the jokes, before her image overshadowed her artistry, I always try to cut her a significant amount of slack. I know she is an incredible talent underneath all the glitz her handlers have foisted upon her. I know that the pressures of fame make people, especially people as young as she is, go completely insane and do weird and stupid things, even above and beyond the weird and stupid things we all do. I can't say with any certainty that I would behave any differently in her shoes. I try to imagine myself standing backstage at a concert and someone approaching me and saying, "Okay, put on this humiliating outfit, hang this giant snake around your neck, go sing your song, then give Madonna a full-mouth kiss on national TV. Oh, and here's a check for two million dollars." I am ashamed to admit I would probably do everything they asked. Still, in interviews, she demonstrates true poise, intelligence, and respect, providing more articulate conversation than the majority of popular performers today.

Unfortunately, the media trumpets her every indiscretion that they can prove, all the while speculating and inferring and implying whatever they can't prove. But after all the times I have directed negative thoughts at the media due to their treatment of her, and after all the times I have excused her in my own mind for mistakes common to everyone's experience and blown out of proportion by infotainment television shows and supermarket tabloids, her latest controversial escapade left me shaking my head in disappointment.

News reports, which of course must be taken with several grains of salt, say that after a night of partying in Las Vegas, she married a childhood friend. Apparently neither she nor her friend were drunk. Both were in enough control of their faculties to obtain a marriage license, find a wedding chapel, walk down the aisle, and say "I do." But she filed for an annulment the next day, saying that the wedding was a "joke" that had gone too far.

I'm sure she didn't intend to demean or undermine the wedding ritual or the idea of marriage, but that's the effect her actions had. People are now laughing about it, pointing fingers at her, and making all sorts of jokes on late night talk shows and in stand-up comedy routines. All the laughter, though, betrays and reinforces society's attitude that a marriage that ends as soon as it begins is funny rather than tragic. And her actions, at least as far as I am able to determine them, at best display a lack of respect (and at worst a flagrant contempt) for an institution that I hold dear. So now I just shake my head and wonder, "Britney, what were you thinking?"

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

part 2  

I posted yesterday about how someone in my house died on Sunday. If you haven't read that, read it now.

Since both my wife and I had heard completely different accounts of who had died, we both started to second-guess ourselves. It sunk in that we still had no idea what happened. By the time we got to church, the shock of the tragedy and the sense of human loss had given way in my mind to more practical, selfish concerns. George's death, while sad, would not greatly affect our day-to-day lives. Mary's death, on the other hand, would have pretty drastic consequences for us. Since the house is in her name, free and clear, she would probably leave it to all four of her kids. In that case, given the way the family is situated, I'm guessing they would sell it and split the money. That would mean we would have to find another place to live, and probably quickly.

Mrs. Happy and I have never intended to stay in New York forever, and have always assumed that we would one day return to Texas whence we came. Right now we feel like we still have more to accomplish here before we leave. But we would probably interpret the loss of a job and the loss of our living space within a week of each other to be a fairly direct communication from God that it's time to leave. That thought and thoughts that proceeded from it occupied my mind on Sunday morning to such an extent that I don't remember much of anything that happened in the worship service at church.

After church, we still felt funny about going home. We were afraid we might meet someone outside and have to talk to them as if we knew what was happening. We didn't want to ask, because we should already know. And on top of everything, we needed to pay our rent but had no idea whom to give the money to. So we went out to eat. Going to lunch didn't resolve any of the issues for us, so we went to a movie (Mona Lisa Smile). I lost myself in the movie, but the events of the day came tumbling back once the end credits started rolling. At that point, we had nowhere to go but home.

Many, many family members had packed into the ground floor and basement of the house. No one stopped us and quizzed or asked us any awkward questions, so we went straight to our apartment. On the way, we overheard a couple of conversations that made it clear that it was our landlady's son who had died.

