Reflections on Marriage and Henry James’ “The Golden Bowl”

Can an outsider break this bond?

Photo by Motoki Tonn on Unsplash

The Golden Bowl by Henry James is unlike anything I have ever read. It feels like an academic read, the kind you read in graduate school, challenging, brilliant, and long. It centers around four main characters whose lives are tangled together as they sort through their relationships to live the life meant for them. A daughter and father, beautifully close, must cope with her marriage. A wife and husband must separate from old relationships to see each other, first and foremost. A former lover reemerges in a man’s life intending to be with him regardless of his marital status. A girl and her friend reunite while the friend plays the part of the friend a little too perfectly.

Charlotte marries Maggie’s father but keeps her eyes on Maggie’s husband. Maggie keeps the familial bond with her father unchanged even as she delights in married life and motherhood. The husband, Amerigo, begins with good intentions, but his passivity steers him wrong in the face of a determined woman.

The author takes us deep inside the reflective thoughts of the characters who employ more thought than action on the pages of the book. I cannot recommend it to everyone, but I do believe it is a masterpiece.

In the end, I was surprised to realize this book is so much more about the transition to married life and the challenge of breaking old bonds than it was about the bad characters doing bad things, sinning against the innocent.

The Tasks of Marriage: Separating from the Family of Origin

“I think it will be good that you move to Virginia,” a mentor told me as I prepared for marriage and the aforementioned move for graduate school. She explained that it would be an opportunity to turn towards my new husband, and he to me, away from the family and friends we knew so well. Isolated in that way, we would learn the heart of married life, which is to travel together on this journey.

We are a people made for ties, made for connections and bonds. Whether our commitment to work, to friendship, to aging parents, to nieces and nephews, we are made for relationships.

When that one such relationship comes along with its public declaration of marriage, saying, “I will be for you and you will be first for me,” then everything must readjust. Judith Wallerstein, author of “The Good Marriage,” identifies nine tasks to a successful marriage. The first begins with separating from the family of origin as one of the foundational tasks in making a marriage successful.

Adjust then Readjust

The successful marriage readjusts again if children come along, and again and again, as the space of relationship makes more space for more children or contracts back as the children grow and leave home or when the curves of life put the entire balance of life into question. It is always adjusting, always changing, always asking the question, where do we fit? Do we fit together? How can we fit together with these new challenges?

Whether we realize it or not, an answer arises and we begin to shift our weight to adjust to the arrangement we have fallen into. This is risky, especially when the demands of life make it harder and harder to give primacy to those primary relationships.

Therefore, we must take the time to think about it, and after thinking, to talk, and after talking, to make plans on how to get it right, straighter and in better order. That is the thing I learned from 12 years of marriage, my reflection for this year’s anniversary, and it will likely be the lesson I have to learn again in six months or a year or ten years. We have to keep learning the most important lessons over and over again because each time we learn them, we lay those lessons deeper into the foundation of who we are.

And sometimes, it happens that we are in a worse place. Then, we learn them from our rock bottom, from our weakness, looking with forced humility at how fragile we are. The more painful part of growing happens. Wounds will have to be healed and bonded, restored, but each time, when we follow this path, when both parties aim to maintain that relationship, the successful marriage come back stronger and more bonded than ever, and that is how it lasts forever.

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

Ten Years of Marriage

It is the eve of my wedding anniversary.

Three 85-inch wood tables stand foot-to-foot along the pavement of our backyard, forming a line from mulberry tree to mulberry tree. The rich tones of the wood play in my mind as I mentally, meticulously, lay pomegranate blossoms, English ivy, and boxwood together to form a garland runner. I place candles, but not too early, lest the California sun melt the beeswax into an unburnable mess oozing out upon that rented wood. I plan the menu, the plating, rearrange the seating, all within the comfort of my bed, waking too early, too full of excitement to sleep any longer.

Now we come to ten years, a less common milestone in a society today. “Doesn’t it feel like it was just yesterday?” a stranger asks.

