9AM, Indianapolis, IN
This weekend the nation celebrates Independence Day, and Deanna and I celebrate Interdependence Day.
I asked her to marry me on the Fourth of July in 2003, late at night on a nearly empty stretch of sand in St. Augustine, Florida. Fireworks were going off north and south down the beach, but we had a bit of the coast to ourselves. We listened to the sweet swishing of the waves, punctuated by the whines and booms of fireworks, and when the time seemed right I reached in my pocket to get the ring I had been carrying around in my pocket all weekend.
Her answer was “absolutely,” and after some predictable smooching we knelt in the sand and said a prayer. That will be eight years ago tomorrow, and I’m deeply grateful for the time in between. There have certainly been plenty of hard days and frustrations in there—it’s a real relationship, not an imagined one—but I could not imagine a more supportive partner or a more extraordinary person to share my life with. And part of being a supportive partner, of course, is challenging me when I need to be challenged. Not blind support, but the kind of real support of me that includes withholding support for particular ideas or directions when they don’t seem right to her. She’s a wise counselor.
Chewing on the reality of our relationship makes me think of a great story that my friend Hugh Hollowell tells. Hugh is a big Johnny Cash fan, and claims to know all the words to all of his songs. He loves Johnny Cash. And he also loves his wife. “But,” he explains, “Johnny and me never have a bad day.” That’s because the relationship with Johnny Cash is an imagined one. He has a relationship with the idea of Johnny Cash, not with Johnny. Real relationships are harder than that, and also much, much richer.
And that makes me think of something I heard Nontombi Naomi Tutu, Desmond Tutu’s daughter, say in a small workshop at the Restorative Justice Conference a few weeks ago. She said there are two ways to look at history — either as a narrative that we can learn from by studying the stories of our successes and our errors, or as a source of pride, a narrative of our greatness. If we choose the latter definition and function of history, then naturally our errors, moral and strategic, tend to be minimized, as indeed they often are in the teaching of American history. The former is much healthier, though, and more constructive. That’s true in personal relationships as well as in our national narrative of ourselves.
The word idealist interests me. We often use it synonymously with naive. As someone who confuses their ideals with reality. I tend to think of it, though, as meaning someone who has ideals—who can envision a better way, and therefore has a goal to work toward. We need creativity and imagination to be able to plot our course. There is a lot to be proud of in the history of the United States, and I love the ideals that are part of our sense of who we are as a nation. The ideals are a good first step. The next step, though, is to try to live up to them, rather than trying to pretend that we always do.
So tomorrow I will celebrate Independence Day, which honors some ideals of a new kind of nation, and I will pledge myself to helping the reality of our nation come a bit closer to its ideals. I will also celebrate Interdependence Day, and pledge myself to deepening and enriching the family relationships that are central to my life, acknowledging our imperfections and celebrating the incredibly good thing we have.
I almost blew it that weekend in 2003. Deanna, having grown up in Myrtle Beach, has a passionate antipathy for mini-golf. For some reason we found ourselves at a mini-golf center that weekend, trying to knock the golf balls through various obstacle courses and fiberglass animals. I was nervous about proposing, and hadn’t decided when or how to do so. I had only decided that I was ready, and I was watching for the right moment. I couldn’t help fidgeting with the ring in my pocket through the weekend, and without realizing it, I had slipped it onto my little finger. When she asked me for our little golf pencil, which was in the same pocket, I had no graceful way to remove the ring without her noticing. I just tucked that finger in, and handed her the pencil. Luckily, she didn’t notice. She assures me that if I had proposed to her on a mini-golf course, she would have flatly refused.
Warmest of blessings on your holiday weekend,