“In commitment we say yes to the unfolding, impenetrable arc of uncertainty.
Love does not arise, abide or dissolve in connection with any particular feeling.
Love has instead become a container within which we live.
Through time, riding mysterious waves of passion, agression and ignorance,
we begin to live within love itself.
Each time we open up, extend ourselves,
accept what is offered or step beyond our comfort zones,
the structure is reinforced.
And if you are looking for a crucible in which to heat compassion,
marriage is a good one…”
– From “I Do?” by Susan Piver
Over the holidays my mother handed me a piece of card stock paper with a poem typed on it. It looked vaguely familiar but I couldn’t place where on earth I knew it from. She said, “Don’t you remember? Its from your wedding invitation!” I couldn’t believe it. It has only been nine years and I’d completely forgotten about this poem and how central it had been to the spirit of how my husband and I were wanting to enter into our marriage vows. It was just what I needed to read again, except this time instead of the word marriage in the last line, I inserted ‘family life.’
Indeed family life (marriage included) does feel like a crucible in which to heat compassion, as well as a place where I certainly ride the waves of passion, aggression and ignorance while also simultaneously relaxing into a container of love. The commitment to stay present and keep showing up in the spirit of connection is the glue that often holds it all together for me – especially in the moments where I feel profoundly disappointed, angry or frustrated.
The word ‘commit’ has its origins in the Latin committere, “to unite, connect, combine; to bring together.” Indeed it often feels like the commitment to one another, and to the broader values of love, intimacy and connection, is what brings us together and back together after being apart as we weave our way through the ups and downs of our days. I notice with my six-year-old that there is (after a great deal of work) finally a safety net that we both seem to relax into during and after our most intense moments of conflict. I’ve practiced telling him again and again “I love you no matter what…we all make mistakes…” And, I am sure to own my part of wrong-doing in moments of discord. We can now seamlessly express our anger, have our outbursts, share our disappointments and frustrations with what went wrong and what we wish went differently, apologize to one another, and end with “I love you. Let’s start again.” (For those who have been following this blog over the years, you know what a journey it has been to get here!)
Today the role of commitment shone clear as I took some space after raising my voice after 10 ‘kind’ and ‘gentle’ prompts. It was the ‘same old, same old’ familial conflict: older sibling messing with younger sibling, mischief underway, constant bantering teetering on the edge of physical harm with the resulting screams and cries of younger sibling striking me like nails on a chalkboard. During my moment of space before re-joining the flow of family life with young children, I take a pause to just feel what I feel. I’m disappointed in how the day has unfolded. I’m disappointed in my son’s behavior. I’m also disappointed in myself for raising my voice. I know apologies are in order on both sides, and what helps to pull me back together in order to step forward as my best self is the experience of feeling married to the container (or crucible) of what has become 24-hour-a-day family life coctail. I am wedded to the intentions I (and we) have set over the years per how we want to live together as a family unit. I am committed to holding on to the path of parenting and family life as one of integrity, where I can model humility and vulnerability – and I can own up to my own mistakes while also calling forth the best in my children.
My oldest knocks at the bathroom door and says, “Mama, can you apologize first?” Somehow this makes it easier for him to then apologize for “not listening” and “messing with his brother.” He then asks me, “Do you need a hug or anything?” It has taken time, practice and patience, but slowly over the course of these six years since he entered my life we’ve figured out how to communicate. The path to get here has certainly followed an ‘arc of uncertainty,’ where I’ve had to set aside many assumptions and grapple with feelings of failure and inadequacy in the face of what family life demands at times.
And then, Susan’s words shine through: Love has become a container within which we live. Through time, riding mysterious waves of passion, agression and ignorance, we begin to live within love itself. Each time we open up, extend ourselves, accept what is offered or step beyond our comfort zones, the structure is reinforced.
Indeed this is the gift that commitment offers up. There is the container of love, yes, that is there to relax into when the commitment itself is fed and nourished. There are also the crazy waves of joy and tenderness coupled with exhaustion and frustration. There is the overwhelming appreciation followed by the intense aggravation. There is the utter chaos of constant movement and noise followed by the quiet moments of snuggles before sleep. There is the fierce kick to the shins right on the heels of the most precious moment of sibling love. And, it all happens in one day.
Family life at its closest (and with young children) is not for the faint of heart. There is no seclusion here, no retreating to quiet, familiar places. There are always fresh invitations, fresh wounds and conflicts, and fresh moments offering fodder for appreciation and seeing with new eyes. There is always a wave to ride. Sometimes jumping off has its allure – but then I realize that the true gifts of staying commited only come to fruition over time and after the hard work of staying present, particularly through difficult spaces. The true gifts are only often revealed when we say a loud Yes! to the crucible of family life – hurt feelings, wild joy, messy chaos, arc of profound uncertainty, and all.