Forty Years

Forty Years

We went to Hawai’i to celebrate Jaimie+Max’s wedding, and Keith+Emilia’s engagement, and also our forty-four years together. It was a wonderful confluence of love and commitment, in a beautiful setting conducive to the ideal of a shared life. I do not have to tell anyone in a relationship long or short how hard it is to fashion a life together, to balance I and You and We … the Venn diagram of marriage is not – and can’t be – one of congruency. People grow and change at different rates, have different challenges and needs and wants. All of this burdens any manifestation or imagining of we-space. I think individuals in the most long-lasting partnerships have a lot of stretch in them: they don’t lose each other, as one or the other bounds ahead, or stays behind; they have lots of room for each other to grow, expecting to catch up, keep abreast, show the way, or find new paths as life requires, or offers, invites, tempts. Certainly this is part of our story, that we have not lost sight of each other through the tumult of ongoing creation and destruction that defines the journey: Life as growth.

I see my relationship with Bruce now as just such a machine for growing. I have come to know myself – I have become myself – through our every interaction: the unloved child, the brilliant intellectual, the artist, the inventor, the problem-solver, the idea person, the observer, the storyteller. “Futurist and visionary” as he says, only half-joking. Without his model I may never have recognized or developed my talents. Without Bruce as mirror, inspiration, springboard – and brick wall – I may never have been strong, in myself. He has been my foil as much as my champion, and I accept it all, past and future. I owe him this, at least: that I love myself and am not afraid.

All are reasons to be grateful, but they are none of why I love him. I cherish most the way he is made, his essential being, the characteristics that, with the long view of forty-four years, I see as character. Bruce is even, steadfast, astoundingly inventive, and witty. He is kind, reflexively. He attends to detail, impressively. Bruce can make or fix anything – machine to house to lemon bars – gluten-free. His playful openness with children and animals belies the deep hurt of his childhood. I admire him, and respect him greatly, and so forgive him the inevitable unwitting trespasses and conflicts and pain that come with knowing fallible people well and for a long time. It is no small thing at sixty-four years of age: his physical beauty still comes through, can still catch me, stop me. I breathe him in now, like a springtime forest – to register wonder and beauty and marvel, to apprehend and appreciate life itself. Is this not enough? And yet there is more.

Our last full day on Kaua’i we spent the afternoon in Waimea Canyon. The road from bottom to top is over twenty miles long, and there are many lookouts and hikes along the way that offer splendid views of gorge and waterfall, slope and sky. The most heralded experience to be had is at the head, where one mile of trail brings you to a beautiful view of Nā Pāli, a landscape of steeply finned basalt cliffs covered in green. The path narrows to a knife-edge, but two miles farther and you have reached the north coast of Kauaʻi, with town and ocean in view below.

The catch is you may see any or none of it, because at four thousand feet you are in the clouds, which simultaneously mass and skirt and tear apart with the wind. Such it was as we started the trail; Beyond the wide and uneven start we could see nothing but a suggestion of a path, criss-crossed with tree roots; the hint of steep grades to our sides likewise kept us intent and narrow-visioned. Would that we were goats, to clamber sure-footedly over the rocks! Slowly we made our way, hoping the clouds would break and make our effort worthwhile. This was a feat for a patient person, and even at sixty-four years of age I am not one. But I kept going, Bruce’s acceptance, present-ness behind me, focusing me on just the next step. We stopped at some point to rest a bit, and then I thought of Laka.

At a nature museum at one of the stops on the way up the canyon we had walked through a wood staged as an arboretum. Before stepping in we carefully cleaned our soles on the boot brush, so as to keep the grove pristine. It is an act of homage and humility, as is the request one makes of Laka when entering a forest. Laka is the goddess of the forest – its spiritual steward – and she requires mindfulness of those who cross its borders. One asks permission, to demonstrate attention, intention, awareness of and care for the unique power and beauty and balance of the arboreal incarnation of the sacred. We were dutiful, if shy and awkward, and then, recovering ourselves, we proceeded to have an unremarkable walk through the woods.

Up in the air, so close to Nā Pāli, I asked again of Laka, that we might pass without trespass, offering gratitude and respect for all life and materiality within; that we might be safe, that we might see what we had come to see. I was buoyant after my supplication, giddily thanking every root that kept my feet dry, every branch that I grabbed, now on an adventure, assured of the payoff but unsure just when and how it might appear. And then, somehow, somewhere the clouds pulled back and the view was ours – glorious, splendid, magical.

We went on, intent to brave the edge trail and to see the north of Kaua’i. The path became steep and rocky, with footholds far apart and slick. Now Bruce was ahead, scouting the way, confident to counter my apprehension, and yet watching carefully, patiently, for any missteps or frailty. It came on me then, vividly, what I have always known, the true gift of our forty-four years: Bruce will be there for me, to the end – breaking trail, offering me his hand, guiding me along the last parts of our together-and-separate path – beyond the woods and the clouds, beyond Nā Pāli, beyond life itself.


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