Another foggy summer morning. The air is damp, but the land is parched. I have never seen the pond levels so low. A few ducks linger on the algae-laden surface, but they show less zip than they did earlier in the season. All the songbirds are quiet these days. Sometimes, it is difficult to absorb that bright light of inspiration from my back yard.
In my three canine companions, however, I find no sign of apathy, lethargy or decay. So I chose them as my photographic subject of the morning. Every day when I trudge into the kitchen they leap to attention, hopefully alert for the moment that I open the gate to the mudroom, ready to take them outside.
They explode out the door like a flood, as though there is circus parade passing by, or a meteor in the sky that they MUST NOT MISS. Nope. Just the same old yard, but they don't seem to care. Off they gallop towards the pond, the trees, the smells and sounds of potential prey to pursue. Or -- just some chasing of sticks, stealing of sticks, sprinting in circles, rolling in the grass. Life, for them, is a perpetual playground.
And -- I am the touchstone to which they perpetually return, so I guess that makes me the source, in a way, of their joy. That is a warming feeling.
As my nest approaches emptiness, as my four human charges launch on their way, I have another fount of support that has great potential to sustain me. Today marks 27 years that I have been married to my fine husband, J. The evolution of a marriage is a fascinating thing, and ours is no exception. To imagine that we will be returning, this fall, to the relationship we had 24 years ago before children joined our lives would be ludicrous. But there are elements of familiarity, foggy memories from a distant past that seem to glimmer back into view when we have been left alone for a day or two - a little glimpse into our empty nested future, with shades of the empty nested past. I think it will be okay.
You do learn over time, if you're paying attention and trying hard, to read your partner. You learn what they need from you, what drives them crazy, how to negotiate troubled waters, when to speak up and when to keep quiet. And most of the time you try to apply what you've learned.
When we were first married I had some insecurities. J, on the other hand, was in a prime period of confidence and forward-looking anticipation, kind of like the dogs at the point of bursting out the door in the morning. The contrast between us troubled me. I had the sense that I believe many women with confident men have experienced, that I was not needed. Truly, in a literal, practical sense, J did not need me. Much as I know he loved me, wanted me in his life, was devoted and committed to our marriage, at that young, sincere, fervent stage of life, it was hard for him to say in honesty that need was a part of the picture.
Needing someone, one discovers over the course of time, is not the same as being dependent upon them. Of course any one of us can survive on our own, but we're not talking about survival. My three dogs could survive without me. They might suffer, get hungry, feel unhappy, but they would live.
Their touchstone, however, would be missing. They would feel a hole, the loss of continuity, of the thing they count on. They would be missing that centerpoint where they check in, give their affection and receive it back dependably, that powerful foundation of strength that is both anchor and sail. For that, they need me.
To provide that anchor and sail for those I love has been my full time occupation for over 23 years. I was the touchstone to which they perpetually returned, which made me their source of joy. They needed me. Playing that role has warmed, fulfilled, sustained and expanded me like nothing else ever has. Relegating that job to part time consultant pains me, and worries me.
In the midst of an aching bout of silent grief the other day, I confessed my sorrow to J. It was one of those moments that I felt lost at the prospect of all of my children being gone from me. In a profound moment of understanding, with very matter of fact delivery, he said to me, "I need you, R."
How did he know? I didn't even know myself what I was fearing, but somehow he figured it out. Thanks, J. Happy anniversary.