The Gift

Red and Yellow, Black and White. . .We Are Precious in His Sight

We all feel blessed when we recognize our parents passed on their wonderful talents and gifts through their DNA, such as the ability to create beautiful art, sing an aria, perform amazing athletic feats or to solve intricate mathematical equations. But one gift I am especially thankful for was not part of my genetic make-up, but rather a gift my mother gave me – unknowingly, by her life example.

When I was ten years old, my mom moved our family to a very small rural town in Oklahoma. It was the summer of 1969 and although the schools had been integrated, the town itself was still segregated by law. Black residents were not allowed to live on the north side of the train tracks, forcing them to exist in a part of the city which had no indoor plumbing or running tap water. Soon after we arrived, my mother landed a job at the hospital as a purchasing agent. After a few short weeks, she became close friends with a co-worker in her office. Her name was Cora, she was a single mother of a little boy. . .she lived with her parents and several other family members in a little three room house on the south side of the tracks. My mom’s best friend was black, and even though it was 1969 and she had a good job with good pay at the hospital, she was not allowed (at that time) to be our neighbor and enjoy a simple thing like an indoor toilet.

That summer between my 5th and 6th grade year, as well as the next, Cora’s mother offered to take care of me while my mom worked full-time. My days were filled with chasing chickens around the yard, learning how to dance (soul-train style) and doing typical kid stuff (playing tag and hide and seek). I remember the first time I had to use the outhouse – I pinched my nose together with my thumb and index finger and looked around at the four wooden walls. Light was streaming in through cracks and holes – time and weather had left – in the gray wood slats. I prayed no peeking eyes were staring in at me. As soon as I was finished with my business, I pushed the door open and ran out to play with my new friends. . .quickly forgetting the unpleasant odor, no trauma or anxiety, just childish acceptance of my new surroundings (amazing how the world looks through a child’s eyes). Although my presence was certainly a spectacle in the neighborhood, I was never made to feel different or like I stood out (which I definitely did). I became part of the family…and I have wonderful memories from that time in my life. Early in the 70’s, the city managers finally passed a new (much belated) law allowing anyone, regardless of race, to live wherever they wanted. Cora, and her sister, moved into a lovely, new apartment just down the street from us. My mother was elated.

Later in life, I realized my mother had given me a unique and precious gift that would stay with me for the rest of my life . . .the gift of color blindness. As I entered into adolescence and adulthood, the gift would not only serve to broaden my horizons and social outlook, but would actually blossom into a rather quirky personality characteristic – I possess a stalker-like attraction to anyone from a different country, who has a unique accent, different language, culture or religious background. Early in our marriage, my husband worked for a Dutch company, so I studied Dutch for several years. Much to my amazement, I was able to converse with some of the wives when they came to the United States. Now he works for an Italian company, so I have spent many hours listening to “How To Speak Italian” CD’s while driving in my car . . “come stai, molto bene, grazie!”

Fortuitously, my job as a fitness instructor has allowed me to interact with people from all over the world – which for me, is so friggin cool! Just two weeks ago, I had three ladies from Russia, two ladies from Japan and two from Israel in one class – truly fantastic. My class – which is done in a circle – is just a small representation of our world today. I feel so incredibly fortunate to work in an environment where my so-called “box” is daily expanded. If I had not been given the gift at such an early age, perhaps I would be striving hard to pull them into my narrow space, but because my mom was a very open-minded, accepting person, I find myself enveloped in a world of nuance, cultural beauty and colorful celebration. Now, it is up to me and the rest of us, to make sure this type of societal color blindness,  is passed on to our children. For this gift I have to say…merci, grazie, gracias, spasibo, danke and finally, THANK YOU!! 

