Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Karl and Ellie

Six months after its release, I finally saw the movie "Up". It was part of a 10-picture series that our local theater runs as a benefit for our schools. The boys and Gary had seen it closer to its release date, and confidently predicted I'd like it.

"Will I cry?"

"Yeah, probably."

I was crying in the first 10 minutes. So quickly, and deftly, the movie's makers sketched in the essential details: a shy, retiring, idealistic boy with a longing for adventure finding his kindred spirit in a girl who appears to be his opposite: effusive, expansive, enthusiastic. She saw something in him she liked and didn't hesitate in declaring it. Her dream was big...to adventure, to plant her clubhouse at the brink of Paradise Falls in Venezuela. The sunshine of her love warms him and he blooms. At the church where they marry, volumes are implied by who comes. Her side of the sanctuary is filled with lively, vital, joyous souls; his side is largely vacant, with a few dour, dressed-in-black, severe looking people.

The most touching part of this movie is the way their love is communicated as they age, as is the poignancy when she dies and leaves him alone. You feel the loss keenly; the vacancy in this man's soul as he continues to live after the center of his life is gone.

His love for her inspires a big adventure--to fulfill her dream. And it is that quest which brings him in alignment with the possibility of more love, and a fullness he'd not imagined was possible for himself. The movie left me sobbing, because it is the most beautiful film I've ever seen.

Gary wants to show this film at Christmas. We're doing Christmas at my house again this year. My parents are driving up with my brother, my niece will fly up from Southern California, my father-in-law will drive down from the foothills of the Washington Cascades (with his unruly Vizsla hound Katie to be terrorized by my demonic cat), and my MIL who lives locally, will be here.

I'd hoped to not have to go through another hosting holiday of pretending. Two years ago the prospect filled me with despair. This year is different, because I know it is the last.

"Up" is a curious choice of a family Christmas movie, in a way. Gary's parents are divorced and have been since he was 8. Gary's dad has since been married three times. His last marriage, which was in the same year as Gary's and mine, ended within that year. Katie-the-hound is the legacy of that; she is the object of his affections now. Gary's mother never remarried, or as far as I know, even had any romantic relationships with a man. My parents have been married for over 50 years. I suspect what has held their marriage together is my father's super-ego sense of duty: you stay married because you're supposed to. You love because you're supposed to, through will-power. I can't tolerate the presence of them together for very long; there is such tension, disappointment, latent hostility radiating from them. The love portrayed in this film is very different from will-power love. The love in this film warms everyone around. It's a very simple love, and its light reveals the holes in the fabric of Gary's and my marriage.

I can use it as a parable, as a tangible. One knows authenticity when one sees it. If my sons aren't consciously asking themselves, I'm sure they feel the contrast between the warmth created between this couple, and the atmosphere between their parents. It can be a jumping off point: We have failed to create this. We have failed at developing what it takes to create this, and it is time to stop pretending. It is a failure within us (and creates a toxic atmosphere. You deserve so much better--I probably won’t say this last bit because it implies they are somehow responsible. I want to avoid that.).

Gary walked by me last night, after we'd been home a while, to say, "You deserve to have that kind of love." I said, "So do you."

Was it an unidealized love? Some might point out that you never were shown them quarreling. Isn't that idealized?

A long time ago I read Harville Hendrix's book, "Getting the Love You Want". He posed the theory of the Imago in relationships. Growing up has left injuries, and the issues that we need to heal draw us to the person who can call them forth for healing. That's where the spark of attraction lies. The introvert is beguiled by the extrovert's ability to express himself, the ease with which he makes decisions. The introvert calls to the extrovert's latent deep, reflective side. At the beginning they seem perfectly complementary, perfect for each other. It is later that disillusionment sets in, and the introvert wonders what she ever saw in the loud-mouthed shallow person she's married to. The introvert seems moody, distant, judgmental to the extrovert. When we are at first bewitched by attraction, magical thinking makes us forget that 'complementary' may involve opposition. Opposition threatens unity.

The potential for true growth, both individual, and as a couple, lies in reconciling this conflict.

If we can't have perfect unity we might attempt to cheat in order to get it We might cheat by attempting to deny our own desires, or by denying the Other's. We try to force unity by closing our eyes to any feelings that seem to threaten unity. And this is not sustainable.

We can't expect to have perfect, unbroken unity. It doesn't happen in this world. But the next best thing I think is actually better than unbroken unity. And that is the mechanism of repair, the glue of reconciliation.

Mrs. Spit wrote a beautiful post some weeks ago about loss, about loss breaking us, and about healing. She spoke of holding a fragile glass in her hand, of seeing where the colors run together, tracing the seams. Her post is called, Art Glass. The glass, the globe, she was describing, is grief, the more beautiful for its "fault lines". Can relationship, and conflict also be the stuff of Art Glass--unity-shattered a kind of loss, but the healing generating a beauty that far surpasses unblemished wholeness?

Perhaps this is what Karl and Ellie had, and this is what kept the light shining within their cracked and imperfect, unidealized love. The movie's makers didn't show us the how, but we can assume they had conflict because of their very different backgrounds. And the love that radiated from them didn't have any taint of unwilling surrender--peace-at-any-price.

Gary and I have never found a way to reconcile our styles. I see now that marriage to him was the logical outcome of where I came from. I came from a family where unity was prized, which meant that any feelings that ran against that unity were seen as threatening and were expected to be suppressed. Failure to self-suppress would result in someone else suppressing them, through shame, or punishment. Family unity was even more important than Telling the Truth.
The glass is not permitted to break, because there is no faith in healing. That would make sense, since the skills for healing were never developed.

Marrying Gary merely perpetuated that pattern.


Lavender Luz said...

I have not seen this movie, but it seems I MUST.

"It's a very simple love, and its light reveals the holes in the fabric of Gary's and my marriage."

I love this image, this metaphor.

I hope that the clarity you've come to will help you with this holiday, and what will come after. Will you be making public your intentions now, or after the new year?


excavator said...

Hi, Luz.

We'll wait til we're close to taking action before announcing our intentions.

Yes, the clarity does help in looking ahead to what it's going to take to get through this holiday. It's really reassuring to know this is the last.

Sheri said...

I could very much relate to this post. I read the book by Harville Hendrix about the time I was going through divorce.

I wondered if I truly wanted to learn my lessons, was I meant to stay with my then-husband and suffer through?

Or perhaps we learn our lessons and then are ready to move on to learn other lessons. Looking back, that must be what I did. What was true for me was divorce...a very difficult time where I experienced a HUGE amount of personal growth.

Since my divorce, I have entered into an entirely new level of "life course-work."

I'm thinking of you and your family this holiday season.

excavator said...

Hi, Sheri. Thanks for your thoughts. That's a good question, if the Imago theory meant we need to stay in an unhappy relationship with someone in order to learn the lessons of whatever drew us to them in the first place.

I would wonder if Hendrix would say that learning the lessons is a two-way street. In addition to whatever in your ex husband drew you to him, there was something in you that drew him to you. What was it that he needed to be working out?

Ideally you can work this out and work on it together.

What if the partner refuses the challenge before him?

Perhaps then the lesson for us becomes the importance of honoring the need to leave a stuck place.

For me it's taken years to work through the doubts as to whether it was my "fault" the place was stuck. Maybe I wasn't trying hard enough, maybe I was asking too much, maybe the hang-up was mine...all that.

It doesn't have to be anyone's fault. It's just that together we're stuck in a non-generative place.