Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Full Monty

My husband grew up learning his mother's mantra "Keep the peace at all costs." That message rotates to the front of his brain when we have conversations that could head into dangerous territory. Anything from "How do you like my haircut?" to "We need to talk about this." has his mental rolodex moving at breakneck speed to the well worn mantra that will save his skin. Okay, any man with half a brain will flip to that mantra when it comes to his wife's haircut and clothing. But when it comes to matters of the heart, it's a sad mantra to call on for help. I realized yesterday the mantra front and center in my brain has been "Speak the truth at all costs. Especially in battle." Fun household, hey?

We are at a point in our marriage where we both want to change. Oh, we have been a changing all these years together, but lately it seems like the changes are cutting to the bone. Masks are cracking and falling off for good. We both desire to honour the spirit of the other as well as our own. I don't know if taking this long is simply the result of marrying very young and trying to grow up together or is par for the course. I do know it's been an often ugly and pain filled road to this place but here we are and it's good. I didn't say it was fun.

In the midst of erasing his mother's words from his brain pathways my husband now says what he really thinks much more often than what he thinks I want to hear. Dear me. After all these years it's my turn. I also get to experience what it feels like to have truth slung my way without warning. Ouch. I have much thinner skin than I realized. I can probably count on two hands the number of times, in the last 23 years, that my husband has brought me to tears because of his words. I have talked here before of what verbal dynamite I can (and do) concoct on a moment's notice.

Sometimes I think I was born mean. I'm not kidding. I have a habit of saying what I think and figure the other person should just suck it up already. My husband has had lots of practice trying to do that but he is a gentle soul who thinks before he speaks. I'm trying to be a bit more discerning as to whether truth, as I see it, is necessary to our every conversation. I don't mean I'm wanting to adopt his mother's words. I wouldn't want to keep the peace at all costs no matter how much you paid me. After being together this many years though, I know, as does he, exactly where his sore spots are and it's time I stopped picking at them.

The last time he said something truthful(but necessary) to me, instead of keeping the peace, I ended up in tears for the hour it took us to drive home. During the trip I asked myself if this was what it felt like for him every time I'd paid homage to my mantra over the years. Last night he told me it nearly cost him his spirit. It is a miracle we are still together.

But together we are. I'm prepared to be on the receiving end of a lot more truth than I am used to from him. I've accepted that it might be rocky on this learning curve. I am okay with being his sounding board as he deals with dying mantras. I told him yesterday that his honesty makes me feel closer to him. Even when it hurts. Not that all truth hurts. But being the one who has wounded his soul so often, it is a privilege to be trusted enough to see it heal. Not content with a partial striptease of the soul, I hope for the full monty.

My current read had this to say this morning:

"Graciousness is a quality of mind that does not separate truth and beauty. Talk of truth always makes it sound as if truth were the cardinal virtue. Yet without beauty, truth becomes blind and can be turned into a blunt and heartless imperative. When you hold beauty and truth together, truth will always have a sense of compassion and gentleness. Sometimes the so-called 'facts of a situation' actually tell us little or nothing about the heart of an experience. Only in the light of beauty can we come to see what is really present. This is true also of the way in which we view our own life. If we were to describe our life strictly in terms of its factual truth, most of its interesting, complex and surprising dimensions would remain unmentioned. The gracious eye can find the corners where growth and healing are at work even when we feel weak and limited. It is no wonder that Jesus said: the gentle shall inherit the earth. When we succeed in being gracious and gentle with ourselves and others, we begin to truly inherit the inner kingdom." ~ John O'Donohue in Beauty: The Invisible Embrace

I have people in my life who do not separate truth and beauty. It looks effortless and I love being in their presence. The birth of truth and beauty would be a worthy mantra to replace the dying ones for us both.

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