Ever wonder what we can do to be better men and women? I’m sitting at my desk, pondering this question even as my heart aches for a little tyke at school.
Over the past month, seven different couples, all friends of mine , have announced their sudden divorces. Fourteen people, twenty children, and uncountable numbers of relatives and friends are impacted by this tear in the social fabric. Another just announced, about an hour ago.
As I look over the past year, the variety of relational difficulties simply boggles the mind. Of course, I see more than most, given that my business is helping families. But what ever happened to being the better man? Being the woman who rises above? Being the person to whom marriage vows actually mean something? The one who can grant your partner mercy?
I have some people I’d like you to meet in this column. Three different couples, all dear friends of mine. Then, Evan Sanders of The Better Man Project, but we’ll get to him later.
First off, Tanesa. Tanesa is Jamaican, and a wonder to behold. Her family immigrated here when she was a baby, poor as church mice. Her mother did the usual hard working immigrant things, while her dad, an acupuncturist, cleaned floors for a local Safeway. Tanesa was brilliant. She played the cello in a local orchestra, and won a full ride scholarship for med school at 17.
Tanesa is now a trauma doc, and her husband of six years is a medically incapacitated agoraphobe. In English, that means he experienced several traumatic blows to the head, which resulted in a debilitating fear of situations that he might find hard to escape. Mitch is a great guy, and didn’t start out that way. A gung-ho financial advisor, he was cutting trees on his property up here when he fell off a ladder and knocked himself so hard on the head it took him a couple of days to wake up.
They had a baby boy at the time, who now comes to my school. Mitch cannot work for pay, his moods are unpredictable and he cannot consistently be trusted with the little guy. You can’t tell by looking at him, it often works like that with brain injured people. Still, he knows he has to fight for a normal life, and he doesn’t give up.
Many women might look at Mitch, and say to themselves “I’m 36, able bodied, can have more kids, and I certainly did not sigh up for this.” But Tanesa is tenacious. And hopeful, and committed not just to Mitch, but to the better woman she wants to be. “In health AND sickness” was what she promised, the better woman doesn’t just cut and run.
Neither did Elizabeth Ann. “Annie”, as we know her here, has an adult child with her handicapped husband Martin. Marty was a musician when they were younger, and no one really knows what went south for him. As the years went by, he became less and less predictable. His behavior became erratic, but his body was fine. He experimented with drugs, undiagnosed bipolar patients often do that.Eventually, his depression became so crippling that he left Annie for a while.
A fine doctor at a public clinic identified what was wrong, and eventually found the cocktail of meds that helps Marty stay on an even keel. He works odd jobs and pickup work, and Annie keeps several local buildings clean and shipshape after hours. She never would have dreamed of leaving him, she loves him and her vows meant something. A better woman, to be sure.
Now meet FC. I got a call from FC’s partner today informing me that they were moving west as soon as possible, because FC had cheated. Partner’s voice shook into the phone, the betrayal and angst were palpable. Partner was blindsided. Life was good, jobs were stable, partner had no idea that FC was straying from the marital fold.
Partner was going to make FC as miserable as possible, starting with complete denial of contact with the preschooler at my school. My stomach sank. As always, the children will pay.
What’s up with this? When did “I Love You” mean “I Love You Until It Gets Hard?” Marty and Mitch have prodigious needs, to be sure. So does FC. Show me a ‘need-free’ human and I’ll show you a liar. What happened to men and women with “stout hearts?” Annie and Tanesa can’t be the only ones. FC’s partner could be one, if both sides were willing to be the better person.
It’s been two years since my husband withered and died, and I still get the exasperating “I don’t see how you do it!” exclamations. This is especially exhausting from the Christian crowd I usually run with. See, as a Christian, I believe it is the Holy Spirit that lives in my heart that gives me the strength to get up in the mornings. Lots of women in my position pull the covers up over their heads, it’s a lot safer there, after all.
But ultimately it’s my choice. Mine. Mine alone. Mine to get up and meet the needs of these kids. Mine to let the God of my fathers show me what to do. Mine to sing, dance, run to the east in the morning and the west at night, and let the beauty of Creation wash over me. Mine to set my goals, and exceed them when I can.
Meet Evan Sanders of the Better Man project.
Evan was one of a legion of bloggers who took an interest in my posts during my Sabbatical in a Teacup.
I backtracked to his blog, and discovered an enthusiastic young man with a burning desire to change himself for the better. Read his essays. Like many of the generation that follows mine, Evan is on a purposeful journey of self discovery.
Evan’s essays spoke to many of the reasons why I took my fractured family on the Sabbatical. Fear was a great one. As many of you know, adventure travel was an important part of our family culture.
I was paralyzed with fear that adventure travel was gone forever from our lives. I simply couldn’t handle all the details that come with planning a huge trip with five adults. I would fail somehow, and that gut-level certainty was arresting.
One thing that people like Evan like to address is the whole idea of ‘following your heart’, or ‘listening to your gut.’ There is a grain of truth to that, but largely I find that pretty funny. I think Evan and I are on the same page, but if I had listened to my gut about my job, my abilities, or many other things after Chris died, I’d be living in a cave somewhere. I have found it’s only a good idea to listen to my gut when it knows what it’s talking about.
Annie and Tanesa have very well educated ‘guts’. They slowed down. They listened, they heard their partner’s needs, then, they very deliberately chose to be the better person. I am honored to have them in my friend circle.
I love FC and FC’s partner too. They’re doing the best they can, but I wish they’d put a rein on their ‘gut’, and listen to their brains for a while. Set aside the tragedy of betrayal, and the colossal fear of rejection. Slow down, listen. You loved each other enough to make a child, what can you do to uncover what was real in your relationship. Go back to the beginning, where you loved each other with abandon, and look at that closely. Maybe, just maybe, you might find some limiting fear, and behind that the partner you once loved.
Take a risk. It’s worth it.
Much love, Evan.