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How We Did It

A little while ago, my wife and I quietly celebrated our 39th wedding anniversary. Many friends our age and many people at our church just accepted this milestone as a normal part of married life. The week we were celebrating our 37th anniversary, the man sitting next to me in church was celebrating his 73rd anniversary.

People we have met elsewhere have found this news remarkable. They look at us as if we had just climbed Mount Everest barefoot or found a cure for cancer, demanding, “How did you do it?!”

Frankly, it wasn’t that hard. Some of those 39 years have even been enjoyable. In fact, from our point of view, our 39 years of marriage feel more like a blessing than an achievement. But, for those who may still be wondering, here are some of my thoughts on what makes a successful marriage.

  1. Gratitude

Here is what I have discovered. Men, if a woman has agreed to marry you, committed to live with you for the rest of your life, and granted you the extraordinary privilege of being intimate with her, you ought to be overwhelmed with gratitude. You should wake up every morning in utter amazement at your good fortune—unless you think that you are such a wonderful person that lightning is likely to strike twice. Don’t count on it. I know many wonderful, loving, intelligent people who have never been fortunate enough to find one spouse. What makes you so special? If you have been lucky enough to have acquired a wife, you should value her and treasure her as the remarkably precious gift she is. She may well be irreplaceable. And women, you should feel the same level of gratitude if you have been fortunate enough to have found a man willing to marry you.

  1. Giving and Serving

When my wife and I went to school, we were taught about virtues such as serving others and being useful to others. Nowadays, school children are taught to follow their dreams, with the promise that they can achieve anything they want. Accordingly, many people now enter marriage with a long list of the things they expect to receive from marriage. That is not love. That is selfishness. Many in the Me Generation are not equipped to think in terms of the other or even in terms of “us.” Any marriage in which the two partners are focused on what they will receive is doomed to failure. If they have real love, spouses enter marriage focused on what they can do for each other. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what your spouse can do for you. Ask what you can do for your spouse.” I remember once being at an informal party with my wife. She finished eating first, went to get a coffee, and asked if I wanted one too. Some others watching were appalled that she would lower herself to serve a man. The thing is that if I had finished first, I would have offered to get her a coffee and not thought twice about it. Two people in a constant battle for supremacy will never make a successful marriage. On the other hand, two people trying their best to serve each other will receive far more than the two of them can ever give.

  1. Realistic Expectations

The media do not help us here. Movies, popular songs, and romance novels teach women to expect a husband who is “tall, dark, and handsome” when the reality is that many men are short, bald, and ordinary. Besides looks, women expect a man who is sensitive, cultured, romantic, compassionate, generous, and rich. Men expect to marry a beauty queen who cooks like their mother, keeps the house spotless, and does most of the work of raising the children while holding down a well-paying job. Even more than that, many spouses expect their mate to meet all of their needs, provide their purpose for living, and fulfill all of their dreams. Popular songs say things such as, “You are my reason for living…You mean everything to me…You are my everything…You are all I need…” Such statements are not compliments or expressions of love. They are demands for perfection. That is a role no human being can possibly fill. Human beings are not God. Even on the human level, marriage is a wonderful relationship, but it is not the only human relationship, and a spouse cannot be expected to be all things. If your husband won’t go with you to chick flicks or if your wife won’t go with you to football games, then it does not matter. These things can be shared with friends with similar tastes. Many marriages fall apart under the burden of unrealistic expectations.

  1. Tolerance

After a couple get married, they soon begin to discover that there are flaws and weaknesses in the other that they had never expected. My wife certainly did. Maybe couples should have anticipated these things, but often they have not. Now, each spouse should act considerately, try to give the other person what he or she needs, adapt, and even compromise. There is no excuse for inconsiderate behaviour or lack of effort in a marriage. But there is a limit to how much a person can change. It might be that a spouse is simply not capable of being neat, thinking up beautifully romantic gestures, being comfortable in a crowd, or any number of other things. It is impossible to turn a slob into a neat freak or a recluse into a social butterfly. The little irritants that wreck many marriages include annoying habits, disagreements over housekeeping, and different tastes and styles. When one spouse discovers a flaw in the other, he or she will have to make a decision. He or she can end the marriage, spend the next few decades trying to change the other person and arguing about it—or simply accept reality and learn to live with it. There are certain things that should not be tolerated, including unfaithfulness, abuse, addiction, and criminal behaviour. But most marriages do not break up over serious issues but over an accumulation of silly little irritants. A successful marriage requires keeping in mind the big picture and being tolerant of small failures and annoying habits.

  1. Teamwork

It is also helpful for spouses to compensate for each other’s weaknesses. A friend of mine said marriage is not a 50-50 proposition but a 100 percent proposition. For a marriage to be whole, there must be a 100 percent effort. If, in one area, one spouse, when doing his or her best, is only capable of providing 10 percent, the other spouse must try to provide the other 90 percent. Doing only “my share” is simply not good enough. A marriage is a team, not a contract between two perfect people.

  1. Faithfulness

Nowadays, when people are sexually promiscuous before marriage and unfaithful during marriage, sexual purity seems like a quaint concept. But a couple who have only ever had sex with each other have a unique and powerful bond. There is a level of trust and intimacy, unburdened by baggage from previous relationships.

