Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Short Lessons in Mourning

"Let's sing hello together,
hello, hello, hello,
let's sing hello together,
hello, hello, hello.

Let's sing hello to Oliver,
hello, hello, hello,
let's sing hello to Oliver,
hello, hello, hello."

My three year-old participates in a Beginning Music Makers class where at the start of each session we sing and wave hello to each student. At the end of class the kids know it is time to go home when we sing goodbye to each of them. Some of the children get a little mad because they don't want to leave and some even shed a few tears. Luckily that age-group is easily distracted!

I've been reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and can't shake the feeling as I work my way towards the end that I will need time to mourn the loss of my new friends Francie, Katie and Neeley. Everyday when I sit down to read about their daily adventures and tragedies I sing the "Hello" song to them in my head because I am so happy to be with them again. There are a lot of great books out there but only a few that suck me in so strongly that I feel as though I am a part of the characters' family and I'm sure after I close the book each night that they go sleep dreaming of me as I do them.

As I am nearing the end of the book I am beginning to feel that same sense of loss that I have felt in prior captivating books. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn isn't the type of book that you read so you can reach the conclusion to find out "who done it" because there is no villain unless you think life ought to be fair. I could reread the book but that would be like looking at pictures of deceased loved ones. You can revisit them but it isn't like sitting down with a fresh cup of tea, it is more like reusing the tea bag from yesterday.

So tonight I will sing goodbye to Francie, Katie and Neeley with a wistful heart.

"Goodbye Francie,
goodbye Katie,
goodbye Neeley,
goodbye, goodbye, goodbye."

It has been grand!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

It takes two

I came from a mother who embraces the "Self-Help" philosophy of improving our lives. Growing up our bookshelves were always filled with volumes citing ways to be healthier, secrets to loving yourself or someone else, practicing Tough Love, coping with alcoholism and how to find happiness. Sometimes I would peruse those books but never really "got" how a book could help you put your life back together or how words had the capability to make you happier. Apparently none of the early versions had the correct information because when my mother gives me books to donate to the library often times there are several current self-help titles among them. She is one of many who want to believe that it could be as easy as reading a book, that one of the books she purchases will finally hold the answer, the secret, the golden ring to happiness and self-actualization.

In college I intently read The Road Less Traveled and People of the Lie. Reviving Ophelia was in there at some point and one semester while dabbling in Women's Studies I found myself deep in Fire in Belly:On Being a Man. I remember reading them and having hope for myself, my future children, and mankind. There is a sense of power and potential you maintain while reading books that are intended to pull you out of your comfort zone. You read and all the while your insides are screaming "I can do this! I can make a difference!" Then you finish the book and that feeling of empowerment slowly leaks out of you because you are not submerged in the message on a daily basis.

And this is where The Love Dare was different.

For 40 days the first thing I did was check my email and receive my assignment for that day. I lived intentionally in my marriage for 40 days. On Day 1 I had to resolve to say nothing negative about my spouse for that day. I tried to take it a step further and vowed to say nothing negative about him for the entire 40 days. I wasn't trying to "one-up" the challenge but I know that I am quick to judge and am often much harder on Vinnie about what I view as his inadequacies than I need to be. To be successful at starting and completing The Dare you had to be honest with yourself, your spouse and your marriage. And that, in my opinion, is a tall order. We get so comfortable in our actions and our words that we assume too much, too often. The Dare forced me out of that plush place and put me into a place of reflection.

Early on in the 40 days it was easy to see that my efforts were worth it. We were communicating better and more frequently, there were few harsh words between us, he was openly appreciative of things he never seemed to notice before and we were happier in general. He had no idea I was participating in The Love Dare but was pleased with this alien that had replaced his short-tempered judgmental wife.

At the end of the 40 days I stopped The Dare even though I knew I should have continued to focus on the main behavior changing components. It was easy to lose focus, to let happy-alien-wife be replaced with demanding-expectant-woman. I noticed, he noticed. I rented Fireproof and we both watched it separately. He wanted to know when I was going to start The Love Dare and when I told him I had already done it I was met with surprise because he had taken for granted the positive changes that were evident a few weeks earlier. Now we ask each other what day we are on and laugh because he has to get past Day 1 before moving on. He claims he doesn't have "the recipe" but I think it may show up in his in-box soon.

Simple changes can do a lot to any relationship but it was obvious that it does take two people to make marriage successful. After all, marriage is a union of two people and it takes the efforts of both to keep it working. The "self-help" business is booming and you can read all you want but if you don't actively make changes to your behaviors and thoughts you aren't going to gain much. As with anything from running a marathon to making a marriage work it is about effort. You won't finish the race if you haven't put in the mileage for months before and you won't be sitting in the Meijer Cafe drinking coffee (Okay, so Vinnie would rather die than sit in the Meijer Cafe but I just love those older couples that I see there!) when you're 80 with your spouse unless you train everyday to make there.