“My wife.” After four years those words still sound strange to me. They feel strange to me and they’re difficult to say. I suppose that makes sense given that in the twenty years prior to her I had no “wife” (nor reasonable facsimile).Feeling strange can also feel good, though, as is the case here. “My wife” may be hard to say, in that it does not come out automatically, but I do like it. I like the sound of it. I like the un-loneliness of it. And of course I like her too. We are for the most part very happy together. I can tell because when I say “My wife” I smile, and it isn’t intentional, it just happens. So now we have an interesting diagnostic tool: Just look at someone’s facial expression when they say “My wife” or “My husband.” It should tell us a lot about them, their relationship and how they feel about their partner at that moment.
Of course marital happiness, if present at all, is variable and relative, as it should be. Sometimes I love her but don’t like her; other times vice versa, and there are many other combinations and permutations that define how we feel for each other and who we are in relation to one another. But there is one thing, one factor, that must never vary. Without it you will end up either in a miserable marriage because you’re afraid to be alone or you’ll end up alone and lonely and scratching your head wondering what went wrong and where and why.
My grandparents met in Poland before moving to the States in the late 1800‘s (or Russia, depending on the epoch). They were not just married for over 60 years but in love with each other and happy with each other, often through great periods of struggling, like the Great Depression, like having to raise disabled children, to name just a couple of examples. One of the last times I saw them was at their efficiency studio in Miami Beach when she was making latkes as he was sleeping and snoring on the couch. She pointed at him, smiled and said “Look at that – Look at what I married!” “Grandma,” I asked her, “You and Grandpa have been happily married for 60 years. Most people don’t make it past 5. So what’s the secret?” She turned to me, looked me in the eyes with the spatula in her hand jabbing toward me for emphasis and said “You don’t, you can’t, always love each other – but you must, must always respect each other.” Her look got a bit more piercing for a second as if to be sure that I really got it, and apparently satisfied that I did she returned to flipping latkes.
Grandpa died the following year on that same couch. Grandma became senile and died alone in a wheelchair in the middle of the community room in a nursing home a few feet from the nurses station. She should have died with scores of family members and flowers surrounding her and angels singing.
There really is no justice. Why do we even bother looking for it? Why do we have this completely baseless need to believe in it? Fact be told the evidence points to the contrary. We need look no further than the Holocaust, Rwanda, Sudan, Syria and in our own back yards to see that the whole concept of “justice” is a farce, a fantasy, one that we somehow need in order to make sense of the world, as if it needs to make sense. It doesn’t. So stop wasting your precious time looking for it, or even worse, waiting for it, or worse yet making it up!
You new-age wannabe Buddhists speak of “karma” – The ultimate delusion of justice (the way it is commonly interpreted). You won’t do the prerequisite training and work required to honestly call yourself a true member of any faith or philosophy but you assume the title “Buddhist” because you can afford to sit around in your jacuzzis by the wind chimes contemplating the birds chirping instead of picking pizza crusts out of garbage bins and running from someone chasing you with a knife screaming at you for being a government agent.
I believe that any religious training program should require followers to spend a year in poverty. Real poverty. Being poor as opposed to reading about it or discussing it will teach you true empathy. Not happiness. Not justice – But so much more – The ability and desire to help others, the greatest and rarest gift one could ever hope for – Yet it doesn’t occur to most of us to even hope for it. And you call that justice?
And please don’t misunderstand – I have absolutely nothing but respect and admiration for Buddhists – true Buddhists, those that know and appreciate true suffering – Or those of any faith that do the work, that put in the time. And then do it again. And again. Those that don’t are about as far away as true faith and real happiness than I am from Alpha Centauri.
You don’t believe me? Try it. Go ahead, I dare you – Go work in a soup kitchen. Make that extra trip across town to give away those clothes you never wear. How about just paying the toll for the driver of the car behind you? Mow somebody else’s lawn. Or just smile. Smile at the guy in the tin cup sitting on the sidewalk, because he has his story too, and it is no less important than yours.
So getting back to Grandma, respect and “my wife.” It helps me personally to stay as mindful as I can of the “Prime Directive” – “Do No Harm.” And I say that knowing that at times I will do harm. So then comes “Feel Remorse But Don’t Dwell in Guilt.” Dwelling with guilt is a cosmic trap – It makes us cause more harm, which makes us feel more guilty, round and round and round. Just STOP causing the harm, which will erase, unless you insist on dwelling on it, the guilt, and hence the potential to cause more harm. And by doing that you become a better person, a better partner, and a better friend to yourself and others. That and a little respect will take you warp-speed through a wormhole to the kind of happiness, the only kind of happiness, that is truly fulfilling.
Copyright January 2017, Dr. Bill