  1. Help

My wife and I got married in our church, surrounded by relatives and friends. Due to distance, many were not able to attend, so shortly afterward we made a trip to have further celebrations with more family members and friends. Many modern couples get married in Las Vegas or on a tropical beach with at most a handful of people they know present and sometimes none at all. The difference is symbolic and significant. Many couples nowadays think that all they need is each other. That attitude speaks of arrogance and overconfidence. If it takes a village to raise a child, a village can also help with a marriage. My wife and I have received much helpful advice and good modelling from parents and grandparents and other older, more experienced couples. Even other couples the same age have provided support, a listening ear, and helpful suggestions. At times, we have found pastors and professional counsellors to be helpful, not necessarily to provide help with the marriage relationship itself but with other issues we encountered. We have also benefitted from marriage courses and various other types of teaching on marriage and family life offered by churches.

  1. God

My wife and I are committed Christians. If God is love and the source of love, then it makes sense to seek His help. Marriage has been much easier because we have tried to live our lives God’s way, prayed for His blessing, and been guided and helped by God’s Holy Spirit.

 

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The Machinery

This is not a poetry blog, but occasionally I will post new poems such as the one below:

 

The machinery is old,

repeatedly breaking down.

Some parts have been repaired,

others replaced entirely.

Some are missing.

Increasingly,

it is taking an inordinate amount

of time and energy

just to keep the machinery running,

with little thought given to

whether anything is being produced.

It has been a long time

since it maintained a production schedule

that could be counted on.

If it doesn’t produce anything,

is it still a machine?

Does it belong in a place of honour

in a museum,

loved and admired but no longer used?

Perhaps it is time to reflect

on past production successes,

to express gratitude,

and to contemplate the time

when this old machine will be melted down

and remade into something new.

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The Democrats’ Dilemma

Members of the Democratic Party in the United States seem to have learned little in the past few months.

As Donald Trump’s ridiculous and dangerous words and deeds mount up, they conclude, “See, we told you. Americans should have voted for Hillary Clinton.” Hillary Clinton herself is on a book tour whose purpose seems to be to proclaim, “I should have won.” Democrats are still fighting the 2016 election. It is pointless. That election is over. They lost.

Let me be clear. In my opinion, Donald Trump is an impulsive, reckless, self-centred, narrow-minded fool (that is, “a person who acts unwisely or imprudently”). But that was clear before the election. What Democrats have failed to admit face-on is the fact that millions of Americans chose to vote for a fool rather than Hillary Clinton. Instead of proclaiming, “See, we were right all along,” Democrats need to do some serious soul-searching. They need to ask themselves, “Why would so many Americans vote for Donald Trump?”

To begin with, Democrats might consider why they chose Hillary Clinton to be their presidential candidate when she had her own share of moral failings and narrow-minded policies (although in different directions). But what I am getting at is something that goes far beyond Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

The division in American society was not created by Donald Trump, and Democrats need to recognize their own role in deepening the division. The two solitudes have existed for a long time. The liberal, urban, secular coasts are very different from the conservative, rural, religious center of the country. (That is a vast oversimplification but useful nonetheless.)

Instead of demanding that people in the center of the country get with it and unite around values they don’t share, Democrats should start figuring out ways to bridge the gulf between the two solitudes. This is not going to happen as long as Democrats dismiss Trump’s supporters—half of the US population—as racist, homophobic, women-hating bigots.

Again, let me be clear. There are plenty of bigots in the US. But not all of the people who voted for Donald Trump are bigots. Hillary Clinton’s supporters should try to understand the position of at least some of those people.

Imagine a wife and mother in the Midwest. She loves her children. But what she hears from Democrats like Hillary Clinton is that she is not a real woman unless she takes a pair of scissors, drives the scissors into the skulls of her children, and sucks out their brains. Democrats call it “an exercise of women’s rights,” but it is a brutal practice called partial-birth late-term abortion, a practice that Hillary Clinton voted not to outlaw. A mother who loves her children is understandably unwilling to vote for anyone who condones the practice. Democrats need to at least try to understand how their policies are perceived in the hinterland.

Or consider the position of a working class American husband and father. He goes to church, he loves his wife, and he tries hard to raise his sons to be moral, responsible adults. He doesn’t particularly hate homosexuals or lesbians. However, the Democrats insist that he is a prude and a bigot unless he approves not only of homosexuality but also of sexual promiscuity and public nudity. How does he square that attitude with his responsibilities as a father?

Or consider the position of an American Roman Catholic. The Democrats introduced Obamacare, a universal medical system—something which Roman Catholics, with their tradition of supporting social justice, might be expected to support. But the Democrats didn’t just introduce a medical insurance plan. They used it as a lever to force Roman Catholics and Roman Catholic institutions to violate their consciences by funding abortions. How could a devout Roman Catholic support a party that did that, a party that treated his sincerely held beliefs with contempt?

These people voted for Donald Trump because the Democrats didn’t offer them a palatable alternative. In many cases, they were interested in policies and issues more than in the warped personalities of the candidates.

