Wednesday, December 05, 2012
Morning Thanks--a still, small voice
What 81 years have given Alice Munro is the ability to survey an entire lifetime, a multitude of lifetimes, which she does so often and so powerfully in her stories. What she loves to feature is the conviction that events of our childhood or early adulthood have resonance for years and years, even if those events, for decades, drop entirely from our radar screens. When they return, even in the imagination or only in the memory, they still have currency that shapes our ends.
Often, in Munro, those events are all about love. They may not have been love, but love is at the heart of things, which it almost always is. Those events may not have been crippling or haunting, but she simply insists that those events are forever there--and we deal with them as best we can.
Alice Munro makes a recent oped in the New York Times far more interesting, although hardly epoch-making. What Sonya Lyubomirsky (there's a name with a challenge) has discovered (she's a psychologist and academic) is that "the seven-year itch" is overstatement. The fact is, all the early passions that (hopefully) accrue early in a relationship wane after little more than two years. "New Love: A Short Shelf Life" asserts that we get bored easily with most things that happen in our lives, including love. "New Love" is one of those neuroscience articles that explains behavior on the basis of our brain's chemistry--always interesting, but never totally satisfying, at least to me.
Somewhere in the muddle, sometime between the flush of first love and the effort to sustain a relationship that's lost its zing, is the land where Munro grows her stories. Most often they feature protagonists who can't help looking back, not always nostalgically either, not always as if they wish they could return to something they couldn't have had years and years ago. But somewhere between passion and plain old commitment memory punctuates our lives with what wasn't or might have been or shouldn't have been. That's the place where Munro has mastery.
We finished all three available seasons of Parenthood just a few nights ago, after overdosing for a couple of weeks, sometimes spending long nights watching way too many episodes. There's so much good to say about that NBC series that I don't want to diminish in the least its offerings of strength and truth. It's exceptional television. Only rarely in those three seasons has my bullshit meter buzzed when dorky plot devices trump character, because character in Parenthood is at the heart of its strength.
But what continues to haunt me about the series is their almost shockingly secular setting. The Braverman clan--a joy to watch--have absolutely no religious character, nothing. They're not lapsed Catholics or Presbyterians who've long ago simply stopped church-going. They're not Buddhists. They're not secular Jews or recovering evangelicals. They're absolutely nothing. They're not even atheists. They've lived--all of them--in a world in which there has been absolutely no transcendent faith. They are a wholly secular family.
The result of that lack of faith, or so it seems to me, is a belief in family that often goes far beyond anything I've ever known. Maybe I'm the poorer for it, but I'm not sure they could cope if they didn't touch base with each other every other day. Seriously. I think regard for family is really cloying, and so do most of the in-laws. The only morality that has any comeuppance in their lives is the abiding loyalty they have to each other, their persistent faith in family. They could care less for God, but they couldn't care more for family.
And the result is something out of Sonya Lyubomirsky. It could well be that the tally of bed-bouncing in the Braverman clan is typically American--I don't claim to know. But there's always someone in a bed he or she shouldn't be in, even the Grandpa and Grandma. Nobody sleeps around, per se, but most of them are pretty easy marks. Love's passions rage--it makes for good television. When it comes to the Bravermans, grandparents to grandchildren, love has, as Lyubomirsky insists, a limited shelf-life.
I can't help thinking how differently I was reared--I mean, from the Bravermans or from the neuroscience which undergirds Lyubormisky's assessments. I was reared--and am forever marked--by a childhood in which God almighty was at the family table. He's the one who said bed-bouncing was a killer. He's the one who said love mattered. He's the one who said the model for love itself is something I've established for you--and it's selfless and caring and eternal.
Does everyone raised in that kind of Christian family behave differently? Of course not. Even King DAvid didn't, for pity's sake. Statistics show divorce isn't rare among churchgoers. Human beings willfully violate even holy rules. Sin happens.
But the gaps that arise when passion stalls or hiccups or goes out all together, the place where Munro finds her stories, where Lyubomirsky's stats shed light, and the Braverman's seem prone to get themselves into pickles from which there is no easy escape, are places where I was taught--for better or for worse--God almighty and his love had some eternal say.
I love Munro, I watch way too many Parenthood episodes in one night, and I am fascinated by the idea that our brains' chemistry actually creates a definition for love. But I'm thankful, this morning, and every morning, to have been raised in a world in which the Creator of heaven and earth and his blessed, selfless son had some say about where to sleep and who with and just about every other matter on the midway of life.
That we don't always listen doesn't mean we don't hear that still, small voice. But it's always there, as the catechism insists. It's always there. I'm glad it is, and I hope I passed it on, as well as I could.