Photo of bride and groom holding hands at the kneeling during Catholic wedding mass
Kyle and pregnant Kathryn Anne Casey
Father holding up his first born triumphantly
Toddler girl with baby brother on Easter
Toddler brother grabbing baby sister's chin
Three siblings paying with baby Peter with midline cleft lip/palate and SPINT2 genetic mutation
Kathryn Anne Casey at her daughter's funeral, sitting in front of casket at cemetary

No.

There have been too many children, too many losses and too many homes for it to feel like just yesterday.

Were it just yesterday,

I would still be in that blushing stage of the bridal wreath. Timidly approaching conversations with my husband in order to be tactful, caring, and gage his responses, adjusting my responses accordingly, should I need to call him out or call him on, as wives are apt to do. Instead, after ten years, life sometimes demands too much from me to give all my energy to these conversations. I do my best to be charitable; and it falls upon him to be stronger, tougher, and more proactive than I gave him credit for in the beginning. We are partners.

Were it just yesterday, I might feel the insecurity of being a new mother, wondering if this or that approach to parenting will make or break this child of mine. Instead, after ten years, I know that parenting is an ongoing task, one that is not determined by the individual interactions but the sum of our lives with these children; that apologies can count sometimes count more than getting it right all the time, and that when I am in need, the little people in my life can show their quality as tender individuals capable of loving others and not just receiving love themselves.

Were it just yesterday, I might look on a future full of plans, linear plans, in which we decide what we want, we lay out the steps on how to get there, we create action plans and we celebrate our successes. Instead, after ten years, I see a future full of possibility knowing that no matter how much we plan, things could change radically. One job, one unexpected viewing of a home, one particularly special child can bend the road in such a way that everything we imagined would happen is no longer on the map.

Yet in those unexpected twists and turns of life, new possibilities emerge.

Things that seemed like childhood dreams or the dreams of just yesterday become reality; a home with five children, configured a bit differently than I imagined; a place in the country that provides a new opportunity in patience because there is not one bit of grass seed in that massive yard; a connection to my spouse that comes not just from attraction, interests and values in common, but in the glory of having lives built together through shared suffering. We have built a world around a commitment for life in which our children are the fruit and our home is the physical space, where we hope to invite others to visit and hopefully find some good that they can take from it.

The invitations mailed and tables outside in their setting under the mulberry trees stand as a symbol of how our lives have evolved and expanded.

I do not present these ten years as a time to boast, but rather with gratitude in the face of a life begun and a life continued on this shared journey where happiness cannot be sought for its own sake, but two partners in love can go on this path with laughter, dancing, classic movie quotes, and the understanding that we do not have to do it alone.

Photo of the six members of the Casey family on Easter
Previously Published at the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

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Weekend Links

Straightforward advice for relationships and marriage. Behold, the Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse and how to replace them.

This article, sent to me by fellow blogger and friend, MamaCodes, reinforced the warning regarding social media use and distracted thinking/mental clutter.

As an update, I started checking Facebook only once a day. I really only use Pinterest for specific ideas and do not use other platforms. It has gone well. I can already see how Facebook produces a lot of mental noise and it feels better not checking it throughout the day. I think I have to stay connected through email though.

This review of a new comedy show about motherhood highlights the issues I addressed in A Comedienne’s Way of being in the World. The world of professional comedy is inhospitable for a theoretically feminine style of humor, thus the descent into vulgarity.

News to me. Melatonin can disrupt hormones related to fertility. Melatonin was recommended to me to aid sleep, because of stress. After waking suddenly several hours after taking it and my thoughts racing just as fast as before, I thought I would love to resolve the underlying issue (rather than the immediate issue).

People are pretty upset about this interview. Better to skip the sound bytes and interpretations and read the transcript for yourself.

I think he speaks fairly clearly here, although I think it would have been better had he defined “feminized” and “manly.” He almost defines “manly” but leaves “feminized” undefined. If he says men perceived the mass as “feminized” and the only near definition is: the priest is the only man on the altar, the rest of the people are women, then the reader is left to think feminized means women are present. If women are present and the men want no part, why is that? Flesh it out. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I have no idea what he means by feminized.

Additionally I really really hate when people try to make marketing words like “emangelization” or “mom-preneur” to try to capture a statement “evangelizing men”/”mothers who are also entrepreneurs.” N. M. Gwynne points out that this language has been entrusted to us, not just to do what we want with it, but to respect its usage and preserve it for the future. This crap doesn’t fly.

