Monday, January 18, 2010

A Hand on a Shoulder

I ran across this clip on CNN of Bolivian peacekeepers distributing food to Haitians in the earthquake's aftermath.  The process contrasted so many other relief events we're used to seeing: masses of hands reaching skyward as boxes are tossed from the back of pickups, stampedes, broken bags of rice scattered across the ground.

What struck me was the scene at :30.  There is an orderly line and a UN soldier with his hand resting on the shoulder of the first man.  There's gotta be some crowd psychology going on there and I'd love to discuss it with someone who knows more than I.  Does that hand on the shoulder mean, "I understand you need help and I'm here?"  It certainly doesn't seem threatening.  Does it indicate to the rest of the line that "yes, there's a good chance you're getting fed today."  Does it provide the reassurance that boundaries mean order and order means confidence that my needs will be met?

A hand on a shoulder.  It can mean order in the midst of chaos.  It can mean the world to someone in need.  Who's shoulder is your hand on today?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

How Do You Do It?

This is the only known picture of us holding hands. It was staged for the benefit of Rachel Wickstrum who was following along behind us, camera in tow. Not that we're some curmudgeonly couple... we're just not big PDA types.

Now, before you start a mental diatribe about a lack of affection in our relationship, know that Suz & I are the quintessential high school sweethearts. I was a junior and she was a sophomore the first time we met on a district science fair trip (she was supposed to be there... I made it on a fluke). It took me awhile to get my act together, but many years later I got around to popping the question and we got on with our lives.
All told we dated for 5 years. This year we'll be married 13. That's a grand total of 18 years of getting to know someone very, very well and I'll put money on the fact that she probably knows me better than I know her. (She says it's something about the way I've got a reader-board across my forehead... seems I don't mask my emotions very well.)
A few months ago we were out to eat with the facilitators of a marriage seminar we'd just attended. Ironically, the conversation turned to long-term relationships and we batted around what made ours possible. What keeps couples together when the trash is smelly and no one wants to take it out? At what point is that towel on the floor the final straw? When does "that thing you do" just push me over the edge for the very last time?
I still remember our first spat. We weren't married. We were still in college. We didn't have a house, babies, tattered passports, anything. We were sitting in her room discussing, of all things, appliances: a washer, I believe. How a conversation between two people in love went from theoretical purchase to tears so quickly I'm still not sure, but I believe it had something to do with this: I'm right & you're wrong.
We haven't had a knockdown, dragged out argument since. Neither one of us has ever screamed at the other. There's never been a night on the couch or at mom's house to cool down. (One reason is that Suzi has a hard & fast rule to always...ALWAYS... tuck me in if I hit the sack before her... hard to do if I'm not there!) We worked it out early on that we as individuals were not the most important part of our relationship. It was our relationship that was the most important part of us.

Read this carefully:

When I believe that you mean more to me than the issue at hand, it means that we can tackle anything. And we'll do it together.

That means that it doesn't matter who was right about getting the tire fixed or who should've paid the AmEx bill. What it means is that I do whatever I can to make sure this thing works. And she does everything she can to make sure this thing works. We don't hold grudges. We don't say things to intentionally cut each other down (her wit's way sharper than mine, anyway... I'd be in ribbons; no contest there). When there's an issue to discuss, we come at it from the perspective of "I care too much about you to let this go any further." That goes for everything from spiritual life to the green-stuff-stuck-in-your-teeth.
And TRUST plays a big part in all of that. If I know you have my best intentions at heart, then what you have to say holds greater weight with me. Again, one is never going to do something to intentionally hurt the other. Too many times, I believe relationships are built on the idea that each of the parties are owed something by the other. Keeping track of what you owe me and what I'm due is a recipe for disaster. Eventually that house of cards is coming down.

So, what's got us this far?

I just like her with me a lot more than I like me by myself.