Friday, May 08, 2009

Humility

I firmly believe that God wants us to be in relationships so that we can be fairly constantly interrupted when we start feeling like we've finally got our shit together.

I was a pretty good single person.

I am a terrible partner.

I was a pretty good single person because I was gathering a community of people around me, I was crafting regularly, I was moving towards cooking healthy meals for myself, I was full of peace and calm for the annoying habits of other people because I had enough alone time to reset my equilibrium on a regular basis.

I am a terrible partner. Except for the healthy meals part, none of that is true anymore. Especially the last bit. I am so mean to Jacob sometimes. Then, I feel bad because I've been mean and he still has to sit with me while I'm in a funk.

On Wednesday night, Jacob surprised me with tickets to see Leonard Cohen.

What a beautiful man, right?

So, he asks me before the show starts what songs of Leonard Cohen's he would know.

"None of them."

What a bitch. He pushes me a little for me to give him the benefit of the doubt and I push back, insisting that since none of Leonard Cohen's (it's always both names to me) songs is popular enough to get radio time, he probably won't know them. (Notice the slightly derisive tone for the word popular as I channel the spirit of a music snob.) Just to prove my point that I am cooler than Jacob, I rattle off the names of several titles: Everybody Knows, Famous Blue Raincoat, First We Take Manhattan, Song of Bernadette. I was in such a state that without consciously deciding to, I leave off Suzanne and Hallelujah, songs that do actually get radio time. He asks me to sing one or two and I forget how independent and brave I have become in the last six years and get a little more bitchy at the thought of singing out loud from my theater seat where people could actually hear me and judge me.

Jacob loves me anyway and lets it drop. We move on in conversation and I ask him why he loves me, even though I know it is hard for him to come up with satisfying answers on the spot. He obliges and says sweet things to me until the concert starts. Right before it does, I realize something and say, "Sometimes when we have those difficult moments, I worry that they will make you want to NOT marry me so I think that I think if I make you remind yourself why you love me, you'll remember why you wanted to marry me in the first place." After pausing to process the syntax, he kissed me and told me I was crazy, in a loving way. It's possible that this conversation happened earlier , though, now that I think about it.

What happens next amazes me for the lesson it teaches that, as humans, we can never fully redeem ourselves. We're always going to fuck it up again. First, Leonard Cohen opens with Dance Me to End of Love, which is a song that I have put on every mix I've ever made Jacob (2 so far, with more planned). Not only is it clearly a song from one partner to the other on their Jewish wedding day but the lyrics are gorgeous and appropriate right now. "Dance me through the panic, 'til I'm gathered safely in." That's the thing with Leonard Cohen. He writes like Bob Dylan so you can listen to a song 800 times and enjoy the surface imagery and the melody and then on the 801st time, a lyric will shoot you through the heart and you want to stand up and shout, "That's it! That's exactly how I'm feeling. RIGHT NOW!" I've been having those kind of moments with Dance Me to the End of Love. I first heard it as the final song of Mark and Melissa's wedding and liked it in that way you like songs because you hope that someday they'll apply to your own life. The band that first sang this song to me is the first vendor I booked for our wedding. So, after I stroked Jacob's hand when Leonard Cohen sang the word, "panic," everything in me relaxed a little. After 3 songs in a row with one song leading immediately into the next one when the applause died down, Leonard Cohen stopped and talked just a very little bit about what an honor it was for all of us to be able to gather in such a beautiful place given all the suffering in the world. Then he knelt in the middle of the stage and said,
Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything;
That's how the light gets in.

That broke me wide open. Life is so radically different for me now than it was last year at this time and ususally I don't think I do very well with the sudden (welcome) shift. Being in such an intimate relationship has made me feel so much more broken than I was able to delude myself that I was before. I realize how scared I am of starting a new marriage after the spectacular failure of my last one. I had thought I was pretty well relieved of that particular baggage. I see now that some of the bells that I have rung before in celebration are actually broken.

But ring the bells that still can ring.


Even though the full complement of celebratory emotions and impulses can't be engaged, you should still vigorously participate in those that can.

In planning this wedding, I struggle with a big, fancy event because it is not my first choice: it is Jacob's and my first choice to meet our mutual needs. This religious ceremony and community event - what should be a perfect offering to God - is a compromise and that has been so hard to wrap my soul around.

