If you can’t be kind, be quiet

I was very surprised on Christmas morning when  I unwrapped a very big box, which was a case of wine but felt light as a feather…and when I opened it there was another smaller wrapped box inside, and another inside that, and another inside that…and then the little square box.  Anyone who knows me knows that I was really wishing that when I opened said box it was not a pair of earrings, or a container of paper clips, or an assortment of eyeshadow, but being the considerate person I am, in those few seconds I told myself to look happy and be appreciative if it was not what I hoped it was.  I was taught at a very young age that whenever anybody thinks to give you a gift, you are to be thankful that someone thought of you at all, regardless of what it is, or if it is nothing you want, you be polite and absolutely must put a smile on your face…my mother taught this to me ages ago, so it was right there in my brain as I opened the box…but the box did not hold earrings or paperclips or eyeshadow, it held a * beautiful * sparkly * shimmery * modern engagement ring and a band to match, and as I uttered shakily “oh my God” and he asked, “does this mean yes?” I realized that I didn’t  have to pretend to be elated,  that THIS was IT!!!

My parents, my father in particular, used to remind me to –think before you speak– and it would drive him positively mad when I insisted on having the last word…so as an adult I truly am okay with being silent, even when I’ve still got much to say, and I am comfortable with letting someone think they’ve won an argument by letting them have the last word, and I do not want to say words that I will regret, or later have to apologize for.  Once you speak words, they can’t be taken back and the person you said those hurtful things to can’t ever “un-hear” them…so I try to think before I speak and I try to be quiet if I can’t be kind.  For example, if I had a friend who had a really ugly husband and she called to tell me she was pregnant, what I might want to say is “-wow, I hope it doesn’t look like your husband-” BUT…instead I would choose a more socially acceptable statement like “-you must be thrilled-” because it’s kind.

I am neither a nitwit nor oblivious to the statistics of marriages in this country, and when adults choose to create a shared life, know that there are technical, legal, and practical things that need to be addressed in the event that things don’t work.  I know very well that before I ever get married I need to modify my will and dot my ‘i’s” and cross my ‘t’s” and if we were coming into this union both owning homes, he would surely make the same accommodations for his own child, as I would expect him to.   If neither of us had children it would be less of an issue, or if we were both crazy Brangelina or Kardashianish wealthy it would not be an issue at all, but this is real life and  while it is not at all romantic, it is necessary.  Who knows what kind of glorious future we will build together, who knows what kind of wonderful life we might create and where we might end up…we’ll modify our practical bits as we go…BUT…these are not the things I want to talk about, or even think about, when I am sharing exciting news that on Wednesday morning the boy I love asked me to marry him.

Through the 19th century a new bride came with a dowry…a goat, a cow, some money, some dishes, some family heirlooms, and food to stock a pantry and in Europe girls could not inherit property from their fathers.  It always seemed to me in history books and on PBS programs like it meant, ‘take our daughter out of our hair and have this stuff.’  Back when my mother and nana were married,  unless she came from a wealthy family, a new bride pretty much brought -nothing to the table- so to speak, and came with nothing but a promise for sex and cooking, and a hope for a healthy uterus and some good DNA and perhaps a cedar chest filled with linens.  Men in general had careers, occupations, or jobs, and homes of their own, and generally women had neither careers nor occupations and maybe had a job, or maybe a college degree that they probably would never use, and a wish to be a wife…there was nothing at all balanced about those relationships, and the expectation of a dowry had long been forgotten.

I think in this modern world where families blend together like they do, where an eight year-old girl is going to have a 28 year-old step sister, and where a woman already owns her house and where a man is in between careers, there has to be an understanding from their friends and families that it all may appear to be out of balance, but it is theirs to sort out and steady at their own pace and in their own way.  I’ve read that when you are in a social situation and have something to say, your are supposed to ask yourself three questions: is it true, is it kind, is it necessary?  I am 46 years old, I don’t need to be told that I am silly and that it’s just  a piece of paper…this sort of statement most often has been said to me by people who HAVE that piece of paper.  That’s like me, living in this amazing house and telling a homeless person, ‘-it’s just plywood and a metal roof-‘.  Or to a friend desperate to get pregnant as I have my beautiful daughter and precious perfect grandchildren beside me, ‘-oh, it’s silly to want a baby, they’re just a cluster of divided cells.-‘

I grew up in a household where my father adored my mother and still does.  “She’s the best wife I ever had” is a sentiment he uses often and with a twinkle in his eye and a grin on his face.  I have always wanted to be wanted THAT much. I have had dreams of someone I love wanting me to be his wife.  It may be silly and old-fashioned, but it matters to me, a lot.  People like happy stories.  People love love.  The world needs more love and more happy stories.  There are PLENTY of awful, miserable, and sad things going on in the world every hour of every day…I think it’s nice, if even for a day, somebody shares news that is joyful and hopeful, and this week I felt really excited to do the sharing.

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