“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.

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.

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.

Power Vs. Authority

It appears that far too many accept the idea that power and authority are synonymous. It seems to be an underlying assumption that those who possess authority also possess power, or that mortal authority grants power. From my perspective these assumptions are faulty.

Having the physical and mental power to drive a car does not grant authority from the state to do so. Having authority to step to the plate during a Major League baseball game does not guarantee the batter will have the power to hit a home run. You may have the power to go into your neighbor’s home and do as you please but without proper authority, your display of power may make you a criminal.

Believing authority grants power can also bring disappointment when those in authority are unable to work the miracles we assumed their roles implied. We may be even more disappointed when we find ourselves in positions of authority. A new title may grant us expanded access but it does not necessarily endow us with additional skill or wisdom. In the absence of active power, authority is all but void.

On the other hand, power alone is not enough to govern anything. Those who use their power to demand authority, that is not rightfully theirs, or those who attempt to take it by force eventually fall. Power is slippery in the hands of those who want it most.

Those who seek power unlawfully often put themselves on a course to gain a little authority and not long after they begin to drift (or sprint) off course. Sometimes the drift is subtle and sometimes it’s surprisingly bold. In the end, if they haven’t made adjustments, they lose the power and authority they prized most not only at great personal expense but sadly, and more importantly, at the expense of others.

Most simply, authority is a gift of trust and power is ability. How the two are obtained makes all the difference.