This more reflective piece by Emily P. Freeman was the perfect post for me to read today. A new friend asked me about Peter if things will change in the future. I told her, “I tell myself they won’t.” She accepted my answer and the conversation was distracted before we could talk about the actual possibilities. “We may be waiting for something and moving toward something that may never come to be, even while we hope.” I live in a world of this awareness…” moving toward something that may never come to be.”

This week, I practicing being rather than doing. Taking a break from the memoir, I wrote some shorter pieces for submission. There is still room for improvement in find time in the daily schedule to write in order to fulfill my commitments.

My husband and I celebrated 8 years together by being apart. It was actually the first celebration missed due to hospitalization since this all started and I missed Regina’s birthday. Fortunately, my birthday plans directly involve San Francisco.

I was crestfallen to discover I left one of Peter’s homemade, labor-intensive vests in San Francisco and it was pitched. No one’s fault but my own. It is awful to think of all that work in the garbage. Especially since I never wanted to make them again!

I ordered a five-year journal because of I see now how helpful it is to record the mundane events along with the big events. A new friend and I spent time together, saw our children got on well together and have many, many things in common.

This week I learned the big vent in the house sucks air in and pushes it through to the little vents for air conditioning. That is why you need a filter. If you do not have a filter, the thing stops working. I am glad I did not learn the lesson by personal experience.

What did you learn this week?

The Canonization of Louis and Zelie Martin

I knew as a young Catholic that we are called to unity with God. I saw religious life as the way to achieve this unity. When the time came when I no longer felt God was calling me to religious life, and I began dating an amazing man, I wrestled with the concept of unity with God. If we are called to give our hearts totally to God, how can we give our hearts totally to another person? Indeed God had taken the place where my friendships and relationships failed as an adolescent. I did not know how to give me heart, how to love and be loved so vulnerably.

In Minnesota, Fr. Andrew Cozzens, now bishop, spoke on the spousal relationship between God and the soul. I asked me question, the very same one you read above. He said, “it is possible to have unity with God…all three of you.”

Now, on October 18th, we’ll have in the books a formally recognized illustration of this radical and blessed call lived out. Two individuals, a man and a woman, sought unity and total devotion to God. Both were told they did not have a vocation to religious life. They spotted each other on a bridge and married three months later.

Now they will be canonized together. Their youngest daughter is a Doctor of the Church (one of the four women). Two other daughters are on the road. Really, it’s only a matter of time for the remaining two. The power of marriage, of the decision of a person to abandon himself or herself to God’s will, and then to marry another who feels the same, this is a power that cannot be beat. The Trinity is a community of love and in the marriage of two people who have taken this path, the outpouring of love is indescribable.

Thank God for the soon to be Saints Louis and Zelie Martin. Pray for us!

For more about the lives, read here.

Antoinette Moms – Under the patronage of powerful ladies

I wrote previously the vision for Antoinette Moms, the mother’s group I am beginning here in my home town, through the Young Ladies Institute. With the goals of prayer, fellowship and formation, it did not take long for me to consider who would be amazing patronesses for this ministry.

St. Gianna Molla

St. Gianna Molla (1922-1962) was an Italian wife, family doctor and mother of four children. Deeply in love with her husband, she loved fashion and traveling, particularly skiing. She died following the birth of her fourth child after opting to save her child’s life and risk her own with surgery, rather than end the life of her unborn child through an abortion and hysterectomy. Along with being a caring doctor, Gianna also served her community as a child and young adult through her participation in Catholic Action, a movement whose aim was to mobilize the Catholic laity to live a more intense spiritual life.

She is a model for those women who feel called or compelled to work, who have particular professional gifts, who must make particularly heroic choices to serve their families and who seek to inspire girls and other young women in the faith.

Blessed Zelie Martin

Blessed Zelie Martin (1831-1877), the wife of Louie Martin, and mother of nine children (five daughters survived childhood), including St. Therese of Liseiux, Doctor of the Church. Zelie lived an intensely devout Catholic life and raised her daughters to do the same. She operated a small business from her home, making lace. Zelie died of breast cancer at age 45. She and her husband will be the first married couple to be canonized as a couple this September.

