Just this morning Demilked, the design, art and photography website posted a series of pictures in a posted entitled, In Love For More Than 50 Years: Couples Pose For Heartwarming Photo Series. Here’s what Demilked wrote about the author and photographer Lauren Fleishman…
When you’re about 20 years old, it’s hard to imagine couples that stayed together for more than three years. But photographer Lauren Fleishman aimed at ones that had been in love for far far longer: her book The Lovers is all about couples who had been together for more than 50 years. The lovebirds seem very open when talking about how they got together – and still very much in love.
“This project was inspired by a series of love letters written by my grandfather to my grandmother during World War II that I found in a book next to his bed.” Lauren states on her website. “The letters spoke of a young love, the type filled with expectations of a new life together. They connected me to my grandfather and his 59-year marriage in a way that I had not been able to connect to him in life.” And this was the inspiration behind the project. The stories that these old couples tell are heart gripping and cut at times.
That’s the kind of love we wish to be asked about in fifty years or so.
Some of us aren’t going to have to wait nearly that long. I’m joining the ranks of those quickly closing in on the golden anniversary.
When Dr. Phil first burst onto the national media stage – he was a DFW guy who had a firm that helped attorneys with the jury selection process – I remember hearing him describe seasoned marriage as a “soft place to fall.” We had probably been married 20 years or so at the time. This January we celebrated our 37th year of marriage. Well, that description – a “soft place to fall” – resonated with me because it’s exactly how I felt about my love for my wife. I feel more so that way today. Old love isn’t like young love. It’s better.
Don’t get me wrong. Young love is terrific. The romance, the passion, the energy, the discovery and optimism. Just look at these kids to the right, me and Rhonda circa 1977. That’s young love. But like my hairline, young love fades. Unlike my hair, it doesn’t fade away though. It fades into something far, far deeper.
A soft place to fall.
But this isn’t about my marriage. It’s about love, marriage and finding that soft place to fall. I hope you’ve got somebody special you love very much. And if you don’t, I hope you find them sooner than later because true love changes everything. And that’s the subject of today’s show.
Music is a big part of my life, but you know that already. Love has fueled more songs than any other subject. For good reason. We’re either chasing it, figuring it out, enjoying it or lamenting the loss of it. There’s nothing like it. NOTHING.
Music enters every courtship. That’s why you hear couples talk about “our song.” Even non-music lovers find a place for it in their heart when their heart is in the throes of love.
The other day I read that women are highly attracted by smells. More so than men. But smells are important for men, too. For me it wasn’t perfume so much as it was the totality of the smells. Subtle smells like her leather clutch. Her scent while sitting next to me in the car. The smell of her lip gloss (and yes, the taste). The scent of her hair. Roll them all up and package them and while we were dating with hundreds of miles separating us, and I could survive for days or weeks. The smells triggered a sense of her presence providing instant comfort.
We survived a long distance dating life for about 3 years in the mid-70’s. Music was big because when you’re driving all night long – 11 hours one way – you have time to listen to LOTS of your favorite tunes. Time alone.
I wheel into her driveway around 6am on Saturday morning. Arriving anywhere else, I’d be bleary-eyed and incoherent. But not parked in her driveway. There’s nothing like anxious love. Times when you can’t wait to see somebody you love. Time alone with them.
From the time we first dated, neither of us dated another. We wrote snail mail (’cause it’s all we had) letters every single day. We saved our money so we could make phone calls occasionally after 11pm when the long-distance rates went down. The glory of true love is seen when a man loves a woman.
After nearly 3 years of this, I’d had enough. It was time to make this love permanent by asking her to be my wife. We joined hands and my best friend‘s dad presided over the ceremony over 37 years ago. Time alone does tell the story of the glory of true love.
I know it’s impractical to live every day as infatuated with her as I once was. But I confess that daily I walk by the room where she’s sewing, or typing (she’s always had a medical transcription business out of the house) and want to walk in, hug her and tell her how much I love her. Sometimes I do it. Other times it seems like it might be too much of an interruption. When you both work out from home offices this happens daily. Every single day.