Opposites In Love

According to Myers-Briggs personality assessments, I am an ESFP, whereas my beloved is an INTJ. Which means, we are about as opposite as two personality types can be (underscoring the familiar saying “opposites attract”). By the way, we did not have to take a personality test to discover this about ourselves…after a few dates, it was pretty obvious. ESFP stands for extraversion, sensing, feeling and perception, the single word used to describe this personality type is “Entertainer”. INTJ stands for introversion, intuition, thinking, judgement – Myers-Briggs gives this personality type the title of “Scientist”. When we met, Kev was playing around with test tubes working on his degree in Chemistry while I  was playing the piano and singing, working on my degree in Music (in addition to performing on stage on a regular basis in a touring opera company.) Scary..isn’t it?

In addition to our polar opposite genetics, we came from drastically different family environments. My husband was raised by parents whose style of parenting tended to be controlling, subsequently, he often felt that perfection was demanded of him. This left my husband with very low self-esteem as a young adult. On the other hand, I was raised by my divorced mother, who I’m pretty sure didn’t have the word “structure” in her vocabulary. My mother also struggled with bipolar disorder her entire adulthood and my father (who I only lived with for half of my Junior year in high school) was a functioning alcoholic. In spite of her own inner turmoil, my mother worked hard to instill a strong sense of self and taught me to be an independent thinker.  The result? My husband came into the marriage “compelled to control”, and even though it took me several years to discover it…because of my unstable childhood, I was compelled to accommodate and enable him. Fortunately, Kev’s desire to control was overwhelmingly dwarfed by his overriding desire to change, grow and have a loving, thriving relationship.

I laugh to myself when I think back at how many times he said, “you have to tell me when I’m being an ass…I’m a selfish pig-man, I need your help…etc.” As funny as that statement was, it didn’t change the fact that I had to work very hard at learning how to “speak up” in the moment when I felt offended, as opposed to my habit of burying it deeply, only to have it erupt later with very little provocation. Through the years, and after hours and hours of sometimes tear-filled discussions, we both evolved and learned how to interact with one another knowing each other’s expectations and areas of hyper-sensitivity. Funny how it is that such shallow tears always seem to lead to deeper waters.

The intriguing thing is, amidst all of our opposite personality characteristics, we have always shared so many similar interests. We have virtually the same sense of humor (Airplane, Austin Powers, Seinfeld, Modern Family at the top of our entertainment humor list), we both love sports, enjoy jigsaw puzzles and playing board games – and as of late – Texas Hold-em. Spiritually we have always been on the same page, which ultimately, I believe has been the glue that has held us together through thick and thin.

So, after all these years of navigating the turbulent waters of life together, this ESFP and my sweet INTJ, have morphed into something altogether different from the narrowly defined “Entertainer” and “Scientist”. In fact, if we both sat down and took the Myers-Briggs personality assessment today, I’m pretty sure the outcome would be totally different. I know he has helped me become a much more intuitive and thinking person, and he definitely attributes his noticeable change in social skills to hanging out with me.

No doubt opposites do attract, but as I have discovered, it is truly the areas you enjoy together that will help your relationship stand the test of time.

Love, Choice – The Paradigm Shift

First Comes Lust

Most likely, whether you believe in love at first sight or not, is largely based on your own personal experience with love and romance. Actually, the whole idea is sort of a misnomer…because if anything, everyone knows we fall “in lust” at first sight. In other words, when pheromones and physical attraction collide, infatuation happens and we humans have labeled that phenomenon – “love at first sight.”

It is this potent mixture that makes us want to be together with the object of our affection..over and over again. Intoxicating and addictive, that crazy infatuation hormonal rush offers the same effect as any drug, a lover’s high, if you will. Then, as fate would have it, occasionally lightning strikes during the lust-filled stage and something mystical happens. Next thing you know, you wake up one day to find yourself deeply in love.

