Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Winter of Our New Contentment

Half a century ago (1961), John Steinbeck published his last novel, The Winter of Our Discontent. The plot revolves around the protagonist, Ethan Allen Hawley, who falls into the temptation to compromise his moral standards around honesty and integrity for material gain and the chance to recapture higher status and societal standing that had been lost by his father's misadventures. The novel is a dark inquiry into a person's soul and the nature of happiness.

With the redbud and grape hyacinth now in full glory, it's a good moment to reflect on the winter just passed, before it's buried by the bustle of spring and the projects ahead. While my winter also had its moments of turmoil and uncertainty, I've arrived at a much different place than Hawley and that seems worthy of reporting.

Saturday I moved back to Sandhill after spending the last three months with Ma'ikwe at Moon Lodge, her residence at Dancing Rabbit. It was the longest stretch of concentrated time we've spent together in our 6+ years of partnership and it brought up some surprising joys and challenges.

While there was one point deep into winter where Ma'ikwe thought it might be a good thing that we weren't together so much (something about absence making the heart grow fonder and missing the occasion for such fondness), it got better. Irritations that were more tolerable in smaller doses became issues we needed to attend to. Ways in which we've been hiding from each other (in plain sight) became exposed. As Ma'ikwe and I practice it, intimacy is a push-me-pull-me paradox where we subtly reject and stubbornly undermine the very closeness and transparency we crave. It's humbling stuff as we peel away the layers of armor and self-righteousness, only to discover more layers beneath.

While we were able to make progress on some of our intimacy issues—such as my baseline criticality [see my blog of Jan 9, Critical Judgment, for more on this]—other interesting lines of inquiry have been put on hold as Ma'ikwe's declining health warranted the top spot in our consciousness.

It had been my plan from the outset to return to Sandhill at this time. (Regardless of how the winter experiment in cohabitation went, I wanted to protect time to digest the experience before reaching any conclusions about where I'd live on a regular basis.) On the one hand, this is a crazy time to step back from being close to my wife, as she's facing a major challenge with chronic Lyme [see my previous blog We Went to the Doctor and the Doctor Said… for more on that].

On the other hand, my home community also needs me and my connection there is precious. In the three days I've been home I've organized a highway trash pick-up along a three-mile stretch of blacktop nearest our property; helped move the FIC office back into our funky trailer now that winter is a memory, started work on the community's taxes, hand scrubbed the kitchen floor, and done a cooking shift.

The last few days have been intimately disorienting, with the familiarity and comfort of being in my own bed—one I made by hand 38 years ago—juxtaposed with the absence of Ma'ikwe lying next to me, and the morning rhythms of the last three months transposed from winter at Moon Lodge to spring at the White House (the Sandhill building where my bedroom occupies the southeast corner). While both morning rituals prominently feature coffee and noodling at the keyboard of my laptop, now there is no fire to tend, no quilted window coverings to roll up, no choreography with my partner about how the day will go.

Luckily, when I'm home I'm still only three miles away from Ma'ikwe and I aim to get over there 2-3 times each week. While I won't be in her daily routine any more—and that's a significant difference—I will have approximately the same amount of concentrated personal time with her, and that's significant also.

For the immediate future, the hardest part will be the trips that we won't be taking together while she focuses on healing. Traveling and working together has been a significant part of our relationship, and that aspect will be minimized in the coming months. For example, we had been planning all winter to take a three-week trip to North Carolina the latter part of April—which included time to celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary, April 21. Now I'll be taking that trip by myself. While I'll still enjoy the work and the friends I'll see in the process, a number of things will be less favorable:
o I'll be separated from my wife instead of with her.
o I won't have her as my partner in doing the work.
o I won't be with her to help with daily domestic needs (cooking, doing the dishes, sweeping the floor, emptying the compost, etc.).
o I won't be by her side for emotional and moral support when she has hard days (skype and phone calls count, yet aren't the same thing as being able to hold her and breathe the same air).

As uncertain as the future is regarding Ma'ikwe's health, or even how much time we'll have together in the months immediately in front of us, we will be making decisions about that as a partnership that has never been closer or more resilient. Holding that framework in mind, I leave the winter content, and there is no amount of status or wealth that would tempt me to trade places with Ethan Allen Hawley.

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