But now, for hours we can be under the same roof, doing our work, living in our own world, without speaking. See that young man in the picture above? There’s no way you’d have convinced him that that’s how life would be about 38 years after I took that selfie with my Instamatic camera. You don’t remember those cameras, but you had to develop the film. I had no way to know if I even got us both in the frame. It’d be weeks before I got that film developed. You kids are spoiled with digital photography. 😉
I didn’t take her for granted in 1977. I don’t take her for granted in 2015. But through the years I’ve grown more scared. Scared of losing her. To sickness. Or death. We’ve enduring many trials and struggles. No different than most couples who’ve spent a lifetime together. Faith in God. Faith in each other. Faith in our union. That’s guided us through it.
Time alone can tell lots of stories, but time alone doesn’t make for deeper love. And time sure won’t cure the hurt that comes with some love. One of my favorite songs was written in 1975 by Robbie Robertson, the leader of The Band. He wrote about a lost love and how nothing he did made any difference because the “sun don’t shine anymore.” The song first appeared on their 1975 album, Northern Lights – Southern Cross.
It Makes No Difference
by Robbie Robertson
It makes no difference where I turn
I can’t get over you and the flame still burns
It makes no difference, night or day
The shadow never seems to fade away
And the sun don’t shine anymore
And the rains fall down on my door
Now there’s no love
As true as the love
That dies untold
But the clouds never hung so low before
It makes no difference how far I go
Like a scar, the hurt will always show
And it makes no difference who I meet
They’re just a face in the crowd on a dead-end street
And the sun don’t shine anymore
And the rains fall down on my door
These old love letters
Well, I just can’t keep
Just like the gambler says:
“Read ’em and weep”
And the dawn don’t rescue me no more
Without your love, I’m nothing at all
Like an empty hall, it’s a lonely fall
Since you’ve gone it’s a losing battle
Stampeding cattle, they rattle the walls
And the sun don’t shine anymore
And the rains fall down on my door
Well, I love you so much
That it’s all I can do
Just to keep myself from telling you
That I never felt so alone before
The hurt of lost love is a bad, lingering hurt. And when you’ve been married as long as I have, the prospect of lost love – not lost love because you lost the person to somebody else, but because something else happens – is among the most dreaded fears I know. I don’t want to take a single day for granted with my wife. But I know I do in spite of my best intentions. We have to work and do things other than embracing those we love.
Lately, in the day job I’m having lots of conversations about “being present.” Increasingly, people in work places are challenged by schedules that are too hectic and demanding. The conscientious people want to improve their ability to be in the moment. Proof that the same problems we face at home creep into our work, too.
Electronic distractions can tempt us to take people and experiences for granted. Sit in any conference room in the world and unless they collect the cell phones at the door you’ll see people staring at their phones during the meeting. Increasingly, I see tablets even in organizations with a low tech IQ. I’m not talking about surfing the net or checking Facebook. They’re sending and receiving work related text messages. They’re doing the same with work emails. Talk with them individually like I have and you find out many of them (sometimes all of them) feel too disconnected during their face time together. They wish it were different. They just don’t know how to fix it. For some, leaving their phones or tablets out of the meeting isn’t reasonable because they’ve got too many people who need to be in touch with them. It’s a problem that has no business infecting our homes — they simply have too many touch points. Too many people who need just a bit of time and attention at work. That’s not usually the problem at home.
Distraction afflicts us at work and at home. And at restaurants. Just watch couples – forget larger groups – sitting at a meal. I dare you to find a couple where at least one of them isn’t constantly looking at a 3″ screen. It’s digital crack cocaine that people can’t resist. How can such a small handheld device distract us from our spouse? Or family? Or even friends?
We might miss something. That Tweet or Facebook post. A Vine video or a SnapChat message. It’s truly addictive. And it never stops. The digitally connected world is streaming (and screaming) at us with an endless vengeance. It’s like the Hotel California. You can check in, but you can never leave. Well, you can. You just don’t.
