A little over three months ago, Pat and I went out on a date for my birthday, pre-Eden. That was the last date we had...until this past weekend. We left Israel having fun in the backyard and Eden safe in my friend Leslie's arms to go look each other in the eye again.
It took me half an hour to get out of the house once our friends took over the kids. When Pat asked why, I told him I wanted to get ready and look a little nice -- not like I had been working outside all day (which I nearly had). As we drove to the Thai restaurant, I looked down to see dirt still under and around my nails. This after attempting to look nice. So I sighed and asked Pat if it made him love me more (a question I often ask about dumb things). He answered "No," and asked if it made me love him more to see him make an attempt at dressing up (which, for him, means wearing a shirt with a collar along with his cargo shorts...). I answered, "Yes."
I gave the affirmative partly because I like being ornery. But I also actually mean it somewhat. It's not that love is based totally on what another person does or does not do, but we do feel more "lovey" when someone does something just to make us happy; we tend to appreciate them more. We also grow in love as we appreciate new aspects of a person. And I grew a little more appreciation for our marriage -- me sitting there in my "nicer" clothes that still don't quite fit since my pregnancy and dirt under my nails and Pat going unshaven in his "nice" shirt and cargo shorts. I appreciated us because there is quite a bit of water under the bridge represented there. Whereas I used to be able to pick almost anything out of my closet and look nice and Pat would shower and all before going out and we could both spend the time to look nice, we now tuck in here and cover up there and head out with hints of these other parts of us still hanging out. We know we're putting on a show to an extent, but it's a show that matters.
We appreciate each other now -- mostly for what we each contribute to our family. I appreciate Pat's working hard each day. He appreciates me giving the kids fun and whatever shopping or cleaning I get done during the day. We appreciate when the other changes a dirty diaper or gets up in the middle of the night or washes the dishes we had been avoiding. But we don't often get the chance to appreciate each other for other reasons these busy days, which made going on this date particularly meaningful. We had a chance to dream and be goofy and try on a bit of our more thoughtful selves again. We had a chance to sit and be contemplative and watch the geese swimming on the river. We talked about memories and goals beyond getting chores done. It was beautiful.
We spent time talking about Annie Dillard's book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. If you have not read it (and I will confess to not having read much of it...) you probably should (and I probably should finish it). There is so much beauty and wonder in its pages it makes you want to burst. I think that is probably the reason I have not finished it. I want to sip it slowly. Pat says the book is all one big thought, though, and should be taken in at once. I'll stick to the little ideas for now, because they're lovely. At any rate, we talked a great deal about how we miss taking the time to contemplate beauty and create beauty of our own, as Dillard has done with her book. Art has been replaced by Task in many places in our lives. Part of this is just where we are in this stage of life, which is just fine. There is much to enjoy about having young kids and we will do that. But oh, to remember who we are apart from that and to remember making our own works of beauty and to dream of doing it again!
I often think that our children will be our magnum opus in terms of our own creativity, and perhaps that is true by definition in its most literal interpretation. That is a thought I want to mull over a bit more and experiment with. After all, God's children certainly show God's creativity, therefore my children are certain to be a demonstration of mine. And I want to play that up as much as possible and view my life's work as a work of art all its own -- the one big thought. But I also enjoy the beautiful little ideas and also want my life to be filled with them. So I dream of photography and writing and gardening and cooking as little ways of generating my own pieces of beauty. Each of these is a way of capturing a piece of the larger Beauty to have for myself and to share with others. I want to learn to take pictures that are nearly as beautiful as the objects themselves. I want to learn to write in ways that distill thoughts down to the kernels of truth that can bring me to my knees. I want to learn to garden and savor food that I have known from its beginning to its end. And I want to cook it to share with others again, as we have in the past, celebrating the beauty in joys and sorrows against the backdrop of that which sustains us.
Pearls are created by in irritation in a clam. A little grain of sand gets in there and the clam's body works at it and in the end it produces something of great value in its short lifetime. Diamonds are old and form over long periods of time. If a piece of coal is not a diamond when we are born, it will not be a diamond when we die. At least that is my understanding of it. People have in them both diamonds and pearls, then. Some beauty is put in us from the start to be unearthed. Other things are developed over our lifetime as we work at the daily grit in our lives. While I wouldn't give up what is being gained by working at the daily grit for anything, as my dirty fingers will remind me, I love digging out the things that were there before our work as a father and mother and polishing up those old diamonds.
Some of the beauty captured on our river walk: