I see before me photographs of a sprinkling of my wife’s ashes soaking in the sand along the shore in Malibu as the tide rolls in and then recedes carrying her ashes out to sea – while waves of precious memories of a wonderful joyful exciting thirty-four years of my life with her surface and gently break over sacred places inside of me.
What’s Your Secret?
At times we were asked: “What’s your secret? How do you get along so well?” and we’d just mumble something like “Well, we just dig each other.” We didn’t feel that we had any advice to give anyone regarding maintaining a relationship.
And now that I ponder it for a moment, maybe I do have a tip or two to offer someone considering that Nancy and I were right: We did, indeed, love each other. A lot.
Now, I’m not talking about a form of love that was based on how sexy she was, for she surely was, or how good a job I had, and being a school principal is not too shabby. But those attributes could have gotten old the first time the oatmeal was served cold. No, our love for one another came from the deepest of places in our souls and it flowed through us as strong as an ocean wave, letting us know early on in our relationship that we wanted absolutely no other place to be on earth than at each other’s side.
Don’t Look for Excuses to Run Away
Our love for each other had to be unconditional as Nancy was like a comet hurling through life full bore dealing with situations the moment they arose whereas I, on the other hand, am a glider, easy going, in no way prone to tackling a problem just because it shows up on the scene.
Case in point: once in the middle of the night a man running for his life from bad guys with guns, dove through our dining room window. Startled awake, I sat up in bed and listened intently for clues to what had just happened so I could plot my action and the only sound I could hear was Nancy hauling ass down the stairs confronting the intruder.
The intruder meant no harm and caused us no harm. But Nancy didn’t know that. After the cops left and the problem was solved she confronted me about why I hadn’t been right beside her “protecting the family.” I said “Who do you think was upstairs with the kids while you were going through your ‘Wonder Woman” routine?”
If we had allowed ourselves to, based on our opposing approaches to what might have been a deadly situation, either one of us could have easily, at least, thought about packing a grip and renting a place somewhere. But there was no way either of us was going to get up and go. Ever.
Some Times You Have to Just Let it Go and Eat Crow
We didn’t really get into it much right then which I appreciated because when it came to arguments I discovered early on that Nancy’s goal every time was to win, at any cost, and I learned to just take in a deep breath and let her win, but I wouldn’t have been able to do that in this case. But, basically, losing an argument, in my mind, since the facts aren’t changed anyway, is no skin off my hide.
Nancy also had a hard time admitting when she was wrong so I’d admit when she was wrong for her and when I suffered moments of not being able to fess up to my infallibility she’d, mocking my deep bass voice, say something like: “I’m sorry, Nancy. You were right as you usually are.”
I’d just eat my crow and think of how lucky I was to call this wonderful woman mine. She was my Valentine in the best and worst of times.
Change Somebody? Forget it and just Laugh the Minutia Away
Our love was just too strong to let something we had no control over come between us. Besides I think we innately understood that it was somewhat both sadistic and masochistic to even try to get someone to alter who they are in any major way.
Usually in the evenings after having had a spat of some sort we’d just hold each other in the dark. Our differences never dimmed the spark. We forgave easily. And we laughed easily. Oh, how I miss her laugh, her sense of humor. We could crack each other up with a simple phrase and one of our favorites was, after we, in our ineptness with tools of most kinds, had bungled some project irreparably: “If it’s broke why fix it.”
I guess you could call it “not sweating the small stuff,” not letting anything simmer except food when the recipe calls for it.
Work With What You’ve Got Going
The trick, perhaps, for a couple to overcome all the pressures that can weigh on a relationship, might be for them to focus on each other’s strengths way more so than on their flaws. That was easy for us because, more than anything else, we were “best friends” and that enabled us, I think, to stay focused on what we each needed to bring to the marriage.
Nancy was a gourmet cook so I kept the kitchen clean so she could weave her magic on the stove. She gardened. I swept and mopped. She got the kids to the activity of the day, piano, clarinet, flute, French horn, track, soccer, dance, band, basketball, roller hockey, tee ball, and Little League. I would pick them up on my way home at the end of my school day.
Our values meshed as we worked together to eliminate the horrible things in the world, apartheid, the mining of the harbors in Managua, the poor working conditions of Cesar’s farm workers, war with a special emphasis on lessening the influence of the military on teenagers on their school grounds.
Nancy was the best listener I’ve ever known. She didn’t miss a comma or a nuance of anything said. I listen well, too, when I’m not daydreaming. So we had each other’s ear, each other’s shoulder to lean on. A writer, I rarely shared my words without her reading or hearing them first. A photographer, she let me in on her ideas regarding the images she wanted to capture before heading out the door with her camera and most likely I was the first to see the pictures.
We loved combining our arts. During the International Year of the Child in 1979 I wrote several segments for television consisting of thirty seconds of poetry with each poem accompanied by five of her colorful slides which were shown on Channel 39, an NBC affiliate, in San Diego. Did that experience ever bring smiles to our faces and warm our hearts and soul.
Seek the Bright Side of Life Together
We lived for the beauty in the world: road trips to and hikes in exotic places like Yosemite, and Mazatlan and Sedona and Big Sur and Taos and Santa Fe and Pike’s Peak; plane rides to Spain and Morocco and Hawaii and Gay Paree; swimming and body surfing; playing tennis; toasting beautiful sunsets; going to movies and plays and concerts and museums and to anything and everything involving our children, the objects of our deepest affection, being constantly entertained by them; sending our love to each other via looks across the room at parties.
And we loved our “date nights” as Nancy lived for the obligatory massage that came with the evening and I lived to give them to her, especially knowing that the rubbing and kneading would segue into the moments when we would melt into each other and become as one. So delicious are such memories.
But for all that we did and enjoyed together, we had no problem being apart. We each were allowed to go our separate ways whether it was a meeting or an evening out with friends or a little trip. No questions asked.
I can’t help but think that such a level of trust and our overall compatibility was possible because, again, our love for each other came from a deep place wherein it was beyond reproach, as strong as an ocean wave. We committed it to each other from the very start of our relationship and never wavered unless she died knowing something I don’t know or feel.
I would think that anyone who approached their marriage in the spirit that Nancy and I pursued ours, just might be on to something truly special. Watching photos of her ashes being washed out to sea, with me missing her to a degree I never imagined possible, tells me so.
Try it you’ll love it. (Or some facsimile thereof).