Monday, July 9, 2012

How many times have you been properly in love?

Piers Morgan of CNN often asks the persons  he interviews how often they have been properly in love.  Properly?   What does he mean?  Completely? Intensely?  Thoroughly?  As a Britisher does he mean nicely? Correctly? 

Why does he ask this question?  Is this a significant memory to hang on to? 

Being in love is always pleasurable, if sometimes maddening, irrational, and heart-rending.  Everyone should have the experience of falling in love at least once in their lives. Twice is better.

I can remember a few summer romances of long ago.  I remember the rush of emotion, the longing, the feeling that without being close to this young man my world would fall apart in a second.

I remember falling in love with the man who became my husband.  I fell properly in love and then learned to love him over the brief 15 years of our marriage.

I would like to tell Piers Morgan that it is probably more important to remember memorable moments, life-changing moments, when the world turned as if on a pivot, than being properly  in love.

One year after my husband’s death in 1962 I and my family of four young children were landed immigrants in the great country of the United States of America and I was the family’s sole supporter – at a low monthly salary. We had only been in Kansas for seven weeks before Walter’s death.

 I didn’t fear being deported for I faithfully carried my new green card in my wallet.  For me to work outside the home full-time was a new venture.  To manage the family finances was a new challenge.  To be the sole parent of four lively children was equivalent to climbing Mount Everest.

Christmas, one year later,  was one of those unforgettable moments. Nothing momentous happened. We weren’t starving, but we were eating a lot of bologna and macaroni and cheese.  It was a fearful time. As I wrote in my book Alone: A Widow’s Search for Joy, in those months after Walter’s death “Fear grabbed me in the pit of my stomach and hung on .... I became obsessed with the fear that I might die suddenly and leave the children orphans. I could see them – four waifs, sitting at the curb begging .... I drove the car as little as possible, fearing a car accident. I feared illness. Every small symptom of ill health, whether constipation or loss of appetite or a twinge of gas, I interpreted as serious illness .....”

I remember clearly that first Christmas after  Walter’s death and the tremendous feeling of exultation I had that we had crossed the first mountain, difficult as it had been. God had been gracious; we were thankful. ... We hadn’t flunked the course.

Now that was a memorable moment.

I remember also when I was in Rosenthal/Chortitza in the Ukraine in 1989 with a select group of people looking for their Mennonite roots.  The night before we left I had phoned Mother to ask her once again to give me some directions with regard to where she and my father had lived decades ago.  She remembered the landmarks clearly, excited for me that I would visit her old home.

 I found the street, the storefront,  the ravine, the hill. I walked the streets of this now Russian town hardly able to grasp that this was where my parents had once walked, lived, did business transactions.  On the high hill outside the city had stood my grandfather’s windmill,  blades turning vigorously in the wind.  In the village cemetery of Kronsthal, in the overgrown area among the trees and high grass where broken gravestones littered the underbrush, my father had buried four adult members of his family  in 1920 during the typhus epidemic and the famine that followed.

 I will always remember that moment standing on that hill, now a wheat field. I find it hard to express what I felt – but it was a connection to my family’s heritage. It helped me understand who I was.

I remember also learning to forgive.  Yes, learning to forgive.  It doesn’t come easily or quickly when  someone has hurt you.  It wasn’t a skill taught at school or Sunday school.  Maybe Catholics have an easier time with forgiveness going to confession regularly.  But it is like deciding to lose weight. First, it has to be a head decision, then become a habit. That  decision to lose weight or to forgive has to be made each morning on arising and dozens of times during the day until it takes firm hold and becomes the natural thing to do. 

I believe such events are more important than having been “properly” in love.


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