Thursday, May 21, 2009

Laird of the Ring

Sunday morning I lost my wedding ring.

My wife, Ma’ikwe, and I had gotten up at dawn and walked through the gray morning up to Rose Hall (where about 15 boxes of books needed to be loaded into the back of John Stroup’s pickup for the all-day drive to Missouri). We were at Kimberton Hills, a Camphill Village located 30 miles west of Philadelphia, where we had just spent five days of total immersion in FIC World, concluding with a Community Building Day on Saturday where the books were on display at the conference bookstore.

As the air was heavy with moisture, we were thankful that it wasn’t raining. We needed to get the truck loaded as expeditiously as possible, so Ma’ikwe and John could haul ass west. They had a 50-50 chance of getting to Rutledge by midnight. (I was lingering at Kimberton to deliver two days worth of conflict workshops as a barter for lower hosting fees.)

John is the Communities magazine Business Manager, on site for the Board meeting that took place Wed-Fri. He was at his truck right on time, and so was a restless Raines, an FIC Board member who had arrived the day before to help out with the event as an expert on cohousing. Then our luck started to go south. The mist began to coalesce into rain and we found the doors to Rose Hall locked (even though we’d been assured the night before that the back door would be left open). Grr. After a few moments of consternation, Raines managed to roust someone sleeping inside, who reluctantly left his warm bed long enough to pop open the door. While Ma’ikwe checked email one last time, John, Raines, and I swarmed the boxes.

As the rain was picking up, we agreed it would be better if I remained outside and held a tarp over the pallet we were loading the boxes onto, in an effort to complete this operation as much as possible in the dry (wet books don’t’ sell very well). Immediately after the last box was on board, I shifted into sailor mode, tucking the tarp under the pallet and lashing it down with nylon line I’d brought along from my cache of canoeing equipment when we’d left home the previous Monday. (While it doesn’t happen very often, when you’re tying down cargo in the rain and your work has to be good enough to survive a 1000-mile drive at 70 mph, it comes in handy knowing how and where to throw a bowline and taught-line hitch, without having to think about what you’re doing. Ship ahoy.)

After executing the tie-down I was pretty wet. I gave Ma’ikwe a good-bye smooch, waved the pickup down the driveway, and headed back to bed. Two hours later, I awoke for the second time and was walking up the path in search of coffee when I realized that caffeine wasn’t the only thing I was missing: there was no ring on my left hand. Uh oh. Worse, it wasn’t in he small pocket of my jeans where I religiously place it when removing it to do dishes or carpentry or some other task where I think it might get in the way. It also wasn’t in any other pocket.

OK, keep breathing. Shock gave way to disbelief (surely it will be found), replaced by determined problem solving. When did I last recall having it on my finger? I had a good answer there: a distinct memory of checking it as my last conscious act before falling asleep the previous night (Ma’ikwe and I had made love and there are certain maneuvers peculiar to our romantic expression where it’s important that I keep track of the ring’s location. It happened that we had engaged in just that kind of activity Saturday night and I was thus quite sure that the ring had made it to bed with me.)

That bracketed the possibilities to a nine-hour period, during most of which I was asleep. As I have never had the ring come off my finger without my being aware of it, it seemed highly unlikely that it just fell off while I was walking from my sleeping quarters to Rose Hall. The two most likely spots were the bed where I had slept, and the bed of the pickup.

Buoyed by this analysis, I had my coffee and spent the remainder of the morning visiting with the residual crew from Saturday’s event. Hopeful of a happy ending, I put off dwelling on the possibility that the ring might not emerge from where I intended to search.

I eventually completed my socializing, saw everyone on their way, and returned to my quarters by mid-afternoon. While I examined the bed sheets (and pillow cases) with optimism and diligence, the ring wasn’t there. This was starting to get serious. I even poked through the dust bunnies under the bed and shook out the area rug next to it. No dice. I could no longer keep dark thoughts at bay. Maybe I wasn’t going to get it back.

