“Love’s Austere and Lonely Offices”

This evening, I’ve been reflecting on the last two lines of the poem “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden. The character in the poem is an adult looking back at the cold winter mornings of youth, recognizing the lack of gratitude shown towards the family patriarch in what the author calls a house of “chronic angers.” The poem concludes with the lines:

“What did I know, what did I know of Love’s austere and lonely offices?”

The line “Love’s austere and lonely offices” is so pathetically true. Love is simple in nature yet there is a tendency to make it something glamorous, something beyond its scope. Something it cannot and should not be. At times, love is austere; it is stern and unadorned. It is silent, hidden behind the scenes.

A friend edits the ending of every fairy tales she reads to her children, adding; “and they worked really hard on their marriage, and lived happily ever after.” She is opening their imaginations to the story between the pages. The real life story of the silent heroes we call mom and dad.

For a child, love’s lonely office includes not understanding why “no” and “not now” mean “I love you.”

For a married couple love’s “lonely offices” are they places they stand without regard to personal pleasure. Because of love, friends and extended family never come first. Because of love, time and resources are sacrificed for things that hold little interest. Because of love, both will fret over whether or not they have done the right thing.

It is love that allows them to disagree passionately without fear that an opinion held too strongly will break them apart. It is love that allows conflict and love that keeps all other opportunities for romantic interest out of sight and out of mind.

Love’s eye is not blind. It is selective. It weighs truth in the balance and understands that no collection of flaws and quirks are superior to the man, woman, or child they have chosen.

Certainly “love’s austere and lonely offices” are not the only offices held in marriage, but they are the sacrificial offices required to keep the flame of love’s temple alive.

Thankful for the Everyday

The common comforts of an American life are nearly immeasurable. Gratitude for everyday things means imagining life in their absence. For some it doesn’t take much imagination, only memory of the days before now. Nothing exists without the small, and nothing is too small to appreciate.

“As long as I’m with you I’m not lost”

Lonesome Road by Cory Voglesonger

Years ago as my grandparents were driving through the mountains of North Georgia, my grandfather at the wheel and my grandmother at his side, my grandfather made a series of wrong turns before he realized he was lost. After trying several different routes he was not only unable to determine where they were headed, but he was eventually unable to get back to where they had been.

After all attempts had been exhausted he turned and said, “We’re lost.” My grandmother replied, “I’m not lost.” “What do you mean you’re not lost?” he asked. She said, “As long as I’m with you I’m not lost.”

The recognition that being together means never being lost is a profound truth. It was a characteristic of their marriage of over sixty years.  Location didn’t matter. Time didn’t matter. Being together, side by side, patient with each other, and knowing that those we travel with are far more important than when or how we reach our destination was what mattered.

After making a few course corrections they eventually found their way back to familiar roads. Throughout the rest of their lives together they continued to travel across the back roads of Georgia with their children, grandchildren, and other family members, occasionally getting turned around but never lost.  Their travels are a metaphor for their life together.

Are we truly lost when those who matter to us most are close by? My grandmother didn’t think so. Her nine little words, “As long as I’m with you I’m not lost”, speak volumes. They are also a reminder that kind words, spoken well, can last forever.

So you want to be a Parent? Read the Job Discription.

On the role of parents, A. Theodore Tuttle (1921 -1986) gets it right:

This decision to be parents means to put first the obligation to be baby-sitters, trainers, discipliners, supervisors, teachers, assigners, checker-uppers, planners, story-tellers, exemplars, and, in short, to be common, ordinary, garden variety, old-fashioned, on-the-job, full-time parents. It means that this responsibility as parents comes before social climbing, the newest in gadgets, or conspicuous consumption. It supersedes personal selfishness, propriety, pleasure, even a tidy house. It demands solemn and continual allegiance to a cause greater than self.

Fulfillment of this parental duty . . . requires a conscious decision to accept the responsibilities of this sacred obligation – the most sacred and far-reaching obligation assumed by two people.

Tuttle, A. Theodore, “And They Shall Also Teach Their Children,” Relief Society Magazine, July 1963, page 484-485.