Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Conscious Coupling.... or Uncoupling....or ...... what?

Sometime in the past year or so, Gwyneth Paltrow and her husband (of Coldplay fame) divorced.   Ok....well, as a part of the never-ending onslaught of celebrity news, the separation or divorce announcement is not exactly unique or interesting.  In this case, the actress in question is known for her "elite persona", but I think she outdid herself here.   She announced that she and Chris Martin were "engaging in a conscious uncoupling".      The utter pretentiousness of this statement had me confused as whether to laugh or sneer - so I did both for a while.   Then I realized that this ridiculous description had become a literary ear worm of sorts for me.    For the love of God, why???

Maybe for me, it's not the issue of conscious uncoupling, but rather the opposite - conscious "coupling".   Now, as someone who's been married for 24 years, I think I understand marriage fairly well.   I tried for a couple of our first childless years of marriage to spend as much time with Bill as humanly possible because I just thought that's what you did.  We drove to and from work together, ate lunch together, went everywhere on the weekends together, and ....... started driving each other crazy. Thank God Mandy came along and put a stop to that madness.  Over the years, we learned - sometimes the hard way - that we love each other for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with our hobby interests.  And while we understand the need to support each other's interests, that is entirely different from engaging in these interests together.  And it works.... for us.

Enter the "conscious couples" of the world who seem to outnumber us two to one - and who don't understand us any better than we understand them.    I just shake my head sometimes - the first sign of a conscious couple is the joint e-mail address and/or Facebook account with a user name like "frankandmarysmith" (important that it be all one word!!) or even better, the indecipherable combination of initials and last names - fmyetalsmith@idiot.com.    I'm sure you have a perfectly acceptable reason for having only one e-mail address or Facebook account, but for the love of God, have some dignity and name the account something that doesn't invoke visions of circus sideshow conjoined humans.   <Sigh> - am I the only one who sees the irony in the fact that people are protesting against corporate personhood, yet so many people make the conscious decision to throw away their individuality when they enter into the holy state of matrimony, taking the biblical "two shall become one" command a bit too literally?  The best part is when one of these couples join some group - together, of course, - and commit to some level of participation, but when one of them contracts the common cold, or a virus, or < insert any benign, non life-threatening, common, everyday affliction here>, they both stay home.  Really?  The last time I checked, I was an adult who did not need my husband to sit next to me and feed me chicken soup or whatever while I was sick!    In fact, when I am sick, I really don't want another human being anywhere near me.

I fully recognize that this is how these folks have chosen to live.   I assume that they are happy and comfortable living this way together, and while I may be smirking and laughing on the inside, I am quite respectful on the outside.  In return, it would be really terrific if I wasn't asked over and over why my husband is going here or there for a few days or a week without me and why I choose to go on chorus tours without him.  Or they give me that look reminiscent of a dog cocking its head, uncomprehending.  I am asked "Do you miss Bill yet?" with the appropriate vocal inflection - equal parts sweetness, concern and curiosity.  My answer - an abrupt "Nope"- never fails to startle the inquisitor in the most satisfying way.   It's not entirely true that I don't miss him.  I miss him, the person.  I do not miss the way I know he'd be behaving if I forced him to pay over $1,000 to be scheduled within an inch of his life.   I, the performer and anal-retentive time schedule freak, thrive on this type of experience.  He hates it.  Let's put it this way - people on these trips have gotten lost or lost track of time, and we've sat on a bus waiting for them.  My husband would "get lost" on purpose. And then I'd have to kill him.  Nobody wins.   So, stop asking me why he isn't coming with me or if I miss him.  This, in my mind,  is only slightly less intrusive than asking a couple why they "only" have one child (another phenomenon that I am familiar with).

My bottom line - years of pre-cana sponsoring taught me that marriage is a tough business and it's different for everyone.   Whatever works!

But, I reserve the right to snicker on the inside at "frankandmarysmith".

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Evolution of My Personal Faith

Anyone who was brought up in the Catholic faith will understand what I mean when I say that I've spent most of my life thinking that faith and religion were one and the same.   The routine was .... well.... very routine.  Weekly Mass, religious ed, etc ...  I was spared the indignity of being forced to attend Catholic school, but I sat in Mass each week like a good little soldier, and in my mind,  Mass=God=Faith= Eternal Salvation.  

As an adult,  I was exposed to other Christian religions and the Jewish faith, and I was sort of shocked to learn that these folks also thought that they held the key to the afterlife (well, some Jews don't believe in the afterworld, but whatever!).  When music re-established itself in life, I began to equate my participation in Mass as a musical thing that equated to faith.  The music liturgy seemed to define my devotion.  A fantastic music program at my church translated into me feeling quite religious and fine indeed.

So, what happened when the music liturgy was less than fantastic?  I was forced to actually listen to the Mass and the homily with mature ears.  And I wasn't sure I liked what I was hearing.  What else was out there?   Protestant churches?  Unitarians?  Universalist Unitarians....... New Life, Brothers of the Lord, Disciples of Christ, .......  huh?  The luxuries of  Protestantism beckoned.  Cushioned pews.  Welcome areas.  Pre- or post-service coffee gatherings.  Real choir areas not located at the top of punishing flights of stairs.  And the coat racks ... oh, the coat racks!  I digress.....  Even as I occasionally indulged in these trappings, I still felt like there was something missing.

I remember that famous line from the first Presidential campaign of Bill Clinton - "It's the economy, stupid!".   For me a few months ago, it was "Hey, it's Jesus Christ, stupid!"  I read some materials that dared to suggest that the actual commandments of Jesus were more important than anything spoken or written by his Apostles or any men who came afterward.   The more I read them and thought about them, the more I realized how little established religious practices have in common with them.   Gandhi was famously quoted as saying "Your Christ.. I like him very much.  I don't care for your Christians.  Your Christians are very un-like your Christ."    I wondered what would happen to my faith if I were to stop concerning myself with all of the superficial "stuff" that fills established religions and instead were to concentrate on Christ.  Just Christ.

As the months passed, I focused on the commandments of Jesus in my daily life.   What changed?  I was less critical of the religion of my childhood.  I realized that it could be an important social component of my life that could serve as a means to help keep me focused on the study of my personal faith.  As I looked at my fellow Catholics, I was surprised to detect thoughts and feelings very similar to mine.   Views toward sexuality, homosexuality and "traditional families" were leaning much more toward a "live and let live" philosophy...  this was new?  ...or maybe I just hadn't taken the time to notice before.

Where does this leave me today?   Today, organized religion is an activity that helps me to carve out time for my faith, but it does not define my faith.  For me, faith is mental.  For me, faith is a feeling and a conviction. Faith for me is:

 - knowing that if I try to treat everyone with dignity and respect, I will almost always come out on the other side having learned something.  Some of the most surprising experiences come when you acknowledge someone who you might feel totally disengaged or alienated from - for whatever reason.
- knowing that sadness, sorrow, personal tragedy and obstacles are part of a bigger plan that I may not understand now or maybe ever.
-knowing that moments of beauty and sweetness can exist within those tragedies if we allow ourselves to see them.
-knowing that one of the greatest joys we can ever experience is to pray for someone other than ourselves and to have those prayers answered.
-knowing that I am perfect in my imperfections and that I can identify and acknowledge those imperfections without bashing myself, because faith is an ongoing work in progress.
-knowing that the good things in my life are worth fighting for.   Because they won't always be joyful and perfect, but they will be sometimes challenging and always ever-evolving and always worth the effort.

Love one another as I have loved you.   It doesn't get any simpler than that.