Sabbath Year Sweetheartery
Sunday, August 28, 2011 at 5:43PM
The Artist Presently Known As Ed in adjusting to reality, coming home, coming of age, kairos, kelli, male spirituality, marriage

As I set about writing this, I am exactly seven years from standing on the altar at my church, dressed in tux with my whole church family around, and one Kelli Parrish standing in front of me, appearing much the angel she is, but in a heightened, radiant way. As Eric Satie's Gymnopedies #1 played, the bridal party and then Kelli, escorted by Phil Calabrese as a stand in for her deceased father William (and even her deceased stepfather Rod), was about to do the unimaginable and marry a dude like me. Er, she was about to marry me!

At that time, I was just under a year from being in the worst existential suicide-ideational funk that I ever knew. At the start of September, I was at a residential therapy center for intervention into such a crisis. I was just weeks shy of my 30th birthday. Kelli was my most frequent, daily visitor in that terrible time of crisis and she was a key in the support system that brought me out of that place in my life. Then, not quite a year later, after months of solo and couples therapy to learn new ways to see life, new ways to relate to one another, we were moving along on what seemed like such a fateful obvious path. We got engaged about six months before, and that was so effortless it was almost that I took it for granted. Nothing else seemed to flow so easily but to be together then, and to keep on at it.

Just less than an hour ago I was rummaging through my 1992 box for other stuff to feed this site and happened into a fortune from a Chinese restaurant that I ate at nearly exactly 19 years ago (tomorrow). The occasion was the two month anniversary with Melissa, my first girlfriend that I paired up with in June. The hitch was that just two weeks after we started off, I was bound for Germany for nearly six weeks to see my friend Steve Rau, and to do a tour with him. It was all the world to me after the lonely and troubling year described in the previous post about Subway. Anyhow, just as soon as Melissa and I kicked off, I was gone and the duration of my trip was cause for a new kind of heartache and puppy love (mainly her situation... I was happy in Europe but excited to have a new life to return to). At the Chinese restaurant barely a week after my return, we were giddy to be back together. You can imagine the young person's fantasies that resulted with opening my cookie and it read:

You are domestically inclined and will be happily married.

It fed into Melissa's vision for fulfilling some years of anticipation. You see, Melissa was the daughter of a friend of my old man's from way back, so we were occasional playmates when we all lived in Clairemont (she's also about 2.5 years younger than me). But after some years they moved to a more distant suburb and the visitations fell off. Sometime in 1991 or so we were back in touch somehow. I think she called me. She was 15 and I was a senior in high school. I wasn't really too interested at the time. (I was saving myself for Shelby, you see.) But by mid 1992, I was ready to go for it and that summer was quite shaped by that new development. There was a feeling of fateful inevitablity in our being together. Something like a cheap Chinese fortune was enough to heighten that. But something about being poorly adjusted 19 year old doomed it and she broke up with me in early 1993, just under eight months after we started off. 

Our 7th anniversary trip to Mt. San Jacinto State ParkThe most memorable person I turned to for a shoulder to cry on or to try to make sense of the resulting mess of confused feelings was Kelli. I recall best a rainy night drive we took that led us to a long talk at Presidio Park near Old Town San Diego. At the time she was a friend from church, but I was at some distance from church life. We were part of the Shalom Community of teens while I was there, and that fostered a level of candor and trust and a real exchange of experience that obviously set the stage for Kelli and me when this Melissa meltdown left me a mess needing someone to talk to. Kelli always struck me as mature beyond her years. And though she was actually a bit younger than Melissa, she was insightful and able to be a great friend. Part of her hearing my heart was to get me involved in going with her mom to a coffee shop called Beans where I eventually heard Mike Keneally for the very first time. The rest is history.

Kelli too was a childhood pal from the world of church, but I don't really recall that clearly. I generally set the clock running from August 1990 when she and Kay appeared at the church, already well connected to people from before they left seven years prior. I found a kindred soul with her in part because I too felt kind of like an outsider and she was an unusual case of someone coming in from the outside of that somewhat insular community. She accepted my love for Jethro Tull's music. What more need I say? We were not great friends who hung out all the time, but she was one person that I had some ties to on the outside during the decade away from church, roughly from late 1991 through 2001. She was always authentic and present.

