I worry about what our children have learned about marriage. We have taught them all we know about it, but our understanding is a bag with holes. We've prayed, read articles and books, watched videos, met with a counselor; yet, we can't seem to get it together.
I've been an excellent learner all my life, but I can't seem to learn this: can't seem to break our painful cycles that are, in many ways, similar to the ones I witnessed, growing up. Sometimes, I'm tempted to blame my parents; other times, I'm tempted to blame yours. I've asked you to imagine throwing my daddy and yours into a sack and shaking it; what would be the outcome? Not good, and I'm not always sure who is who in this scenario; regardless, the truth is that we're the adults (the ones influencing children), now, and aren't we responsible for the choices we make?
It doesn't feel like it; I know. Our behaviors feel innate, primal, beyond the capacity of our excellent brains and kind, Jesus-loving hearts. I live with the fear that, down the pike, our children--our daughters, especially--will choose this: not because it's happy or healthy or normal, but because it's familiar.
We long for respite. We found it, for a few days, in Hatteras. With lights and nets, one night we walked to the sea to hunt ghost crabs.
I'd never hunted ghost crabs, before, and in truth participated this time only through the lens of my old camera, a T3i, which has limited ISO capabilities. It has a flash, but I wanted to see what I could get with ambient lighting. The resulting photos are blurry, but I love them; I think they capture both my wild excitement and my disorientation.
They also capture Charleigh's trepidation.
I took many beautiful photos while we were in Hatteras, but these are the ones I've studied over and over. I haven't been able to stop thinking about that night: the dark air so thick with salt that, licking my lips, I could taste it; the beams of the flashlights and lanterns; Charleigh's eyes, wide with concern; the delighted laughter of the other children and shouts of the adults ("We've got one; bring the bucket!"); the surf's occasional lap at my flip-flop-clad feet. Again and again, I have played the movie of this--the ghost-crab hunt--in my mind, until I could not doubt that there was something more I was supposed to see in it, write about it.
So I did the thing I do, sometimes, in which I force my spirit open like a pistachio nut left in the bottom of the bag: one of those we pick out and toss back in because it has an ungenerous gap, because it must be either pried open with something other than our fingers or cracked with a snap between our teeth.
After days and days, this is what I found.
Hunting ghost crabs is a perfect analogy for our marriage. We are haunted people. We are together but alone. We each carry a little light and benefit from the (little) light of others; still, we are severely limited in what we can see. It's dark, here. There are ghosts, here, but good on us if we're committed to capturing them: to seeing and accepting them for what they are and, ultimately, to setting them free.
Your beams illuminate my ghosts; my beams illuminate yours. Our power in one another's life is this and only this: illumination. Not eradication. Eradication is deeply personal. We have long been distracted by one another's ghosts. If there is to be peace and progress, each of us must commit to dealing with his or her own ghosts, also to giving the other space and time to do the same.
May we stumble ever closer to a better and brighter place; may we find one another there. This is nine years married. Hear me when I say: I love you, still.