Yesterday (Monday), Mrs. Happy painted a watercolor picture of an iris and wrote a note of condolence that we both signed. We gave it to her after I got home from work, let her know she was in our prayers, and offered our services whenever she needs them. Although Mary complained about her son a great deal when he was alive, he was still her baby and she is hurting more deeply than I can fathom. She told us she feels more alone now than she ever has in her life.

Looking back, I see that I should have been more forthright, more compassionate, more helpful to the family who had suffered such a great loss. But I felt flustered, foolish, and ill-equipped to function around a large, grieving family in an Italian Catholic culture I know nothing about. Once the extended family have all gone home, we intend to provide more concrete assistance than the "Let us know if you need anything" that we have offered so far. This is an opportunity for us to minister to a widow in need, and we also know that God brings the best things out of the worst tragedies.

Monday, January 05, 2004

Shock, grief, and disquiet  

I can think of only two words to describe my day yesterday: bizarre and unsettling.

I should begin by explaining that we rent the top half of a two-family home. My wife and I live in the second floor and half-finished attic while our landlady, Mary, occupies the ground floor and basement. We love Mary because she has always been good and kind to us, often telling us how much she appreciates what good tenants we are. Even so, we have never really developed a close relationship with her or her family, which visits often. She has four middle-aged sons, two of which are identical twins, George and Harry. George lives below us with his mother, and Harry owns and lives in the house next door. We see them together all the time, but haven't yet learned how to tell them apart.

Anyway, Mrs. Happy and I got out of bed yesterday and started getting ready for church. We had slept a little longer than we should have, so I was rushing around brushing my teeth, picking out clothes, etc., when my wife called to me and asked, "Is someone crying?" I knew I wasn't crying, so I looked out a side window and saw about 15 people—including one of the twins, one police officer, and several members of Mary's extended family—loitering in the driveway looking as gloomy as the cold drizzle falling from the gray sky. Then I looked out a front window and saw an ambulance parked in front of the house with no lights going, no siren blaring, and no apparent activity coming from within. Going back to the side window, I observed that everyone's pacing seemed to center around the door immediately below me. With nothing else to go on, I figured someone in my house had died.

I told Mrs. Happy what I saw, and she confirmed my thoughts with her own observations. My mind raced. The death had to be natural, or else there would be more police around, but Mary and George were both equally likely to have died a natural death. Mary is elderly, but in far better health than George. I had not seen Mary outside. I had seen one twin outside, but it might have been either George or Harry. Mrs. Happy claimed to have seen both twins through the window, but then decided that she may have seen the same twin out of two different windows. Everyone outside was crying, but no one was talking, and no one was knocking on our door to let us know what happened.

When we were finally ready for church, we stood at the top of our stairs slightly afraid to walk out into the mournful and subdued chaos below us. As we left the house, we found the one twin in the driveway and respectfully asked what had happened. "My mom passed in her sleep last night," he said. We expressed our sincerest condolences. We stood with him for an awkward moment and, not knowing what more to say, walked to our car. Then began the seriously bizarre and unsettling part of our day.

"Okay, so was it George or Harry?" Mrs. Happy said.

"What do you mean?"

"Which one died? George or Harry?"

"What are you talking about?" I said. "Mary's the one who died."

"Mary? He didn't say Mary! I would've fallen apart on the spot! He said 'My brother passed away in his sleep.' His sleep!"

We talked back and forth for several minutes. Both twins speak with heavy foreign accents, and the one we had just spoken to was emotionally distraught and talking through barely suppressed tears. I had heard him say, "My mom passed in her sleep last night." My wife had heard him say, "My brother had problems with his sleep and he passed in the night." I understand now why many forensics experts say eyewitness testimony is unreliable. We had two completely different recollections of an event that transpired less than five minutes before, and we could not reconcile them.

Neither one of us felt good about going back to the twin and asking him to clarify, but the uncertainty was, as I said before, unsettling. A death in the house would certainly affect our lives, but the effect would be drastically different depending on who died.

I'm running late for work today, so I'll finish this tomorrow.