Social scientist will be studying these things for years to come, but I’m not smart enough to participate in the study. I can only observe, working to lean more toward wisdom and away from the foolishness of digital dependency. When across from me sits the love of my life – a woman I fear losing – it should be easy to be in the moment. I may miss a blog post, or a Tweet or any number of other digital footprints made by people I’ve never even met. But what if I miss a moment with this woman I once drove all night to see — to spend less than 32 hours with before having to drive another 11 hours to go back home, arriving around 1am Monday morning, then having to attend early morning class, followed by work.
We’ve all heard that old saying that nobody laying on their death bed ever said, “I wish I’d spent more time at the office.” Well, I’d hate to realize I didn’t devote myself to being in the moment with my wife because I couldn’t resist something much less important.
Lyle Lovett sang, “I married her just because she looks like you.” It’s funny, but it makes me think of how shallow some people can be with love. All the stories of couples whose love turns to hatred makes me wonder what happened…and makes me wonder how seriously they entered marriage. I’m not naive. I know quite a few people marry for reasons other than love. Shallow reasons. Like money. Beauty. Status. Fame.
There are other ways to be shallow though — even when we marry for love. Communication can be shallow.
Some couples never discuss real issues. I know this because throughout my life I’ve had enough conversation with married people who admit they never talk about serious things. I’ve often sat across from a married man and asked, “What does your wife think about that?” Maybe it was some career challenge, or a possible career opportunity or some difficulty in their life. Too often the answer is, “I haven’t told her.”
How can you not tell your spouse something important? How can you not talk with your spouse about what’s happening in your own life?
But that’s exactly how it goes in too many marriages. Shallow conversation. No depth. Keep it simple stupid talk ruins any hope of deeper love.
I guess shallow talk is better than no talk at all though. Inches away sits a person we claim to love. In our hand is a device connected to people we may casually know, if we know them at all. Or complete strangers known only to us through social media. We too often say “YES” to the strangers while ignoring the one to whom we said, “I do.” I’ve got no good explanation for it. It’s a compulsion – maybe an addiction – that many can’t seem to ignore.
Like shallow talk it’s lack of desire, an unwillingness, poor self-discipline. Maybe it’s a lack of love. I could make a good argument that the man who refuses to inform his wife of his most troubling issues is being dishonest, deceitful and not exhibiting the kind of love he’d want from her. You’re either partners or you’re not.
Saying “NO” can be hard. Saying “NO” to keeping the talk shallow so you can sit down together and fully discuss really important things seems tougher for some. I don’t pretend to understand it because it’s not how I’m wired. I’m wired for depth, but not everybody is. Talk of what you ate for lunch can be as deep as some folks ever get. How does that deepen your relationship with your spouse?
I’m baffled by people who can sit still to engage in long conversations about nothing, but seem visibly uncomfortable and quickly leave a room when talk turns to something important. Experience has taught me that some people prefer to live life like a Seinfeld episode though – always having conversations about nothing.
Deception creeps into some marriages and breaks up what was once love. It’s not a Seinfeld episode. It’s more sinister than that. I don’t know how that happens, but it’s sad. Carried to an extreme it can turn the glory of true love in pure hatred. But we don’t want that — and surely that’s not happening to you. We want true love and I hope that is exactly what’s happening to you.
Until he recorded this song about her, I’d never heard of her. Not surprising since I’m hardly an expert on British novelists.
Dame Beryl Margaret Bainbridge died almost 5 years ago. One year after her death she was given special recognition by the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, a UK award given to the best novel written and published in the UK. She was nominated repeatedly for it during her lifetime, but the point of Knopfler’s song, Beryl, on his upcoming album, Tracker, is that her recognition came after she died.
According to an article on UltimateClassicRock.com…
“The former Dire Straits frontman uses her as an example of someone who was not properly recognized in her lifetime, singing, “Every time they’d overlook her / When they gave her a Booker / She was dead in her grave / After all she gave.””
“The album title ‘Tracker’ arrived out of me trying to find my way over the decades,” Knopfler said. “Out of me tracking time – looking at people, places and things from my past, and out of the process of tracking as in recording tracks in the studio.”
Tracking the people, places and things of our past is what makes up our story.
