“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.

“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.

The Great Questions We Carry

A defective four leaf clover.

Each year at Christmas my grandfather gives everyone in the family a small hand held puzzle. Often these puzzles are clear cubes containing metal balls and rings that must be aligned to complete a design. Most of the time I can see what I think the outcome should be, yet the challenge is finding the solution before I lose interest.

The wisdom in these little puzzles is clear. They parallel the individual and collective questions we all carry. Some are trivial and amusing, easily put down and picked up again. Others are larger and require more time and effort to solve. After a little fiddling these larger puzzles are often shelved in hopes that “some day” we’ll have time to spread out all the pieces and restore order to the chaos.

We seem to reserve a special place for the truly great questions and we keep them within constant reach. These are the questions of life that won’t let go. They demand our attention.

At times I’ve attempted to force pieces together that don’t belong. Particularly the beautiful pieces that seem so good together. Fabricating solutions in ignorance or accepting answers that are comfortable, but not accurate.

While there are clearly right and wrong choices, there is a wide spectrum of individual solutions within those bounds. Yet the constants, the rules that apply across that spectrum, can be difficult to identify independently. Many of life’s variables are in constant flux. We rarely get a bird’s eye view of the labyrinth, and few of life’s puzzles are cut as evenly as factory made cardboard and plastic.

Fortunately, when we find solutions we share them. Small and simple things can be the greatest gifts. Answers to long sought questions can be the key to gaining mountain top perspective on the dark valley of our lives. Sometimes answers come like a flood and other times in painfully slow drips.

The key is having a desire to search for solutions. To believe the answer exists and to keep working to discover answers that are equal to the questions.

What does this have to do with education and training? Everything.