It was at this point that the brake was released on the roller coaster ride of my emotional responses. Panic rose up, but I managed to quell it with a plan to call Ma’ikwe on her cell phone, alerting her to the need to check the pickup carefully before unloading. (I had trouble believing that the ring had slid off my finger while I was fully awake and loading the truck, but it was my best remaining hope.)

This resolve was followed by a sudden descent into guilt and sheepishness. Sure, the ring is a symbol of commitment and not to be conflated with the commitment itself, yet I couldn’t stay away from a certain miserable logic: wasn’t it reasonable to question my care of something precious—my relationship with Ma’ikwe—if I had been demonstrably careless with its semi-precious symbol?

• • •
The stakes here were fairly high. I had proposed to Ma’ikwe November 18, 2005, around 5 am (I remember this pretty well), in the midst of a spirited conversation (and other expressions of intimate connection). Literally her first sentence of response was something to the effect of, “I’ll marry you, but there has to be a ring.”

At first, I was knocked off stride. Jewelry was the furthest thing from my mind in the moment. In fact, I was in fairly comfortably in the habit of not having jewelry in my consciousness ever. I wear none and had never been married before. In general, if you mentioned a ring in my presence, my first thought would surely have been of J.R.R. Tolkein. However, I recovered and the pause so not so long as to be excruciating. I dutifully promised a ring, and the morning proceeded apace.

The following month I turned my attention to delivering on my promise and, with the help of my dear friend Sue Anderson in Duluth, hit upon a plan for a ring which featured chlorastrolite—a distinctive green gem that displays considerable figure when polished. Think dragon’s eye.

Not only did I like the stone in its own right, but the symbolism was excellent: it exists only on Isle Royale, a national park situated in Lake Superior between Minnesota’s North Shore (which contains the Superior National Forest, and was my introduction to wilderness canoeing) and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (where Ma’ikwe had spent important years of her youth).

To top it off, I had been to Isle Royale once and knew that there is a resident pack of wolves, who live in ecological balance with a herd of moose (the forebears of which had both wandered over one cold winter when the ice extended from the distant Minnesota shore). This was potent because “Ma’ikwe” is a foreshortening of a much longer Ojibway term for “the voice of the she-wolf as heard from across the bay.” So the wolf connection sealed the deal for me.

But there's more. After I had commissioned the ring, I subsequently learned that Ma’ikwe had also spent time on Isle Royale (her father, Jim, is a wildlife biologist and took his kids to some rather remote field locations) and had actually collected greenstones. Sometimes the Force is with you.

Best of all, Ma’ikwe was suitably impressed with the ring and I subsequently commissioned a matching one for me. I tell you all this so you’ll understand that our rings have been imbued with considerable juju, well beyond what you might expect if we’d simply picked them out a la carte at the Wedding Accessory Box Store.
• • •
When we got married (April 21, 2007), we started wearing the rings regularly. However, “regularly” didn’t mean the same thing to each of us. Ma’ikwe literally wears the ring all the time, excepting only to massage the joint of that finger. While I wear mine consistently when traveling (which is a lot), I take it off to do dishes (I get nervous whenever I bang the band against glass while hand washing stemware), to operate power equipment (I’ve heard too many horror stories of rings interacting badly with table saws), and to do yoga. When home, I typically leave my ring on the nightstand beside my bed, since so many aspects of my homesteading life require a degree of dexterity with my hands for which the ring is a clumsy appendage.

While Ma’ikwe has accepted this, there is an undercurrent of sadness for her, and she frequently reminds me (with only a minimal tinge of irritation) to don my ring. Thus, the back story leading up to last Sunday is that our rings mean a lot to both of us, yet they’ve always meant more to Ma’ikwe than me. Sunday I found out that the gap had closed more than I knew. Even as the separation between my finger and my ring widened, the separation between what the rings—and by extension, our marriage—means to Ma’ikwe and me has narrowed. It’s been an exceptional fortnight for tenderness and revelation.
• • •
The remaining key thread to this story is the work Ma’ikwe and I are currently doing around her interest in having another lover (see my blog of May 7, 2009). I returned home from a two-week road trip May 8, feeling pretty shaky and unsure of where I stood with my wife.