She is a model for those faithful women who have suffered miscarriage and the death of their children, who themselves suffer from ongoing health issues, who teach their children at home, and who use their talents to earn extra income for their families.

 

There are more non-married (priests or consecrated life) saints recognized in the Church than married saints. For those heroic men and women who said little but did much, there is perhaps little record. This is not unlike Saint Joseph, one of our greatest saints. What we know of him is based on a few biblical passages of action without words, of total obedience to God, and tradition.

So we entrust this group to Zelie and Gianna, women who were exemplars of the dignity of their vocation, who fulfilled their vocation in different ways, whose legacy is a testament of the beauty of marriage and motherhood. Inspired by their example, we move forward with hope, asking God to bless this endeavor.

 

You can find us on facebook at Antoinette Moms, send a request to join the group and you’ll be able to see updates on the happenings of Antoinette Moms.

As I reflect: hosting two NET Team Members

It’s been 11 years since I finished my year of service with NET Ministries.

What reflections stand out the most to me?

– NET is the closest life experience to marriage possible. It’s true. You live together, have a common mission, are called to communication, have an idea set before you, get little sleep, have to be constantly flexible and accountable. It’s the wildest adventure you can imagine going on, and you take each step trusting the Lord, struggling to find balance enough to pray, thankful for the times in the bathroom when you can be by yourself. You discovered things about yourself you otherwise would have never known. People know you better than you’ve ever been known. I learned I’m an extrovert. I never knew that living out in the country, reading, having so much alone time and being at peace with my imagination. I put my two cents in where it wasn’t needed, over the course of the year I learned to keep my mouth shut. I need to relearn this lesson when it comes to my marriage.

– It’s okay to just be okay. I remember sitting with a teammate who was a good man. He was the first model I experienced, other than my father, of how a man should treat me, with care and respect, without needing romantic feelings to find me worth his time. “How are you doing?” I asked him. “Okay,” he said slowly, “how are you?” “Okay.” I said. Our simple words packed in the meaning as we awaited the end of our year of service, soon upon us. “Want to be okay together?” So we sat together, not talking, not exuberant as many were, just being…okay.

– I’m very different, and that’s good, too. In a way I did not fit in with my NET Team. I don’t think I wouldn’t have developed natural friendships with most of them. But we were brothers and sisters in Christ and I felt included and encouraged in a way that was totally new to me. It wasn’t until we were in the Portland, Oregon diocese that I realized I wasn’t alone in my different-ness. I was artistic, and began to relate to our host families in ways never before experienced by myself. Shortly after NET, I would meet a man who was also quite different. We are artists, after all! And I learned to be grateful and embrace that as being part of a group I had never seen before.

– God built a strong foundation in me. NET was a time of being totally carefree. My only responsibility was to love the Lord, love my teammates and do my job on the retreat. In keeping with keeping my change to myself, I had to learn to sit back and just do my job, allowing others to do theirs. This was valuable for me. To let go if I’m not in charge of it. NET put me in my place and that was a good thing for this bold little creature. During that time I would pray. I experienced wonderful times of prayer and of offering up sacrifices amidst the tiredness and the struggle to keep going. I had to practice humility when disagreements arose. I learned some terrible mannerisms I have, a particular tone of voice. Learning about that tone and how to pay attention to it keeps things charitable with my husband. Once again, a lesson that needs to be relearned.

 

The NET Team came to visit our parish last night and two young women stayed in our home. The visit caused much reflection. I am so tired lately, so terribly terribly tired that it feels impossible to keep in mind the lessons I have learned, whether in watching that tone, holding back and not reacting emotionally so quickly to perceived slights, or not feeling guilty about every negative thing, attacking or hating myself. We’re at the point in our marriage where it takes an act of the will, and these days, I feel so incapable of thinking or acting.

But I do will it. So I think that now, as on NET, I’m called to rely on God. I’ve gone to two Saturday holy hours by myself and prayed. I attended mass by myself last night and did not feel so foreign there in the silence. I did not know what to do with my hands without a baby of child’s hand to hold, but my heart knew the Lord and I was able to speak to him, not just stare, saying, I don’t remember how to focus on you.

