Yesterday, in her post, my wife called me the “man of her dreams.” How do you top that?
Fifteen years ago, on November 8, 1997, I married the woman of my dreams. To celebrate this day, I thought I’d post something I had written for a marriage program we gave together in June 2011. The following is an excerpt from that talk (with two tiny revisions).
Happy Anniversary, sweetie!
For those unfamiliar with the book, Toni Morrison’s Beloved recounts the story of several former slaves living in Ohio in 1873. Even though they are technically, legally “free,” these characters still find themselves enslaved—by guilt, by reputation, by their own memories. And one character, a man known only as Paul D, is actually enslaved by his own freedom.
Paul D, you see, spent more than half his life as a slave, as someone else’s property. And so, when he gained his freedom, he started walking—not because he had a destination, but because he could.
Morrison sums up his nomadic existence this way: “If a Negro got legs, he ought to use them. Sit down too long, somebody will figure out a way to tie them up.” It makes sense: For Paul D’s entire life, he’s been bound; now that he’s free, he’s not going to be tied down to anything… or anybody. For Paul D, “to eat, walk, and sleep anywhere was life as good as it got.”
Of course, you don’t have to be a former slave to appreciate this idea, at least in theory. Maybe all of us, from time to time, look back somewhat wistfully on our younger, carefree days, before marriage, before kids. You were a lone wolf back then, an independent operator. And in a fog of nostalgia, you may at times reminisce to yourself, “Remember having no attachments, no one to report to? Life was like a Bob Seger song back then. If I decided, spur of the moment, to go to Atlantic City one night, I could just get on my motorcycle and go. Yeah!”
Then the fog lifts, and you remember three things: (1) you’ve never been Atlantic City; (2) you’ve never owned a motorcycle; and (3) you weren’t truly happy back then, were you? Somehow, something was missing.
Well, Paul D realizes this as well. That’s why, at the very end of the novel, he returns to the only woman he ever truly loved, another former slave named Sethe. He left her earlier in the book, but by the end he realizes that being able to eat, walk, sleep anywhere was not, in fact, life as good as it gets. There’s something better. And so, Paul D, this quintessential walking man, this lone wolf, realizes he wants to stay put, to build a life with his beloved. Or, as Toni Morrison says, in her exquisite prose: “He wants to put his story next to hers.”
Whenever I think of that climactic reunion, between Paul D and Sethe, I always think of a song by the Indigo Girls called “The Power of Two.” Now, on the surface, this may sound like a curious connection, since the novel is a horrifying account of the aftershocks of slavery and the song is about two folksy white girls going for a ride in the country. However, the song contains a great line that I think echoes Paul D’s story perfectly: “The closer I’m bound in love to you/ The closer I am to free.” That’s ultimately what Paul D, this former slave, realizes: that, in this life, it’s OK to be bound to someone. In fact, that’s his salvation.
This very blog is a “Power of Two” experience, but it’s not our first: several years ago, my wife Sheri pitched the idea of writing a book together, after she was inspired by (of all things) a sculpture she saw outside the rest rooms of the Rainforest Café. A few days later, while we were driving to the beach, she told me about this idea she had and then we started brainstorming. Over the next few weeks and months, we kept talking, and as each of us built on each other’s ideas, the story evolved. Eventually, we’d get babysitters and then go out alone and just talk about the book, fine-tuning the plot, characters, conflicts—with Sheri coming up with most of the best ideas. Finally, we took all our notes and started composing the narrative.
Because we wanted to have a consistent voice, I would usually do the actual writing; Sheri would then read what I wrote and recommend revisions—some small, some sweeping. Sometimes I agreed, sometimes I needed convincing, sometimes I had to convince her. But all the collaborations and negotiations made for a richer, more complex story.
But, when it comes to writing, that process I’ve just described seems unusual. In fact, when I first started telling people about our project, a friend who is a writer herself remarked, “I don’t know how you can write a book with another person.” Well, after this experience, I don’t know how you could write a book any other way. I don’t know if we thought about it as we were writing the book, but I can see now how this “power of two” philosophy truly fueled the entire process.
Each of us brought our own talents and ideas to the table, and as good as those ideas may have been on their own, they became so much better when we joined them together. We inspired each other, and more than that: we motivated each other. In my lifetime, I’ve probably come up with seven or eight novels—in my head. Some I’ve actually started, but I never got beyond page ten. This manuscript is the only sustained piece of writing I ever actually finished—and it’s absolutely because Sheri and I did it together. To paraphrase a line from Beloved: it only worked when I put my story next to hers.
Writing our book together—not to mention doing this blog—taught me something very fundamental about marriage: sharing a life with another person is a process of creation. Two people come together to create things, things that didn’t exist before. Sheri and I wrote a book, but couples create so many things together. Children, of course, are the most valuable, most lasting monuments couples create together, but there are others: maybe a business; an addition to a house; a garden; meals. Then there are intangibles: traditions; jokes; memories. You created those things, but not alone, not as a lone wolf; you created them together. Those things would not exist if not for the two of you coming together.
When you take the time to think about it, that’s amazing. So, do take the time to think about it. Celebrate the power of the two of you and remember all the things that exist simply because the two of you put your stories next to each other. Then leave us a comment telling us all about it!