(A quick note: Michael is on sabbatical this month so we’re sharing excerpts from his books. Today’s tip is taken from chapter one of the not yet published “It’s Not Too Late! A Story of Hope for your Marriage”. Follow the links at the end to read the whole chapter online!)
“Business or pleasure?”
I turned to take a look at a rather oddly dressed man sitting in my beloved window seat and was grateful for the spare seat between us which it now seemed would remain empty for the duration of the flight.
I guessed him to be in his early 60’s, but he could just as easily have been 55 or even 70. He was in good shape physically, and I envied him his full head of thick, grey hair. His accent was what used to be called ‘mid-Atlantic’, like a film actor from the 1930’s. But what really stood out about him was the way he was dressed. Denim bib overalls over a blue shirt and tie, with a navy blue blazer neatly folded in the seat beside us.
Maybe that’s how farmers dress for church, I thought to myself, and smiled at my own peculiar sense of the perverse.
“A bit of both, I guess. I’m going to my brother’s wedding.”
“What’s business about that?”
“I’m the one doing the marrying.”
I left it at that, leaving him to ponder the ambiguity as I took another sip of my all too light plastic cup of cheer.
“Minister, Rabbi or Priest?”
I turned to take another look at him, this time noticing the twinkle in his eye and wondering if he was making fun of me.
“I’m a lay minister – though if I’m being honest I don’t do much preaching beyond my own therapy practice. This will be my first wedding.”
He leaned towards me and offered up a large paw and a hearty smile.
“My name is Benjamin – what’s yours?”
I could feel my chance to spend the flight lost in my own thoughts slipping away as I responded.
“Nice to meet you, Benjamin – I’m Jack.”
It was my mom who insisted that both her boys be named after her hero, John F. Kennedy. I never have asked my dad how he felt about it, but Johnny and I lived up to our namesake in completely different ways. Johnny was always the free spirit, enjoying the high life wherever he could find it; I was the sensible one, putting career ahead of passion and stability ahead of exploration.
In fact, the only two things I’ve ever done that could remotely be described as rebellious were becoming ordained as a minister and marrying Jen, my very own tattooed lady.
When I first met her, I thought her the most enchanting and exotic creature I had ever laid my eyes on. She was beautiful, funny, sexy as hell, and she had tattoos that I eventually discovered (after three months and a half bottle of gin) ran from her shoulders down to the small of her back and from the small of her back all the way down to where you’d expect something like that would have to stop.&nbs p;What I didn’t realize was how smart she was.
Not that smart – she married you.
I snarled a little at the re-emergence of that voice inside my head that always seemed to see through me despite my best attempts to appear like I had it all together.
“What was the thought that just passed through your head? It looked most unpleasant.”
Startled, I looked back over at Benjamin to see him twinkling at me again.
“It was nothing,” I lied, my mind floating back to my memories of Jen. “Just thinking about someone I once knew.”
“Was she pretty?”
OK, this was starting to get annoying.
“I’m sorry, are you some sort of a mind reader?”
“Not really,” said Benjamin, “but that voice inside your head was speaking so loudly it was difficult not to eavesdrop.”
Now I was intrigued.
“What do you do, Benjamin?”
“I’m what you might call a theosophist, though I prefer to think of it as ‘a facilitator of wonder’.”
That was such a bizarre answer that it made me laugh out loud, which only seemed to amuse Benjamin all the more.
“Yes, well, that’s why I’ve never had it printed on my business cards.”
At that, Benjamin let loose with what turned out to be just the first of a series of infectious laughs that drew curious looks and one or two glares from our fellow passengers. After a moment’s hesitation, I joined him.
God, it feels good to laugh! Why don’t I laugh more often with Jen? Lord knows we used to. We used to laugh at everything, including ourselves. When did life get so damn serious?
“May I make an observation?”
I was a bit cautious after his two previous comments, but my curiosity overcame my hesitance and I told him to go ahead.
“You seem very, very sad.”
What possessed me to begin crying at that moment I couldn’t say, but I guess my emotions were riding a bit closer to the surface than usual and the whiskey probably hadn’t helped as much as I thought it would.
“Open up or close down – the choice is yours.”
That stopped my tears in their tracks and I stared at him angrily.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“Well, the way I see it, we have the next few hours together and there’s obviously something going on with you. I believe I have a bit of insight into the human condition. This may not be the most comfortable setting for it, but it seems to me that it might be prudent for the two of us to spend this journey talking about whatever is going on for you.
The question is are you going to use those tears as an opening to heal or are you going to close yourself back down and carry on pretending that everything is alright?”
I stared at Benjamin’s calm, friendly eyes like a lion in a zoo watching the keeper as he approached with a big hunk of meat.
“Look, friend,” I began. “What’s broken in my life isn’t going to mend in a five hour plane flight.”
“Are you sure?” said Benjamin. “After all, most of our problems aren’t really problems when you begin to look at them differently. What was it Proust said? ‘The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but in seeing with new eyes.’”
This, I decided, was not going to be an ordinary journey. The last time anyone quoted Proust to me was, well, actually, no one had ever quoted Proust to me, though I was pretty sure I’d studied him in a literature class at university.
“OK, Mr. Facilitator of Wonder – in three days, I’m going to have to stand up in front of God, my brother, and worse still a pile of our relatives and preach about the joys of marriage while my wife sits at home preparing for a divorce. I’ve practiced ‘faking it till I make it’ for so long that I’ve almost made it and I’m a brilliant fake. So tell me – how do I save my marriage and stop being a complete hypocrite in the next 72 hours?”
Benjamin’s answer surprised me.
“It might not be as difficult as you think. After all, there are usually only a few basic principles which create our experience of life. When you really understand what those principles are, you’ve got the key to unlocking the mystery of whatever it is. And once you’ve unlocked those mysteries, they cease to be mysteries – they never become closed to you again.”
Read the rest of the chapter online here.