It’s time to depend on God. Work as though everything depends on you and pray as though everything depends on God. We’ve reached a place financial security. Now we are maxed out physically and emotionally by tiredness. So we are forced to need God again. When we were single we dedicated our lives to him and desired to be saints. Now we are living out the path, finding we must, again and again, place our trust in him.

Reflections from Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, Ch.2 (Part 1)

Now regarding Chapter 2: The Annunciation of the Birth of John the Baptist and the Annunciation of the Birth of Jesus in Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, written by Pope Benedict XVI. Due to the length, I will publish it in two parts.

There are three aspects that stand out to me as I read this chapter, much longer than the first chapter. First, the juxtaposition of grandeur and humility. Second, the qualities of joy and hope present in, what we now call, the Christmas story. The third aspect is the deep portrayal Pope Benedict gives of Mary. To be honest, theology is not my favorite type of reading. For me, exegesis is very interesting, but on the drier side. Some of it is very inspiring and it certainly enriches my later reading of scriptures.

It was many years ago when I first studied the tenants of our faith. I admit the extreme limitations of my memory. I will likely never do a formal debate on matters of doctrine. But there was the time when I had my questions, I asked my questions, and I found deeply satisfying answers and explanations to those questions. Since then, the information I encounter now deepens what I already know, but it is not often that I am shaken by a new revelation. A part of me thinks that probably sounds terrible, or maybe terribly foolish (only fools are satisfied with their level of knowledge, right?) but I’m being honest.

That being the case, I stand by my previous statement that this information can deepen later reflection. So I apply the overarching aspects that stood out to me to my current mental fodder, which I will share with you now.

First, the idea of the temple and the mustard seed (p.21). The annunciation of the birth of John the Baptist takes place in the temple, as Zechariah, a priest, enters. This is the height of greatness, is it not? For a people who will not utter God’s name, the role of the priest is sacred. It is he who can enter the sanctuary. And the temple in Jerusalem must have been magnificent. Then we contrast this with our Lady, a young woman, traditionally portrayed as in her home, perhaps at prayer or in bed, when the angel appears. The number of paintings striving to capture the beauty of this moment is mind-boggling. My favorite is this, by Henry Ossawa Tanner:

Making the Whole World Kin

The temple versus the mustard seed. Pope Benedict’s highlights the incredible humility of the setting, the recipient and the reaction of Mary as she receives the angel’s message. She quietly ponders how it shall be, which is different from Zechariah’s doubt. The temple and the mustard seed. God chooses the mustard seed for his greatest gift.

I have to learn to accept the mustard seed. “We are lower class who live like middle class who want to be rich,” my husband said. And it’s true. It is a lesson I come back to time and again, accepting the gift I have with all its blessings and letting go of the greed for money, power and ambition. I won’t say I was groomed to be a career woman. My parents were ever supportive of whatever path I wanted to pursue. The role of motherhood and the work v. stay-at-home debate were never discussed. There were two temples in my childhood: a career or the convent. As of now, God had neither in mind for me and it has taken some doing for me to get used to that. Of course, it helps when we consider what the mustard seed is (Mt 13:31):  it is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.

In the smallness of our home, our life, the simplicity of raising children as one’s work we will find our fruit. And I have. That part is not difficult to see. But there are still times when I must quiet the ambition. There are still times I must sacrifice because this job or this ministry or this path are not options for me at this time. Yet this is precisely what the Lord wants me to see. In my story, A Girl and her King, the girl is taken from the battlefield, the place of glory, and asked by the king whom she loves, to return to her home inside the walls: a dusty, dry, plain place that lacks all the romance she experienced on the field. She has to talk herself into believing the challenges that exist in returning home have any merit at all. So whether worldly ambition or spiritual ambition, I had to learn to let it go.

And who is my saint? St. Therese of Lisieux, the author of the little way. Why was I drawn to her? Her desire for glory, her audacity before the Lord to ask for whatever she wanted. Never did I realize that God would take me the same little way as he did she. Desire for glory, ambition, he would turn it to his own direction. We must see the glory available to us in the little things, to make countless little sacrifices as a great offering to give him glory, not ourselves.