To my transcendent joy and relief, she had a terrific response. She was totally present to me, allaying my fears and salving my wounded confidence in our connection. By degrees, she gently and persistently invited me to lay aside my armor. Fortunately, I found the courage to accept her invitation and our marriage has evolved into a level of tenderness and fluidity that is both unknown and exquisite. What a great response!

With the old (quite good) relationship cracked open, we left off lamenting and wriggled our collective way into a new and wondrous gallery in the mutli-chambered cave of intimacy. It was in the midst of spelunking this territory that I misplaced my ring. Was I sabotaging our new found joy (what Gay & Kathlyn Hendricks describe as the Upper Limit problem in their book Conscious Loving—where people get nervous about being able to sustain greater intimacy, and subconsciously do something to undermine it)? Was I at risk of becoming Gollum, destined to play the riddle game in a desperate attempt to recover my ring (or to "save" my marriage)?

On the one hand, I kept reminding myself that the ring was not the relationship; on the other, it was hard to ignore the symbolism—what did it mean that I lost my ring immediately following an intense week of looking at our marriage? I was as connected to my wife as I have ever been with another human being and felt terrific about the work we had been doing; was I undercutting that? I didn't like that ugly thought. Perhaps I was already Gollum and this was the riddle. Who and what was My Precious?

In the depths of this anguish I called Ma’ikwe around dinnertime Sunday to confess my loss, and ask her to check the back of the pickup for wayward jewelry. Just as she had all week, she responded with tenderness and concern. Her first thought was not about the ring; it was about how I was feeling. As I was somewhat subdued, she asked if I was afraid she’d be angry. No, I reflected, I was more concerned with disappointing her; with letting her (and the marriage?) down. Our relationship has come to be ever more precious to me and I was frustrated that this sent the wrong message.

As I marinated in the ambiguity of my situation and its meaning, it crystallized for me how much I wanted to recover the ring. I ached to have it back.
• • •
As it turned out, Ma’ikwe and John pulled over as soon as I’d called Sunday evening and took advantage of fair weather and the extended daylight of mid-May to search the pickup right away, and they found the ring tucked in the folds of the tarp. Thus, for Ma’ikwe, the drama was short and sweet. It was revealed and resolved in a matter of minutes: a mere one act play. My journey however, was more tortuous and complex.

I didn’t get Ma’ikwe’s good news until I checked email at noon on Monday, 18 hours later. This extended my stay in purgatory to 27 hours. Upon learning of Ma'ikwe's discovery my being was flooded with relief.

Now it's three three days later, and I'm composing this as I rumble across northern Indiana on the Capitol Limited, inbound for Chicago. Tonight, Ma’ikwe will meet me in Quincy and I look forward with a deep smile to the sweetness of her removing the ring from the lanyard that has it dangling between breasts and returning it to my finger, where it belongs.

Even now that the ring has been recovered, there is nonetheless some lingering shadow about what this episode was all about and I'm still shaking my head with the realization that the ring could come off my finger without my knowing it. But then, I’m reminded, Sauron’s ring had the uncanny habit of doing that as well. Perhaps I answered the riddle correctly.

To my surprise, I’ve learned that the loss I experienced (though blessedly temporary) went well beyond the loss of a material thing, and I reckon I needed to stew in it long enough to plumb the depth of its meaning. As near as I can tell, I'm entering the unfamiliar terrain of magic. Yes, I know that's the kind of thing Ma’ikwe and I bravely promised each other we'd do three-and-a-half years ago (as perhaps all new lovers do), yet intention is not nearly the same thing as the joyous, humbling, vulnerable discoveries of the actual exploration, now that we are on the portion of the map that's marked: Here be dragons.

In Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, the major incantation of the book reads thus:

One Ring to rule them all, and in the Darkness bind them.

With all due respect to the author, I’ve distilled my own ring episode into the following reworking:

Two rings to fuel their Call and in the Lightness find them.

1 comment:

Ma'ikwe Ludwig said...


I love you.