Saturday, August 18, 2012

Songs and marriage

At the Corn Fest a local choral group sang, among other things, a medley of tunes from "South Pacific."

I first saw that back in my early teens, on TV. Listening to its songs now reminded me of how much music defines our categories for understanding life and love. Back then I was pretty sure I understood "I am in a conventional dither, With a conventional star in my eye." I thought lines like "Younger than springtime, are you … Angel and lover, heaven and earth, Are you to me" were a little over the top--they didn’t match anything in my experience, obviously.

Fast forward a few decades, and I know what they were singing about: it was true—and misleading. There was something of being in love that touched the eternal (younger than springtime, or older), and of not something entirely earthly incarnate beside you. Charles Williams wrote of one of his characters seeing another as "bright as if mortal flesh had indeed become what all lovers know it to be." And why not, for God is love, and if you are in love you must in some degree be touching God(*)?

But the sense was always fleeting, and other things appeared in its place. Not loss of love, but other ways, quieter, plain, sometimes painful. Union with God as suffering servant isn’t nearly as merry as other kinds of love. It isn’t joy you feel as you try to pry open your eyes at 2am when you hear the baby sick. Faithfulness plays out in lots of boring ways too: another day, another brick on the wall, and you don’t notice (nobody notices) until the building is built.

There’s probably a little bias here because country/western wasn’t really on the dial much, but radio and movie music concentrated on the romance—just the two of you. Kids weren’t exactly on the radar, and the only stress was the possibility of falling out of love or in love with somebody else.

Kids weren’t on mine when we married.

OK, two. OK, three. You know we run out of hands after four? Looking back I wish we could have had more than our five. I grew up in the era of Population Bomb and breathed the attitudes about children that were in the air; and those concentrated on the burdens and not the joys. When I look around at other families it seems people aren’t good at balance: if contraception is hard couples sometimes wind up with too many kids, but if it is easy they seem to wind up with way too few and they don’t seem ... stretched enough, blessed enough? And if our attitudes toward marriage are shaped to think of it in terms of romance, children wind up only second thoughts—and something is lost.

It gets worse when marriage is defined in terms of personal fulfillment. Looking back I can safely say that I didn’t know what was good for me, and that I am a better man, with a better character, than I would have been if I'd lived my life by my notions then of the good life. a long way to go yet

(*) But love also has a shape and we have a nature. See Dante for a classic example of what can happen with: Love Excessive, Love Defective, Love Perverted. Just saying "it is love" isn’t good enough.

1 comment:

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I also now think that "You Have To Be Carefully Taught" has it exactly backwards. Prejudice is the normal, usual, tribal human response. we have to be trained out of that.