Friday, September 4, 2009


It was about 11 a.m. Jerry was in his recliner in the living room with a cat on his lap and a cross-word puzzle book in his hand. From his vantage point he could see the front yard and the street. From an adjacent room where I sat at the computer I heard him say loudly, “Here’s the mail!”

At our house there is an unwritten rule that whoever doesn’t have the cat on their lap will bring in the mail. It was early for the mailman, but I knew Jerry expected me to go check the mailbox, so I called back to him, “I’ll come in a sec.” Jerry retorted, “You’re gonna’ miss him! Quick!”

I didn’t understand why I needed to get to the mailman immediately, but just in case he knew something I didn’t, I hustled out to the living room where I found Jerry excitedly pointing out the window. “There he is!”

There was no mailman.

But there was a male oriole at our hummingbird feeder. Mama oriole had been there earlier and we had remarked on how seldom we see the intensely colored yellow and black male. Sure enough, here he was. And because I hustled, I got to see him.

There have been times in our marriage when understanding each other has been as confusing as it was the other morning. The confusion wasn’t a case of who was right and who was wrong. In this particular case, my ear didn’t discern between “mail” and “male” – and nothing else said by either of us clarified the meaning of what Jerry said and what I thought he meant. Neither of our intentions were meant to irritate each other, so we just chalked it up to “another miscommunication” and laughed about it.

I once knew an older couple who bickered over everything, big or small. Statements were challenged at the drop of a hat. Recollections of either person were never accepted as correct so details had to be nit-picked until one of them gave in. Each took every word as a personal affront and responded in a cutting way. They were hard to be around, because the negativity was simply draining. Their actions, which they were not even aware of, lead to nothing more than a fight to be right. These folks were kinder to other people than they were to each other. I loved them both, and it made me sad.

I learned a lot from that older couple. I have tried my best to bring that learning into my own marriage. Jerry and I rarely argue. We don’t always agree and sometimes one of us gets a little irked. But we have chosen not to demean each other in order to be right. I think somehow marriage often slips into being a contest instead of a joint venture. I think that is such a waste of good people. When I look at couples who do that, I don’t see much love between them. I am afraid they most often don’t see themselves as other people do – negative people who bicker over everything and are not that much fun to be around.

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