I've told the story a few times here. The point is that she's always been attentive and emotionally available as a friend. Over years we've been in touch with more depth than frequency. Over time she's raised my number with her integrity and commitment to things that her conscience leads her to believe or do. She's politically astute (something evident ages ago), theologically astute (something I was aware of but have obviously seen blossom since her seminary training), and compassionate. 

In movies and books and other stories, a man isn't a man until somehow he is reunited with either a woman, or some feminine aspect that was missing, the anima, which literally animates him. Until then, he is a shell of a person, but the anima, the side that is the repository of compassion, warmth, intuition, grace, and such characteristics, is what has to be there in order to counter and soften the opposite tendencies that take up residence in men, and if not, are often socialized into men with all kinds of messages that teach stiff upper lip, never let them see you cry kinds of messages. I have been reading George Elliot's book Silas Marner, where the point is made explicitly in Marner's disconnection and spiritual desolation being brought to an end by the mysterious appearance of Eppie as a young girl, and only from his commitment to take care of her as his own does he recover his full humanity and a place in the community which signifies his real security in the world.

Along those lines, in my world, Jesus is a hero because he has somehow incorporated that anima that almost certainly had to be in place before he could do the things he is recorded as having done. The deeds of compassion and of healing people (which I take to mean his ability to give them permission to be themselves and to return to society as fully dignified citizens) doesn't come out of a typical man's game. At the very least, he wasn't a typical man, else we'd have no reason to know his name now. We expect remarkable deeds from women, and so often they deliver those in unnoticed and unacknowledged ways. 

c. 2003Part of the task I've had before me was to open my eyes to that in my life with Kelli. During the time in the Halcyon house, she brought me a turkey/bacon/avocado sandwich from Henry's. Such a seemingly tiny deed, done so lovingly, has been one of the touchstone instances that has blossomed in our mythology as a couple. Being grounded in—of all things—the total delight in the layers of significance of one turkey sandwich means that we are pretty grounded in reality. When we make our cute talk about why we love each other, I am more likely to say it's because she delivered me a turkey sandwich on that day than because she delivered the moon and stars. I don't mean to be trite. That sandwich at that moment was not an insignificant moment in our history of trust, particularly as I was in a great sorting process to get closer to people I could trust and move away from ones that I couldn't.

As we stood on the altar seven years ago this afternoon, saying our vows (wedding audio page here), we had precisely two blood relatives in the audience—her mom and grandmother. All the other 100+ people were church and other friends. The lone exception was my stepmom Eda, who a couple weeks before was trying to weasel out of appearing until I pleaded that I expected no other family to appear. In some ways, Kelli and I faced a pretty big lack of support from family. My old man, more intent on playing property and family games, decided not to come and his absence was noted. These days he calls Kelli a housebreaker and he offers propaganda for some idealized relationship that fairly certainly never existed between us. He places the blame of our troubles at Kelli's feet. My mother (not Eda) has met Kelli precisely once about four years ago. I can't say that Kelli is replacement for all the estrangement, but her steadfast presence has been invaluable in setting a sight on a destination past all that and moving toward it.

As part of our therapy process in 2004-2005, one lesson that came to me most vitally was how we see ourselves as allies in it for the long haul. Faced with family decay (mine) and too many premature bodily deaths (her family), it all drives us closer. We were never a couple making sunshine promises. Always we were operating out of someplace where pathos—garden variety disappointment and sometimes outright tragedy—were the baseline shapers of our reality. In some ways, marriage is not just an act of love, it is an act of loving resistance on behalf of one another. To me, that is the durable stuff.

7th anniversary trip to Big Bear MountainWe're enjoying being married, and as the clock ticks by the months and years, we're seeing ourselves chronologically outlast the relationships we were raised around. In Greek, there are two senses of time worthy of discussion here. The first is chronos, the time we all measure with clocks and calendars. The other is kairos, a more elusive word denoting the inevitability of a moment. Some call it "God's time" and do so to indicate that something is happening that must happen because the time is ripe. Kelli and I have various dates to refer to when telling our backstory. We can name dates at points along the way, counting back to Sunday School as kids. We can now say that our marriage has gone on as long as that of my old man and Eda, or that we've been together longer than they were. That is interesting trivia for sure, but I like to deepen it with the idea that our relationship is rooted in kairos.