But forget your perfect offering.

If we wait until anything is perfect before we interact with God, we will be alone forever. The love God offers us is that she wants to interact with us now, even though we hurt her feelings all the time, without even meaning to.

There is a crack, a crack in everything.


What enormous reassurance that is. Everything has a crack in it, not just me. Everyone plays unintentional power games with their loved ones. Everyone doesn't measure up to their own expectations for themselves.

That's how the light gets in.


The tears streaming down me face as he sings this line tells me that it is true. God can only distract me from my narcissism when my imperfections - my cracks - remind me that what's in the mirror is not necessarily the most beautiful thing ever and that maybe I should look around a little. When I do raise my eyes from that purse-sized compact, all I can see is God, because she is so huge. And I feel so grateful to be allowed to see her beauty.

This is a moment of grace.



What did I do with that moment of grace? I fought with Jacob some more. He did such a good relationship thing and said during the intermission, "It was hard to enjoy the first half because I was trying to hard to prove that I DID know some of the songs." Great communication: non-accusatory and full of "I" statements. Plus, he was sharing with me, letting me into his vulnerable places. All my feelings of inadequacy rose to the surface and I defended myself for a little while anyway. Then, I brought up something else to fight about.

This is the human story. We are offered grace and it feels good and then we forget it immediately.

Does anyone have any spare jewelry so that I can just make the golden calf and be done with it?

A couple of days ago, I read this in The Spirituality of Imperfection by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham.
Finite beings who thirst for the infinite, desperate creatures who 'want to be God,' all-or-nothing people who go broke on perfection . . . given our limitations, and our tendency to strain against them, how do we learn to put up with ourselves? The sages and saints have not left us without some thoughts on the subject. The Desert Fathers, that marvelous group of imperfect human beings who struggle tirelessly with their own imperfections, discovered quite a bit about learning how to 'put up with ourselves.' The secret, they determined, lies in compassion, which begins with 'putting up with' others.
Because let's remember that Jacob has cracks, too. The other day he was upset in my general direction for a full 8 hours because he had forgotten that we had to get up early so I could get to class on time. But having to put up with each other in these situations makes us better at putting up with ourselves, which makes us better prepared to care for the world, all tikkun alam style. I think that's a pretty neat thing.

God keeps coming back to us. We get a second set of Commandments after Moses breaks the first. And every time I go back to Jacob after he has been unfair and every time he kisses me after I've been crazy, we are reminded that God comes back to us.

Every time.

5 comments:

accordionsandlace said...

Dear lord I love this post and we saw Leonard Cohen play last year (also in the mid of a wedding crisis) and it was incredible and moving as well. (And he recited that poem during our performance too.)

Anyway, this is the theme of all of our discussions of the wedding--there is this weird discourse around relationships that happens in the world of wedding planning--it is all about a sort of perfection that I cannot relate to. The mister and I like to think of our union as "two losers who love each other" which is a big glib but it's sort of the point--that we love each other despite the full knowledge of each other's imperfections, failures, etc. And that we commit to the whole shebang. And that is unbelievably liberating to me, as opposed to a "problem". I don't know, I love where you're going with this!

Jake and Jess said...

it's good to be crazy.

Helen said...

I saw that Leonard Cohen was here this week - I'm so glad Jacob surprised you with tickets!

Thanks for sharing the ups and downs of your relationship (I assume Jacob's ok with that) - it's reassuring to hear that other people's relationships include that sort of stuff too :)

I don't think the mark of a great relationship is never fighting or being mad at each other or mean to each other - I think it's caring enough about each other that you (eventually :)) feel sorry you did that to the person you care about so much and you apologize/reconcile/make up.

By the way I'm so glad you mentioned that Leonard Cohen wrote Everybody Knows - I've been wondering who wrote that song for ages!

Hallelujah really moved me when I saw the movie Shrek. That was my introduction to Leonard Cohen.

Ti Christophe said...

indeed, my friend....patience and understanding.

yeh, good ole Leonard does that to one, doesn't he? not too bad for a Buddhist Jew from Montreal...he's sneaky like that.

Christy said...

I feel ya.