Marriage has been so important to me, a gift from the heavens designed to penetrate my isolation and introduce me to reality. When we married 27 years ago, I quickly realized just how skewed her view of the world was and at times wondered, “Now what in the hell have I gotten myself into?” But almost immediately the first of many life lessons was on the table for me, “Lewis, look how skewed your view of the world is.” That was disconcerting for I had been comfortably ensconced in my uncomfortable life of isolation and suddenly it dawned on me that my very view of the world was skewed, including my view of myself and of my wife. This process of disillusionment is now a 27-year journey into the world of “reality” which my life experience had taught me to avoid, a “reality” made up of billions of people all with their own “skewed” view of the world.
Another way of approaching this phenomenon is as the discovery of “difference”, that the difference I had always known, superficially having achieved “object separateness” (more or less), extended much further than I had thought. For “difference” included the realization that someone who I dearly loved and was devoted to, and thought I knew, was always beyond the pale of that ego-ridden cognitive apparatus through which I viewed the world, my ego. Conrad Aiken described it this way, “We see only the small bright circle of our consciousness beyond which lies the darkness.” Aiken realized that to engage meaningfully in any relationship is to venture into darkness, to recognize that one is approaching a “darkness” and that the approaching one is in turn a “darkness” in reference to the other. Marriage, and any close relationship, might be described as two “darknesses” bumping into each other and beginning the process of venturing into another world, penetrating the barriers that each had set up to protect his/her splendid isolation.
“Difference” is a difficult phenomenon to comprehend. For, if we begin to realize just how “different” another person is, it will entail the understanding and experiencing of just how profoundly alone we are in this overwhelming and incomprehensible void that we live in. It will be venturing into and exploring the existential solitude that each of us is plagued with, a solitude which the owning and experiencing of can provide the only meaningful human connection.
So, how does “a hand reach across the abyss” and make contact? Well, it requires body and soul, but the body is often the easy part as it provides physical intimacy and the various contrivances of culture–gender rules, sexual mores and sexual politics. And these physical “contrivances,” though essential, can be an obstacle to true connection. For the soul part of the equation is more challenging as it will include language; for it is with words that we can reach across that abyss and learn that, “Hey, there is somebody out there.” This involves “wrestling with words and meanings” (T. S. Eliot) including…to put this in personal terms…who exactly is “Lewis” and who exactly is “Claire.” This entails understanding that to some degree I have no idea, for “I am not who I ‘think’ I am” and she is not who she “thinks” she is. For, personal identity is not a rigidly defined quality; it is quite amorphous, and can never be captured with a mesh of words and conceptual formulations. The individual, and the other person is always a mystery if there is to be a dynamic quality to the relationship. Auden had this in mind when he posed the question, “Suppose we love not friends or wives, but certain patterns in our lives…?”
Marriage by Wendell Berry
How hard it is for me, who live
in the excitement of women
and have the desire for them
in my mouth like salt. Yet
you have taken me and quieted me.
You have been such light to me
that other women have been
your shadows. You come near me
with the nearness of sleep.
And yet I am not quiet.
It is to be broken. It is to be
torn open. It is not to be
reached and come to rest in
ever. I turn against you,
I break from you, I turn to you.
We hurt, and are hurt,
and have each other for healing.
It is healing. It is never whole.
A friend has proof read this posting prior to publishing and I’m going to include a poem that he shared with me in response to the Berry poem.
A love poem by Bertrand Russell to Edith Finch Russell (his fourth and last wife: )
Through the long years
I sought peace,
I found ecstasy, I found anguish,
I found madness,
I found loneliness,
I found the solitary pain
that gnaws the heart,
But peace I did not find.
Now, old & near my end,
I have known you,
And, knowing you,
I have found both ecstasy & peace,
I know rest,
After so many lonely years.
I know what life & love may be.
Now, if I sleep,
I shall sleep fulfilled.