Recently, a dear friend tsk-tsked me and wondered, a loud, why I wasn’t more aware of an “epidemic” that has hit our shared demographic. She was pointing to the advent of midlife marital discord.
I shrugged and suggested that I keep my eyes inside of my own tent and that inside of my own tent happiness necessarily stems from gratitude. All that was and all that remains in my power to impact is to be grateful to Hashem for the particular spouse, i.e. Computer Cowboy, with whom I am blessed to spend my life, and to be grateful to my husband for his ongoing participation in my life.
Note: gratitude, per se, is not indentureship. My husband and I are complete, differentiated individuals. Our union is the fusion of two people who work, independently, on their own evolutions, and who, only thereafter, look to each other to form and to continue their couplehood. As well, only after taking on our own “stuff,” can we help each other with each other’s individual issues. Simply, b’ayin tova, our marriage is neither uncomplicated nor otherwise straightforward, and, yet in our marriage’s making space for essentials such as personal growth, and such as interpersonal complexity (including, at times, the agreement to disagree), we jointly mark life’s passages.
First and foremost, it’s vital not to take one’s partner for granted. Even when I served as a rhetoric professor, my man made much more money than me. It was rare that I thanked him for literally affording me the luxury of working as an academic. Much more so today, when I spin my wheels as an author (B’ezrat Hashem, my 9th book is launching this year), his reliable earnings create a fiduciary safety net for my creativity.
In balance, my willingness to forego the pursuit of tenure in order to focus on birthing (at home), nursing, tending to, and raising our children meant his lineage had a different insurance than would otherwise have been available to him. Though the texture of emunah, which we possessed at that point in our shared lives, is different than is the texture of emunah, which we possess today, i.e. we now recognize that a woman needs to make her family her foremost priority, it was not effortless for me to give up my career.
Then there’s the matter of encouragement. When my husband and I traveled the route to religious observance, for example, we did much better cheering, rather than critiquing, each other. It is too easy to let fear/the yetza hara trip up a relationship by embracing the excuses it provides for acting disparagingly toward one’s life mate. A better choice remains holding hands and helping each other climb. Expect slips; spiritual mountaineering involves risks, but the “view” is worth it!
Marriage, in the least, needs to be about uncovering a variety of means by which to make shared accomplishment probable, and graciousness possible. We must learn to partner smartly with our spouses, if only to use our most intimate relationship as a springboard toward learning to be a better employee of HaKadosh Baruchu.
We can ask ourselves if we take our Master for granted and if so, how we can, immediately, stop acting in that way. It’s not enough to say “thanks” during Birchot HaShachar for breathing, ambulating, sight, and the rest of “mundanities” without which our lives would feel miserable or worse.
Hashem’s treasures, as given to us, far supersede those of material or corporeal value.
On the one hand, The Boss holds the keys to “fixed” goods such as life, surfeit, and resurrection. On the other hand, He concurrently, moment by moment recreates reality.
Any character trait which we like, or which we have yet to appreciate, within ourselves, was part of his fashioning of us. Any appreciation we have for traits within ourselves or for traits within others, too, comes only from The Source. Sadly, rarely, do we give over sufficient thanks.
That is, if not for The Almighty’s kindness and mercy, we would not exist, we would not function while existing, and we would not function well. We must be grateful.
Similarly, we must contribute to our relationship with Hashem. For example, I’m a word person. Thus, I need to form praise and to otherwise use my words to bring light. If I were stout-hearted, I would need to help others find the courage to act properly. If I were lovely, I would need to use my charm to aid other individuals toward virtue. No matter the nature of one’s, we are obliged to express thanks by making good application of our resources.
Then there’s the mater of encouragement. All of our lives are filled with miracles, both revealed and hidden. Sometimes we gasp at a sunset, cry at a childbirth, or sing upon inhaling the fragrance of a neighbor’s vining jasmine. All of these wonders are existent, in part to hearten us. In turn, we are obliged to hearten our Maker.
Whereas Aibishter needs none of our bulls or goats, as is mentioned in Psalms, but He does want them. He wants us to couple with Him through thanksgiving. Sometimes that thank-you is as formal and as public as praying Birkhat HaGomeyl, the blessing said after surviving illness, childbirth, or danger, or as hosting a Seudat Hodaya, a meal of thanksgiving) following recovery from a serious illness or surgery.
Other times, our gratitude gets expressed visa via improvised, private means. When we whisper thanks for being able to see and hear a humming bird or for being able to get the last seat on a bus or find our keys, those moments, too, are gratitudes.
Avoda Hashem, serving Hashem, in the least, needs to uncover the variety of means by which The Boss makes our accomplishment probable, and the variety of means by which He makes our resulting graciousness possible. We must serve Him smartly. No matter the nature of our thanks, we need to regularly offer them.
In hindsight, I think my beloved friend was right; we Jews, especially us middle-aged ones, are in crisis. The calamity that we face, however, is not one of marital woes; people have been making mistakes in and have been failing to take accountability for, their most special relationships ever since people have been formalizing relationships. Rather, our generation’s disaster is our lack of gratitude toward our Creator. If only today, and if only once or twice during today’s twenty-four hour span, each of us muttered a rudimentary “thanks,” our generation would be living so much better.