Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Rilke poem...two men, one walks outdoors and keeps walking, the other, inside the dishes

This poem, by Rilke, is found in James Hillman's book, The Soul's Code:

Sometimes a man stands up during supper
and walks outdoors, and keeps on walking,
because of a church that stands somewhere in the East
and his children say blessings on him as if he were dead.
And another man, who remains inside his own house,
stays there inside the dishes and in the glasses
so that his children have to go far out into the world
toward that same church, which he forgot.

Having spent twenty three years as the second of these two men, I then ventured out as some facsimile of the first man, and as my eldest daughter puts it, "You just kept on going, after you left!"
And having experienced the "as-if-he-were-dead" syndrome from two of my three daughters, without the "blessings" that Rilke mentions, I now look back on both decisions: first the one to "stay" and then the one to "keep on walking"...
When I asked my father why, after decades of discontent, pain and abuse from his spouse, "Why did you not leave?"
He answered, without stopping for a breath, "Well, good boys just didn't leave their marriages."
And so, although his marriage was much less than he would have preferred, and although he diligently toiled for nearly sixty years in a retail, general store, and lugged his 'invoices' home each night so that he could "extend" them at the dining room table, so his staff could mark the price on the goods just received and next day load them onto the shelves for sale, and although he developed both a speech impediment and a technique of what today we call, "passive-aggressive" he stayed.
Maybe it was his enduring all those years that first taught me how to be a "man" and stay in whatever marriage brought. And then....
after recognizing that we were on separate 'flight paths,' my own spouse and I, after twenty-three years, and also recognizing that those flight paths were unlikely to intersect in any form of emotional, intimate and mutually fulfilling encounter, and also recognizing that we were both living on what I then termed an "emotional desert," I packed a few things into a U-Haul trailer, enrolled in theology and drove away from the house I called home for nearly a decade. It was the third house in which we had lived in the twenty-three years. We had had serious conversations fifteen years prior to my departure about enrolling in theology, only to be concluded with my spouse's angry statement, "If you go into theology, I will leave; and that is not negotiable!"
I fully believed what she had said in that conversation, in the parking garage that sits adjacent to the nursing residence on Elm Street in downtown Toronto, where we were about to visit family for an evening dinner.
If took me fifteen years to move past her ultimatum...for that is what I finally considered her statement to have been. I guess I don't respond positively to ultimatum, as I would suspect many others do not either.
Washing dishes, and glasses, and silverware were a common thread in my avoiding the pain of the emptiness that filled our rather fashionable home on the hill. They seemed to be something of a relief to the dullness, the greyness and the hollowness that I came to expect, indeed believe, was the culture of that matrimonial home.
And I knew that our three daughters had to know there was more to be harvested from the richness of life that moved outside the four walls of that house.
And I knew that, at 17, 15 and 9, these three daughters were already demonstrating a level of maturity that gave me confidence not only that they would survive my departure, but they would thrive in their own lives, something that twenty-five years of history since has proven correct. Their mother's persistence and pride have also been an inestimable inheritance in their development, and all three have undergraduate degrees, while two have master's degrees and the third serves as co-head of a department in her former secondary school and track coach. Three grandchildren, with another expected in December, have also given them both joy and lively companionship and challenge as they assume their roles as parents.
Yes, I found 'the church in the East' and in the West, and while I did not stay longer than a dozen years inside the church, I learned and grew and met people and cultures I never would have dreamed existed, not to mention their impact, both positive and negative, on my own life.
And after a few false attempts to re-enter relationship, in the hope of finding a life partner, I finally married my soul mate, some fourteen years after I "walked outdoors and (kept) on walking"....And I can only reflect that the man who drove away from the first matrimonial home some quarter century ago is barely recognizeable in the man whose fingers are tapping this keypad, to send this message around the planet.
And my hope and prayer is that all those other men, who are even slightly conscious of the 'church in the East' and need to go find it, will do so, so that their children will not have to, but may choose to, go out to find their own 'church in the East' not because he forgot it in his own life but perhaps because of the inspiration his search has sprinkled onto their paths, as they walk their own stories.

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