I wrote down the title to today’s show awhile back. I can’t remember where I heard it, but I thought it was from Jackie Chiles, the overly articulate lawyer on Seinfeld.
It sure sounds like something Jackie would say, but in spite of all my Googling, I couldn’t find it. No matter, it’s a great line and sounds like the line a good attorney might use. But I’m not using it like a lawyer might. I’m using it more like Mark Knopfler might. His new album is his story. It’s about the people, places and things of his past. It’s his unique story. Mark probably likes his story better…better than one that belongs to somebody else.
Everybody does. Sometimes the beginning of the story isn’t very nice. Poverty, drugs, crime, abuse — sadly those are part of the story of too many kids. And part of the history of too many adults.
Sometimes things don’t go well. Sickness knocks us down and drags us out. Or somebody we love.
Bad things are part of everybody’s story. We can be subjected to things that aren’t our fault and we can suffer sometimes because of our own foolish decisions.
Good things work the same way. Sometimes they’re happy accidents that we didn’t have much influence over, if any. Other times they happen because we’ve worked our tails off to make them happen.
They’ve got their story. It’s not your story. You didn’t have a choice in their story. It’s one of the big reasons why I hate the constant quest so many people have to be taught the formula or secret. People want the tactics and techniques for success. It doesn’t matter what the endeavor may be, most people want the recipe or step-by-step instruction manual to replicate the success of their favorite hero. It’s not an indictment of their hero…it’s just the simple truth that they’re not their hero. They don’t have the same story. So the same formula won’t apply to them. And when it doesn’t work, they look for another hero to teach them. I wish more people would own their story and spend more time figuring it out for themselves. But I know the temptation all too well to envy somebody else’s story, or the temptation to just follow somebody else’s story template. Thankfully, I’m now old enough to know it doesn’t work so the temptation is lower now than it once was.
Like everybody else, our story is evolving. You used to be a high school student. You had a story in high school. Now that you’re beyond high school – maybe WAY beyond it – the story is different. The “most likely to succeed” may have succeeded only in finding trips to rehab over and over. Or they may have found their way to a Valley startup worth hundreds of millions. The captain of the high school football team may have changed his story to an overweight, wife abuser. Or he may be an inspiring high school football coach who gives himself to helping underprivileged kids.
Stories aren’t static. Especially while they’re still being written. As long as you’re alive, you’re still crafting your story.
Donald Miller wrote an entire book about crafting the story of his life in a book entitled, A Million Miles In A Thousand Years. Here’s part of what Publisher’s Weekly said about the book…
“Two movie producers contacted him about creating a film out of his life, but Miller’s initial enthusiasm was dampened when they concluded that his real life needed doctoring lest it be too directionless for the screen. Real stories, he learned, require characters who suffer and overcome.”
It’s a worthwhile read. We see Mr. Miller wrestle with the notion that his life isn’t large enough to make an interesting movie, so he needs to work harder on his story. The book is his effort to do just that. It’s part self-awareness, self-examination, experience making and human connection. When you read it you’ll likely think about your own life and the story you’re writing. Like Donald Miller, you’ll read it and think of how you can trick up your own life and write a better story.
And here’s the real kicker to that. If you’re like Donald (and me…and I hope most people), you’ll think about people. Your story – or the one you’d like to write – will focus primarily on human experiences. Once again, I”m reminded of the John Sebastian hit, “Stories We Could Tell.” The Everly Brothers made it famous, but the likes of Jimmy Buffet and Tom Petty made it better.
The first lines tell the tale.
Talkin’ to myself again
Wonderin’ if this travelin’ is good
Is there somethin’ else a’ doin’
We’d be doin’ if we could
When we’re thinking about our story I suspect many of us are wondering, “Is there somethin’ else a doin’ we’d be doin’ if we could?”
Mark Knopfler surely would say, “No, I’m doing what I want.” And now the falsehood of today’s show title. We may not all like – or prefer – our story. The Internet is filled with anecdotal evidence like Steve Spalding made on his blog, HowToSplitAnAtom.com – 80% of People Quietly Despise Their Lives. Eighty percent seems to be a popular number as evidenced in another post at Business Insider, 80% Hate Their Jobs — But Should You Choose A Passion Or A Paycheck?
