Monday, November 1, 2010

Love and My Mother's African Violets

My cousin, Alexandra, was married this weekend in Maryland. She and her husband Jeff put together a beautiful ceremony and quite enjoyable party and I was happy to be among my family - we don't get together as often as we should. I finally met the last of my mother's first cousins (there are a number of 1st removed, 2nd, etc. cousins that are difficult to keep track of) and I danced with my father and brother. The bridesmaid's were in a beautiful shade of pewter, the groomsmen wore truly excellent turquoise ties. The officiant was a "spiritual humanist." Good times.

One of the bridesmaid's read a poem during the ceremony about the importance of having a good foundation in your love and marriage to sustain you when the passion of being in love fades away. Unlike the vast majority of poem readers at weddings, this girl articulated her words and used phrasing so that it didn't sound like a test run at a robotics convention. Unfortunately, her excellent diction and treatment of the poem as poetry allowed me to really pay attention to the words (not well enough that I could find the poem on google, but well enough for me to remember how I felt about them). And I found I didn't like what the poem was saying.

Using a tree as the metaphor, the poem talked about needing deep, strong roots because you couldn't expect to maintain the beautiful flowers for a lifetime; that you should really love one another because it was inevitable that you wouldn't be 'in love' forever; that one day you would stop being in love with one another and the best that you could hope for was to still love each other.


My mother has about six African violet plants. These little guys are notoriously difficult to care for and have a high death rate. My mother loves these African violets and maintains them vigorously. When she is away, she writes a treatise on their care for me to follow: use only the filtered water, 1/2 c. for this plant 1/3 c. for that one, don't get water on the leaves. Even with all her careful consideration, some years the plants don't flower. Or she'll get one flower that will soon die, leaving just the leaves of her plant. Other years, all of the plants will flower, and she'll call me excitedly to tell me how beautiful they are and how happy she is that she got them to flower that year. I don't know how many years this has been going on, but she's added to the collection here and there, having started with a single plant.


I find that people are frequently too eager to forecast doom. We got engaged and a number of well-meaning people made jokes about Bridezillas, starting to simply hate little things the other person does, gaining weight, lamenting our decision to spend the rest of our lives together due to toilet paper shortages and burnt roasts. I hate to harp on this point, but it does bear mention that many of these people had been married a far shorter time than devoted partner and I have kept house together. And I don't think any of them did it to be mean. I think it's part of our collective zeitgeist: the henpecked husband, the wife frustrated by her mate's laziness, the joint deathmarch to the bedroom for mandatory 7-minute coitus. Whether or not people actually experience these things to the extent popular culture would have us believe, it is trendy to pretend as if this is just the way things are.

Devoted partner and I are not exceptional in our love. I would never even presume to think our love rated higher on the quality scale than anyone else's. I don't even think it in private. Our love is our love and is unique because it's ours. We have had a while to fall out of love with one another and rest on the laurels of the love we built behind the pomp and circumstance of in love; we've had longer to do so than most couples' marriages. Strangely, though, we haven't done that. We're not eagerly looking forward to our staid, sexless, tolerant years. Our 'Everybody Loves Raymond' years. Our 'at least we made children' years. I would unabashedly assert that I am MORE 'in love' with devoted partner today than I was in March of 1997. We've gotten better. There's more to be in love with!


Marriage shouldn't be a sturdy old tree stripped of blossoms, but strong enough not to be turned into kindling. Marriage is an African violet whose blooms are unpredictable. Some years the abundance of beauty could stop your breath, other years you just have to believe that there's more left for it to give. But to think that there's only one season for flowering is a thought bereft of hope. I wish that my cousin and her new husband will experience numerous flowerings for many many years, and that in between, they don't forget about the filtered water and the soil levels, and keeping the leaves dry. That even at the greatest heights of happiness, they make sure not to neglect the regimen that allowed that happiness to erupt. It takes work - take it from your older cousin - and it's not easy and it's not always fun.

And it's always always always worth it.

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