Stay tuned for part II.

Unfriending the Stranger: on the need more stratification in relationships

Have we lost the distinction between friend, stranger and acquaintance? It seems like it goes without saying, yet I wonder if the value of boundaries is becoming more and more lost in our culture.

hanzel

Real Simple panelists proposed five “old-timey” traditions they would like to see brought back. One panelist while proposing the return of titles to identify distance where distance exists snuck in a secondary proposal to bring back the handshake and hug a lot less. Hugging. I enjoyed youth group as a junior high student because it provided me the opportunity to hug the cute freshman in the group. As I grew older, I liked hugging less and less and found it more and more in all circumstances. My hairdresser, who I like very much, gives me a hug as I leave and while in experience it doesn’t seem so bizarre, saying it out loud points out the strangeness of it.

We call random connections on Facebook our “friends.” A friend denotes an intimate, someone with whom I share similar goals, views and confidences. On Facebook, these are merely connections who see what I post. It’s like we opt to be bodies occupying a room where I can hear and see what the other does. I can choose to leave the room anytime. Online we call that “unfriending.” Whether we like it or not, “unfriending” becomes laden with emotion. Rather than “unfriend” someone, which rejects the person, I can just choose not to “follow” him or her. On other social media sites I have “followers.” At best a follower denotes someone who follows me around. Some would see it as a disciple. As I said before, it’s merely being in the same room, or in terms of blog websites, becoming a subscriber. The terms make it so very personal.

Boundaries are diminished. Couples couple on their first date or even without a date but at a party. Rather than going out on dates to get to know people, we “go out” and enter a committed intimate relationship in order to get to know the person.

If everyone is my friend, if everyone is in my intimate circle of hug receivers, then I must up the ante to show those who are truly on the inner circle. I will have to marry an intimate friend, opposite sex or not, or even myself, because we must be allowed to love. We must be allowed public recognition of our uniquely close relationship.

If I referred to acquaintances, or they referred to me,  by my title (Mrs.) then an intimate would be indicated by calling me by my first name. Friendships would be indicated by first name + spending time together. Deeper friendships would be indicated by first name + spending time together + spending time with my family + a hug upon greeting or saying good bye. Marriage would be indicated by all those things and so much more.

Legally society is not greatly stratified. There is marriage. There are civil unions in some cases. There are common law marriages. And then there is nothing. I read once (I apologize for not remembering the source, though I believe it published through First Things) a proposal for legal recognition of more types of relationships, without the need to call it marriage. If two sisters live together and care for each other in their old age, there is no legal recognition given to that relationship. If one sister has an estranged child, that child has more claim than the sister who has done everything for her.

So I am proposing more steps. They need not all be romantic as in marriage because not all intimate love is romantic. Our society is hyper-sexualized and would question the nature of the relationship between those two sisters. They may just be intimate friends sans physical intimacy. Such a thing does exist.

Now, I live in California. I know my ideas/discussions here reflect that. The coasts strive to be avante garde. California is both cutting edge on cultural trends and extremely casual. I recognize what I see taking place in cultural trends does not reflect the whole of the United States, although I do think times are a-changin’ and we’re all affected to some degree, the coasts (and college towns) likely being the most extreme.

It starts with one person and how he or she builds their relationships, then teaches a group, perhaps a youth group or their group of children. Christianity has, throughout history, functions as a subculture, something counter-cultural and a little underground. We’ve tried courtship (which in this discussion means you are either my friend or marriage potential, little in between), and for many, it has been found lacking. Maybe a new approach is worth looking at.

Reflections on Gift from the Sea: The final sections (6, 7, and 8)

When I was in 8th grade, I fell in love with Christ. Every year following that was romance, beauty and yearning for his battlefields. When I married, my world became smaller. The trials we experienced were pressing and though a part of me still looked out to the larger world, planetal awareness, as Mrs. Lindbergh calls it, my attention was necessarily focused, and is still focused, towards the little world of our family.

IMG_3470

I recall the lesson of Mother Teresa. How to change the world? Drop by drop.

