Friday, December 9, 2011

A New National Holiday

Today is my wife's birthday and I'm going to devote 750 words (at least) to talking about her and trying to say some of the things that I have been thinking all day, all this year, and for over twenty years now. Rather than wax rhapsodic about her and just turn this into a love letter, not that I have any problem with love letters, I want to think about her in a way that works for a larger audience then just her and me. So here goes.

I met Stephanie when we were both in college, walking back and forth through the wind and snow in Oswego, NY. This was a year before we actually "met" in that we were just passing on walks to and from class. I didn't know her name, just her hair. She had (and still does) a massive head of hair that is the first thing anyone notices about Stephanie. I came to know her well enough that I started doing a nod to her as we passed. This was as close as I come to bravery around a woman I find gorgeous. See, by then, we had passed often enough for me to notice her eyes, the crooked smile, her lithe, sexy body.

There's a whole story about how we first spoke to one another and we differ markedly in our recollections of that moment. Since it's her birthday, I'll keep that conflict to myself. Our real meeting, however, we agree on, and that was as I checked into my residence hall the next year. She greeted me and, as resident assistant on our floor, she checked me in, handed me the keys, and later visited to see how I was doing. To say that I was smitten is to get it just right. I kept her talking as long as I could and I was sad when she left to go about her duties.

Since then, more has happened than could ever be summed up in so small a number of words. And some of it is all ours, nothing we would ever share with anyone. It's the stuff that glues us together. Now that you've "met" her, let me tell you some things that are important.

She is compassionate and filled with empathy. I had no idea that compassion or empathy were so important before knowing her. In fact, up until a few years ago, I had no idea what those two concepts were really about. She has always known. She has known it at a level deeper than words. She is teaching me to think about others before I focus so much energy on myself. That's filtering into my teaching. It has dominated the ways in which we raise our kids. And it's helping me find my way in the world at a basic level. And she has gotten me to all of this without once demanding it. She just has that presence and it teaches me. Were it possible, I would have her team teach my classes with me just to have the kids I teach see the power of compassion and empathy at a level I can't conjure yet.

Another thing, she's quiet. It's not shyness though. I've long thought it was. It's more a reticence. She is thinking about things very, very carefully. She turns them over and over. She does not jump to a conclusion, she does not spring into action, she does not go into anything with wild abandon. She takes care. When our kids talk about something, she listens. She hears what they are saying. And then she pauses and waits for them to say the next sentence. So too with adults. People talking to her know that they can say more because she creates the spaces. The quiet space for another thought. She gives them that. Her quiet is a gentle generosity. It says, "tell me more."

And there's her love, which is fierce but child-like. Watch a little kid with a puppy. That's my wife's love. She squeezes, she holds her teeth clenched because she cannot contain how much she loves. She brims over with it and often enough weeps because of it. Love is too beautiful for her. Her love is pure and brimming over.

There's more I want to say, lots more, but I'll end with this. A woman like this, with that kind of love, willing to be quiet and listen, and filled with empathy and compassion, well, it's easy to step right past her. Worse, it's easy enough to step on her. December 9th, today, is for me a national day to take notice of those around us who do not draw attention down on themselves. It's a day to keep in mind that I too need to be quiet, to listen, to feel for others, and to offer love. And I'll start by doing that for my wife, the wonder of my time on Earth, my friend, my love, my dear.

Write on and Happy Birthday.