No, there’s no way to know that, but based on the Universal Gripe Factor (UGF) it sure seems like it’s a high number of people who are discontented with their story. The irony is that as high as that number may be, there may be an equally low number of people actively doing anything about it…unless you consider hope an activity.
There is an area of your life where I know your story trumps anybody else’s story. PEOPLE. The people who are part of your story are most certainly the most important people in the world. To you.
You may envy somebody’s career, accomplishments or possessions, but when you look around at the people you love the most…you don’t envy anybody. No, lust doesn’t count. Keep your focus on more wholesome thoughts!
Criminal defense or trial attorneys have stories. They may put in thousands of hours preparing a story to help them win a case. If they’ve been able to construct a compelling story with lots of fact-based evidence, credible witnesses and plenty of expert testimony…they like their story. But if their case is weak and devoid of hard evidence to help their case, they won’t be caught repeating the title of today’s show. I’m sure every trial lawyer has at one time or another said, “I hate our story.”
You may not be an attorney though…and your story is your life.
So the question is, “Do you like your story?” If not, what are you doing about it?
I was listening to the other day to a podcast by the producers of Better Call Saul, including Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan. He had some smart observations about how Sony and AMC gave him the freedom to let the story unfold.
It’s how our lives work, too. We wake up each day not fully sure of what’s going to happen to us. Unless we’re in prison where life is fully predictable. As much as we may think we’d like our life to be more predictable – we’d want it to be predictably wonderful – even predictable beauty would be mundane after awhile.
The fact that we don’t know what’s coming next gives us the tension that makes life intriguing and interesting. If it weren’t for pain, then our happiness wouldn’t be nearly so nice. Our stories all have suspense, tension and some drama. But there’s also comedy, calm, boredom and routine. And love, anger, sadness and happiness.
When we grow tired enough to experiencing one of those we take aim for something else. Some of us don’t enjoy too much tranquility or peace so we intentionally disrupt our lives. Or we’ve had our gut full of sorrow so we start chasing laughter harder. It’s the yin and yang of our lives.
I fear too often I don’t take the time to do the writing necessary to create the story I most want to live. You?
Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould spent over 10 months writing and figuring out what their new series would be like, Better Call Saul. They ruminated. They took long walks discussing various ways to produce this new show. They’re expert writers, highly decorated storytellers and it took them countless hours to figure out an approach. Why did it take so long? Because life is full of options. Saul Goodman’s story is fictional, created by these guys (and other writers). Real life is easier in some ways. Harder in others.
We’re not writing our lives. We’re living them. Things happen to us that we didn’t architect or write. We react.
What if we devoted just a little bit more effort though into the story that is our own? Our life. What if we agonized over details of what we wanted to create like the writer’s room of Vince Gilligan’s clan? Could we craft a better story? OF COURSE.
We don’t do it because we just don’t take the time. We spend time doing non-sensical stuff. Just today I read about a guy who unplugged from email for a week. After a week we had over 1,500 messages, but only 40 or so were really important and only 5 needed a response. He wrote that it changed forever how he’s going to manage email. Now, he’s going to check it much less often because this one week test showed him he can.
How many areas of our life are on some sort of auto-pilot just like email? We do it because it’s a reflex. Go into the office, log onto email. We never stop to think that there might be a better way. Life has so many unconscious behaviors that drive our story. Maybe it’s time to question those things, considering how they might be made better if we tried to hack them. It might not work. So what? What if the email guy went a week and realized he had hundreds of urgent messages, all demanding a response? Well, I suspect he’d know he needed to check email more often, not less. But the point is, by trying something new he figured something out about his email…and his need to manage it.
There it is. The point once again seems focused on our determination – and imagination – to figure things out. Isn’t that what LEANING TOWARD WISDOM is all about though? Sure it is. We want to make sure our story is a better story. A story we won’t – or don’t – regret.
P.S. UPDATE (2/21/2015) A few days after I released this episode Mark Knopfler released this YouTube video.