I asked a priest once, can one still experience total union with Christ if one is married? He answered, yes, all three of you.

How does it all happen? On a practical level, how does it happen?

We don’t often hear these stories and even if you do, is it ever really enough to fully fit the image into your psyche?

Anne Morrow Lindbergh has painted a picture for me. Shell by shell, step by step, she opened up my awareness to the beauty of alone time, of creative work, of alone-togetherness, of the middle functional period of marriage, and the evolution that takes place so that slowly we become whole persons able to give like we’ve never given before, because we’ve never been so complete. And now what?

Two sections ago I was thinking, these are good things I am working on. I feel so good, so satisfied. Each week I read a little, write a little, do some craft or design. And I feel good. I’m spending more time with my eldest, delighting in her a little more, missing her when she is at my parents’ home for a visit. Then I thought, this is all well and good, but shouldn’t I be working on my spirituality too?

If it feels good, just don’t do it, eh? I’m told that’s an old Irish philosophy. If I feel this happy, I must be missing something, right? (My low self-esteem talking)

Then comes the last section, “The Beach at my Back.” Here are the quotes:

Modern communication loads us up with more problems than the human frame can carry.

It is good, I think, for our hearts, our minds, our imaginations to be stretched; but body, nerve, endurance and life-span are not as elastic. My life cannot implement in action the demands of all the people to whom my heart responds.

Can we solve world problems when one is unable to solve one’s own?

If we stop to think about it, are not the real casualties in modern life just these centers I have been discussing: the here, the now, the individual and his relationships.

The here, the now, and the individual, have always been the special concern of the saint, the artist, the poet, and—from time immemorial—the woman. In the small circle of the home she has never quite, forgotten the particular uniqueness of each member of the family.

The path to holiness that I must walk takes into account the world in which I live, a busy, chaotic world, where we are informed nonstop of the plight of others and not just the masses, but human, personal stories of individuals. And it’s painful to bear it.

Start at home. Start with one’s community. We are here given permission to let go a little of the troubles around the world. We are not meant to bear all these crosses.

The feminine genius, according to St. Pope John Paul II, possesses a particular openness to the person. This genius acts as a light to guide mankind back to its center. The ebb and flow of life. We can be go out but must return inward.

Perhaps it feels good precisely because it is right. As Mrs. Lindbergh says, I must take these seashells with me, for me these are these reflections I have written, let them be the eyes of the sea for me, reminders, guide posts of what matters, in order to point me on my way.

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Reflections on Gift from the Sea: Part Six

Argonauta

https://i1.wp.com/kathrynannecasey.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/223e5-argonauta_argo.jpg?resize=388%2C260

Continuing on with the reading of Gift from the Sea. I should start every reflection post with this explanation. Quotes from the book are in plain font and my thoughts are in italics.

I believe there is, after the oyster bed, an opportunity for the best relationship of all: not a limited, mutually exclusive one, like the sunrise shell; a not a functional, dependent one, as in the oyster bed; but the meeting of two whole fully developed people as persons.

Such a stage in life, it would seem to me, must come not as a gift or lucky accident, but as part of an evolutionary process, an achievement which could only follow certain important developments in each partner.

Hmm. A development. An evolution. I am stronger than I ever knew before. I am more beautiful than I ever believed before. I have confidence. I must speak up for myself. I must speak up for my children. I cannot take everything to heart. I have to consider the circumstances. I can be spit on and remain patient. Well, only if it happens from a child because that is who usually spits on me. All of these things I have learned through the romantic period and this current period in our marriage and parenthood. I need my husband. I need him a very functional way. I cannot take care of everything. Three children…”you must be busy;” “you sure have your hands full,” etc. The comments from strangers never end. But I like our interdependence. I don’t see it as a weakness. Mrs. Lindbergh affirms its value. This is a stage in our marriage. And it has a purpose. It is an evolution. As I look, I can see and I understand.

We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return.

Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what it was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now.