Then Comes Love

This “love awakening” happened to my husband and me over 30 years ago, and not too long after our first kiss. Our connection was quick, deep and spiritual. At this point, we had no choice, no earth-shaking decisions…no, “I don’t know…is he/she really the one?”  This whole idea is such a foreign concept to the both of us. We have always told our kids and our single friends who are struggling in relationships, “if you are asking yourself that question before you say “I do”, you already have your answer.”  When you have met your soul-mate, the one you intend to spend the rest of your life with…there are no dangling doubts and bewildering questions about your choice. You can’t help yourself! You have to be together.  In our case, it was actually painful to be apart (and still is today).  So, our reason for getting married at only 20 years old, wasn’t necessarily a decision based on logic, perfect circumstances and financial planning  – we got married because we couldn’t bear to spend one more day (well, more specifically, one more night) apart.  Indeed… compelled by love – we had NO choice.

Then Comes Marriage . . .and the Baby Carriage

After we tied the proverbial knot, “life” as they say, slowly turned that “take your breath away” high into a comfortable steady state of companionship. In my experience, it’s not that the sexual attraction wanes, but rather the intensity of lustful desire that changes. Because honestly, that type of amped-up sexual frenzy is totally related to “newness”.  No doubt there is a honeymoon phase, but no matter how long it lasts, the “newness” inevitably wears off.

Then. . .The Paradigm Shift

Somewhere between falling head over heels in love and taking your firstborn home from the hospital, a paradigm shift takes place. Love is no longer an all-consuming emotion that compels you to do crazy things. In fact, the powerful force that caused you to leave and cleave, quickly becomes a daily, perhaps even a moment by moment decision you make. Love becomes a CHOICE.

Currently, for us, “choosing” translates into a multi-layered plan of action. Firstly, we work hard to speak to one another with a tone of respect. This one – especially in a heated conversation – takes lots of practice. It is so easy to drift into a habit of speaking to one another in annoying, demeaning tones – especially if there are a lot of unaddressed issues. Years ago during a particularly emotion-filled argument, I pointed out to my husband that he would never even think of talking to his boss or coworkers the way he was talking to me – his wife – the one he should love more than anyone. He was stunned with the truth of that statement. He agreed and apologized. Obviously, I also had to be reminded of that “truth” as well many times over our 32 year marriage.  Through the years, we have both been known to say, “Excuse me…but I’m not so sure you want to be speaking to me that way, start over again, and I will be more open to hear what you have to say.”

In addition to checking our tone, we have pro-actively declared war on “hot buttons”.  Hot buttons are those pesky – relationship destroying – unaddressed issues I referred to earlier. It has taken us years to identify our hot buttons. Interestingly enough, many of them are related to childhood stuff that we brought into the marriage. For example, the perception that I am not being respected or heard (youngest of three), can send me into a tizzy.  My husband’s number one hot button is related to self deception…if he thinks that in any way I am not being honest with myself in a situation, he basically loses all patience and goes into relentless, detailed “talk-it-out” mode. Both of these hot buttons relate to “perceived injustices” we experienced growing up.  Choosing to love, has meant identifying all of our hot buttons and then doing the work necessary to get rid of them.

Putting things into proper perspective is another “choice” lesson we have learned along the way. For example, is loading the dishwasher the “right way” really more important than loving your spouse in that moment? Do those little stupid things warrant ridicule, criticism and using that “you’re such an idiot” tone of voice? Honestly, do you actually want to elevate your idea of how things should be done above nurturing feelings of love and respect? If each of us took a second to evaluate the situation…of course we would all answer no. Laid back personalities don’t really struggle too much with this one, but controlling, perfectionists have a tougher time, but with a little help, a lot of reminders and much practice. . .proper perspective can be obtained.

On a positive note, speaking words of love throughout the day is definitely a prudent choice, in addition to remembering the three magic words (you so avidly teach your children). . .please, thank you and I’m sorry.  After 32+ years of working at this love thing…my hubby and I both agree that in order to truly cherish one another and keep passion in our marriage, we must remain diligent to “choose” to love one another in all situations.

So, is love a choice? In the beginning, when it hits you like a ton of bricks, not so much. But after the novelty fades away, in order to have a thriving relationship, filled with love and respect that will endure and last a lifetime – most definitely!