Both of us have known all sorts of disruption and upheaval domestically, she maybe more than I on a more consistent basis, and I've known periodic upsets that hit me hard. We've been raised in the most violent time in history and in a country and culture that is rooted in violence as our lifeblood. Ten years ago after 9/11 we found ourselves reeling at what it all meant. We found ourselves more closely affected by the murder of our friend Daniel (Phil's son and fellow Shalom Community member). We've watched as two sustained wars have been fought and essentially lost. We've watched as politics has become more and more savage. We've been forced to confront a future of more of that and less promise economically (at least according to the prevailing expections). We've been made aware that the life we were modeled was unsustainable and we'll have to be the generation at exactly that turning point in human history. We've watched as promises have been broken time and again in the name of profits, fame, and other distorting elements.

We've also watched as socially marginalized groups have found more dignity. We've seen dictatorships fall and democracy implemented in their stead. We've seen incredible creativity. We've seen the beginning of economic and grassroots political shifts that might do some good. We've served old people, kids, young adults, homeless, and terminally ill people. We've written and preached and published podcasts according to our prophetic vision for what is right and good—something that differs a bit but is ultimately shaped by our own initiating circumstances that on more reflection drive us to make countermovements toward more positive expressions. We've refrained from excess wherever we can see ourselves falling for it. We've resisted outside pressure from enemies "domestic and foreign" that has demonstrated a lot of ability to pull people apart.

Mt. San Jacinto state park, over the desert at 8500'All this is to say that Kelli and I aren't together just because we're old friends. Or that we're in total agreement. Or that we're perfect. As part of our vows, Jerry Lawritson reminded us that each of us is a gift to the other, but not solely for the other; that each of us are here to be blessings for people outside our relationship. The world clearly needs that, and almost inextricably we're led to those things by forces beyond our own reasoning and understanding. We're led out of ourselves while still being called to be ourselves, and our selves are shaped increasingly by the network of interactions that start with the other of us, but radiate outward to each other's network. This is kairos to me. Where chronos is imbued with a subtext of what, kairos has a subtext of why.

Kairos saturates my understanding of this marriage. It is loaded with grace that I never knew. It doesn't make sense to me how such an angel as Kelli fluttered into my life, but that is just the case. Even odder still is wondering how in the world that sustains itself! There was no clue of it as kids, and just a bit of promise as teens. There was more still as 20-somethings as we were just keeping in touch, and of course, in the post 9/11 world, it was almost an ordained thing that on reflection gets us a bit mystical minded. Each of us is here to look after at least one of God's other children, even if it means getting a turkey sandwich from Henry's is all that is called for at the moment.

Thinking back to this weekend in 1992, with the Chinese fortune cookie message, I sometimes think that any relationship could, with enough patience and work, be brought around and shaped into something. But that is not really practical, and really it seems that it is a vital part of things to not get it right early on. It seems to me that the lessons have to have their chance to play out over time, for the characters to be involved in some greater web than between two points alone. Who knew that I'd end up marrying a girl a few years my junior who used to be a playmate of mine when I was young? Who knew how the subsequent girl disappointments I faced would shape my readiness to link up with Kelli? Who knew that Kelli, operating in an alternate universe all those years, would be the one who tied up all the loose pieces of those relationships and added her own thing to it all, and that I'd finally be existentially ready to see it that way? Kairos. On a micro level between she and I, and on a macro level, on the world stage, it seems that it's God's time that set us up and sustains us in preparation for something that reveals itself a little at a time. No amount of puppy love with one girl or endless pining with another was going to achieve what has happened when I let down my guard and frankly, failed at everything else on the relationship front. 

...And so it looks from this vantage point of just seven years. We were well congratulated at church today upon announcing it but I was aware, particularly when greeted by the septuagenarians and octogenarians in the crowd that we have a long way to go. Or maybe better said, a long time to keep going at it. While there is a great deal of work and conscious effort involved, it is folly to self-congratulate when it is clear that this has been perhaps the most successful relationship of almost any sort, and it isn't anything that makes rational sense or that was earned in any way. In every way this has been a blessing to me. Sort of like Silas Marner made whole after spiritual desolation and alienation, being married to Kelli has been a homecoming—even surpassing whatever I might have thought home was in the first place.

Article originally appeared on The Artist Presently Known As Ed in word, image, and sound (http://tapkae.com/).
See website for complete article licensing information.