I don’t have to be afraid. He talks to me less because he is an introvert and he is overstimulated, overwhelmed by the ceaseless noise. Once 7:30pm rolls around and the last rascal is ready for bed, I can see, on most days, his longing to collect his thoughts, be alone, relax. On other days he seeks me out, want to talk to me, wants to share ideas with me. We went on a date for the first time in quite a while. It was during nap time. Ordinarily we both rest, in some way, during this time. I knew we did not have to talk. We walked. We visited our old haunts. I knew it was not a failing that we did not dive into intense conversation now that we were free to do so. I have to write these things because I know them and knew them, but there is ever a temptation in my mind not to trust this ebb and flow. Some times we will be functional, sometimes it will be romance.

Let us return to that thought of the meeting of two complete people. The romantic period taught me my need for him. Though it feels that need deepens, in other ways, I find myself quite capable of doing myself what I never dreamed possible. If there weren’t these children, I’m sure I would see it better. I can see I am more complete, less insecure (though still plenty enough insecure to deal with). And so when we pass through this period, on the other side, we will be more complete, we will have more to give to each other. It is a very good thought.

He [Rilke] foresaw a great change in the relationships between men and women, which he hoped in the future would no longer follow the traditional patterns of submission and domination or of possession and competition. He described a state in which there would be space and freedom for growth, and in which each partner would be the means of releasing the other.

 How beautiful. I see that with us.

For we are, actually, pioneers trying to find a new path through the maze of tradition, convention and dogma. Our efforts are part of the struggle to mature the conception of relationships between men and women—in fact all relationships…every advance in understanding has value.

We are not following the paths of our parents. We forge a new way based on tradition, convention and dogma. It fits us. It does not fit the mold. I am primarily at home. He is the primary cook. I clean. We both take care of the children, but I primarily take care of the baby. Some of it seems so traditional, and yet some of it puts tradition on its head.

In fact, I wonderful if both man and woman must not accomplish this heroic feat. Must not man also become a world to himself? Must he not also expand the neglected sides of his personality; the art of inward looking that he has seldom had time for in his active outward-going life…

A relationship with a woman can change a man so much, and vice verse, if the relationship is doing what it ought. Then comes the peace, the silence. That stage I have yet to see. There would be more time. If we are ever seeking growth than once that time comes we can grow to enjoy the virtue we have been struggling so painfully to practice. I must be strong and independent as I prepare a meal or take three children to the store. He must be soft and gentle in the face of irrational emotion. This will serve us well one day. I’m sure of it.

It cannot be reached until woman—individually and as a sex—has herself come of age, a maturing process we are witnessing today. This is the essence of “coming of age”—to learn how to stand alone. She must learn not to depend on another, not feel she must prove her strength by competing with another.

“Your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.” After the fall, the temptation was for woman to seek after the man, to need him in an unhealthy way, to not be her own person and recognize her strength. His temptation would be to treat her as an object, to rule over her as he would an animal, not to recognize her genius and contribution. As time passes, there are more opportunities for women to realize their potential. I am the daughter of a feminist who would never label herself as a feminist. I’m trying to swing back, a little closer to the middle, taking the good from both poles of tradition and modernity.

In the past, she has swung between these two opposite poles of dependence and competition, of Victorianism and Feminism. Both extremes throw her off balance; neither is the enter, the true center of being a whole woman.

It will be a continuum process of correction, we will always swing too far whenever we swing. As individuals we can seek to find the middle way, the center, the understanding of who I am as a person. Men and women complement each other, but they must recognize their wholeness separate of each other as well. That is integral gender complementarity (search for Sr. Prudence Allen’s writings for more on this). God meant us to be complete, yet to learn from each other. It is wrong to say “these are the qualities of a woman” and “these are a qualities of a man.” That breaks us into fractions (fractional gender complementarity), unable to be complete. The concept that to be brave, bold, aggressive is part of man, but put a woman in a protective stance for her child and you will see “mama-bear.” Did she ever seem more womanly than at that moment?

How nice that Tom Cruise can say “You complete me.” If it stopped there, the relationship would be terrible indeed, ever dependent on the completion she provides him. I can say less dramatically, “when I met you, I saw in you something that would draw me to become whole, a complete person.” What a beautiful thought. “When I met you, I saw an image of who God intended me to be, and I knew, walking with you, I would find it.”

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