If the Democrats want to replace Donald Trump and his cohorts with less foolish political leaders, they need to stop forcing average Americans to choose between fools on the right and fools on the left. If they want to attract middle America, they are going to have to at least make the attempt to understand, or even empathize with, middle America.

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Hollywood Is Not Holywood

For years, Hollywood has been producing movies and TV shows focused on sex and violence. Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax Films and the other companies he was involved with were often at the head of the pack. Who could have guessed that what Hollywood’s leaders were putting on the screen they were also practicing behind the screen?

The promotional material put out by actresses’ agents and publicists often outlines how much on-screen nudity and sexual activity the actresses are willing to engage in. What they will do behind the scenes is not put into writing. However, for generations, there has been a tradition of Hollywood actresses “sleeping their way to the top.” It was a trade-off that at least some actresses were willing to make—as long as they got the part. The odd thing, perhaps, is that these actresses expected the unscrupulous producers and directors they were dealing with to hold up their end of the bargain.

Make no mistake. People who use their position of power to gratify their own sexual desires are predators who deserve to be in prison (as I am sure Bill Clinton would agree).

It is also true that there are actresses, actors, directors, and producers who do not engage in immoral practices, either on screen or off. There are undoubtedly innocent victims who were sexually abused without even a hint of consent.

And it is a good thing that actresses are now speaking out against the sexual abuse going on in their industry. It might be a little more convincing if some of the actresses speaking out weren’t dressed provocatively, but why quibble?

It is just that I get a little cynical when Hollywood starts lecturing the rest of society on moral issues.

 

 

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Replacement Policy

“What do you mean my coverage has been denied?”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Grey. It’s company policy. This is the third total replacement claim you have made in—what?—a year.”

“Well…”

“Precisely. The company can’t keep covering these losses.”

“But I need the replacement. It is vital for my work.”

“That may be, but that is your problem, not ours. I do not care what business or hobbies you pursue. Those things do not really matter to me. My only concern is protecting the interests of our company.”

“Do not take me for some conjuror of cheap tricks. I am not trying to rob you.”

“Of course not, Mr. Grey, but you must admit that these losses are at the least unusual. Wizards’ staffs are supposed to be the most powerful weapon in Middle Earth, and you have managed to destroy three of them. What are you doing with them anyway that you have destroyed so many?”

“Well, there were encounters with ring wraiths and orcs and other wizards…” Gandalf explained.

“But that is precisely my point. You habitually travel in high-risk zones, and that is why the company can no longer insure you against these losses. Wizards’ staffs are not cheap, you know. They don’t grow on trees.”

“But they are made of wood. They do grow on trees.”

“Technically, yes, but there is all that expensive additional remanufacturing work on them, the application of magic spells and so on. Maybe in future you should consider getting one made of cast iron or stainless steel.”

“But that would ruin the image…”

“I am not interested in your image, Mr. Grey, only in following our company’s policies.”

“Why do you keep calling me Mr. Grey? I am Gandalf the Grey, a renowned wizard, not a man named Gandalf Grey.”

“Gandalf Grey is what is on the policy, but it doesn’t really matter. Your coverage has still been denied. This destruction of insured property has become a nasty hobbit, and it can’t be allowed to continue.”

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A Special Day

Today is a special day. It is my birthday. It is not my 111th birthday, but that milestone does not now seem as impossibly far off as it once did. And I have to admit that Bilbo Baggins does look somewhat like a close relative.

Everything seems to be coming together to properly mark the occasion.

In honour of the day, the sun is shining brightly…on the ice on my driveway and the icy ruts on our unploughed side street. Even though the forecasters have promised us a mild winter here on Canada’s Wet Coast, last night we got our first snow of the year—three inches of the slushy stuff, which, in typical British Columbia fashion, has now turned to ice.

Later in the day, all the kids at my grandchildren’s elementary school are putting on a concert in honour of my birthday. Well, in honour of Someone’s birthday, anyway.

I asked my children, “Have you noticed that the days get darker and darker until my birthday and then the world starts getting brighter and brighter?”

“No,” they said. “We hadn’t noticed that.” Then they added: “Looked at another way, it could be said that your birthday is the darkest day of the year.”

I am starting to wonder why I had children.

I am also starting to suspect that being born near the winter solstice in the shadow of Christmas is not as special as my mother once told me it was.

My sympathies, condolences, and best wishes to all those whose special day is overshadowed by dark days, inclement weather, the rush of life, and more important events. And Merry Christmas!—which, after all, is good news of great joy to all people.

 

 

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A Little Rain

Last weekend, I convinced my son-in-law to stand on an aluminum ladder in the rain and cut the tops off the cedar trees in our front yard with an electric hedge trimmer. The extension cord has a number of splices wrapped in electrician’s tape from when I was learning to use the hedge trimmer a few years ago. Which is why I asked my son-in-law to trim the cedar trees.

In my defence, it was only raining slightly. And it was not raining at all when I asked him to do it.

I wanted to get the trees trimmed before the real rain hits. It is supposed to rain every day for the next two weeks, averaging an inch a day. We already have two dogs and two cats.