June 20 2012

I had a couple of interesting responses to the latest post, SEESAW, and I can see that without intending to I left some of you up in the air, so to speak. One reader said that she and her husband, who live half the year in America and the other half in Europe, completely understood how we felt while another wrote: “What the hell did that mean?”  Good question. I’ll do my best to answer it; but first, an anecdote.

Some years ago, I was in a workshop as part of training to become a therapist. Our teacher started the morning off by telling us that he had recently been sitting in front of the fireplace with his baby grandson on his knee when he suddenly had the urge to throw the baby in the fire. Everyone gasped, except me; I laughed, I think from relief more than anything.

He was using this story as a way of showing us that we all, including the sanest of us, have murderous impulses. Of course, the majority of us don’t act on them, but we still have them and they are frightening when they happen because we don’t know where they come from or why and we feel we shouldn’t ever have them.

The teacher then encouraged each of us to share an example of our own. It made for interesting listening, at once appalling, absurd, and even hilarious. The teacher’s larger point was that in order to have compassion for ourselves and others, it is necessary to give voice to the unthinkable, because to do so is to do so is essential to connecting on the deepest level, and also, to learn that we are all the same beneath the surface and that as long as we don’t actually throw the baby in the fire there is nothing ‘wrong’ with us. How many new mothers would benefit from knowing that they are not the only ones who didn’t feel the instant ‘bonding’ they had believe in and longed for.

So, back to the seesaw where as of the last writing Joel and I were hanging in the balance. I’m glad to report that we have landed safely, but not before talking about how the last couple of weeks have been for us as individuals and as a couple. It’s not the first time since we’ve been away that we’ve experienced being in retreat from each other. We are trying to find our balance in this new life…and it is a new life. After all, for 22 years our little boat was headed in one direction and then we decided to go off in a completely new direction…without a map: terra incognita or, as we call it, terror incognita.

Our boat is small and we two take up a lot of room. There are times when in trying to pass each other the damn thing rocks like crazy and in those moments we point the finger at the other:  “You shouldn’t have got up so quickly.”  “No, you should have passed closer to the middle.” “I couldn’t, you were in the way.” And so on. It sounds petty, I know, and of course it is in the larger picture. But all these little niggles and pokes have an accumulative effect and can really wear you down after a few days. Then, as is often the case when we mortals become worn down, we don’t, momentarily, have the capacity to see what’s really going on or what our choices are.

It’s not fun being out of sorts with your mate when you are in a small boat on a large sea. Where to go? But more than that, it’s disappointing. Surely, one thinks, an old sailor can navigate a rough patch without throwing the mate overboard?

As we began to talk and the air between us softened, we were able to say the unthinkable: that each of us had, during the last couple of weeks, had the thought that maybe we’d come as far as we could go. That maybe it would be easier to get off the boat and go it alone. This thought, for each of us, was truly unthinkable; as unthinkable as throwing your grandchild onto the flames. Neither of us could remember the last time we’d had such a thought, maybe sometime during the first couple of years of being together; but not now. In fact, it was the one thought we thought we’d never have again.

So, why the murderous impulse to kill the thing one loves? Is it just too overwhelming in those instants, the depth of feeling, the possibility of loss, the responsibility to love, the impossible demand for perfection, the sadness of disappointing each other? Any or all of the above, perhaps, and many more we cannot know.  As the one reader said, “We decided to quit questioning…quit trying to figure it out and let it be. The universe will let us know what it wants of us…it always does.”  Wise words.

All we know for today is that we love each other, we’re living in Tuscany, and we’re both arseholes.

With that wisdom in mind, we docked the boat and took ourselves off for a spontaneous picnic lunch under the linden trees in Bagno Vignoni where we breathed in the perfume and listened to the birds and the bees do what they do without giving it a thought.

Picnic Bagno



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