Autumn officially starts on Wednesday, September 23, and the 10-day forecast here in the Philadelphia area doesn’t include a day with temperatures above the 70’s. We had temperatures in the 90’s less than three weeks ago but the oak trees outside have been dropping acorns like a slow-motion hailstorm for almost a month. This is a good time to talk about changes in relationships.
Change in all of our relationships is a strange event, especially the endings. You give notice to an employer and at 4:59 PM on your last day, you are an employee, being paid, with duties to perform in exchange for that pay. A minute later, you no longer work there. No matter how long you were there, you leave and don’t go back. It’s a huge and dramatic moment for you but for everyone else, it’s just the end of another day.
You file for divorce. You are still married until a judge signs an order. A minute ago, you were married but now you are divorced and that, unfortunately, really is forever. There’s no pronouncement, no benediction, just a letter in the mail a week later.
At 9:00 AM, you are alive and planning for a trip. Somewhere around 9:05, your heart stops but you don’t notice it and you coast on residual blood pressure, oxygenation, intent to do things, but then you fall to the floor. Maybe people nearby try to resuscitate you, force your heart to pump blood with oxygen for awhile, try to bring you back but if they don’t or can’t then you die. You can go with the medical definition or the spiritual one but either way, you were alive, with plans and duties a few minutes ago, and now you’re gone.
Unlike on television or in the movies, there’s no soundtrack, no thundering crashing background music to alert others that something huge and radical has just happened. The one movie that seems to get this right is “The Judge” with Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall (2014). They play father and son and at the end, they are in a boat, fishing, when Downey’s character says something to which Duvall’s character does not respond. The son looks over and sees his father’s hat somewhat askew and he knows that his father is gone, just like that. Sitting in a boat, a few feet away, during a conversation, neither of them knew that it was about to happen.
We can look at darkening skies and increasing winds, hear a rumble in the distance, and know that rain is coming soon. Doesn’t it seem odd that we often cannot see events that are powerful and personal as they approach on the horizon?
Robert Fulghum, author of some really cool books, the most famous of which is, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” (1988), is a Unitarian Universalist pastor. He says that marriage is what happens between the proposal and the wedding, the conversations about hopes and expectations and plans, the accretion and the accumulation of the bond between the spouses, so when they are in front of their friends and family, in expensive and uncomfortable clothes, making promises, it’s a formality because the deal is already made.
Of course, there is something powerful about making promises to each other in front of witnesses. It’s too bad that those witnesses never come back and say something like, “You promised to stand by Spouse in sickness and in health. Spouse has been sick awhile. How are you doing with that promise? Can I help you to honor it?” It’s none of the other person’s business? It became the other person’s business when you invited that person to hear your promise.
Maybe that is how things fall apart, too, a gradual decay and decrease over time until nothing remains. Does a dating relationship end at the last date, or when one tells the other that there will not be another date? Is it really when the mind finally hears what the heart is saying, that this doesn’t work?
Couples sometimes try to become legalistic about it, sometimes demand to know why there won’t be another date. The reason is irrelevant and the only purpose in asking is the hope that you can say something that will neutralize the reason and thus continue the relationship. It doesn’t matter. If there were a problem that the other wanted to resolve then the conversation would be about that instead. The only relevant information is, “This is over.”
The change is always coming, at least when someone or something is alive. Autumn starts on September 23 but winter is forming below the surface. For that matter, so are spring and next summer. You might be satisfied in your current home and job and with the relationships in your life, but the changes to them are moving in the passage of time and the things spoken by your heart that your mind does not yet hear. When the change officially happens, it is strange and shocking, seems to be sudden, even though it was happening gradually the whole time.
Besides, that loss is not really a loss :). That’s the next story.