Lou and I have split up. I moved into an apartment about two months ago. We’ll be listing the house soon. Filing papers. We’re sharing custody of Poppy and Ace, dividing bank accounts and cell phone bills, and discussing things like child support.
Eleven years ago, when we said, “I have; I will; I will” (because our Catholic ceremony didn’t include “I do”), there were many events looming unseen in the future before us that I wouldn’t have predicted. I would have rejected out of hand the notion that I would ever even consider leaving him. Of course, everyone says that, but half of marriages end in divorce anyway. Still, I obstinately held what seemed like a very clear, very simple belief: if you want to stay married, just don’t get divorced. Easy.
Turns out, it’s not that easy.
This post isn’t going to be about why, though. It’s not going to air any dirty laundry–mine, Lou’s, or anyone else’s.
This post is about karma, and this post is about grace.
But more on those later.
In July, when we realized we were moving toward separation, I wondered what people would think. I expected everyone to be really surprised. I saw Lou and myself as this power couple. We’d been together for fourteen years, married for nearly eleven. At the very beginning of our relationship, strangers in public would observe us together and remark that we should be married. We became, in my mind, a symbol of stability, an obvious shoe-in for the half of marriages that stay intact.
We used to congratulate ourselves that we’d created such a stable family. We’d hear about this couple who’d divorced, or that parent who’d left, or this other person’s baby mama drama. We’d tell each other how lucky Poppy and Ace were to have the same two parents, both of whom had jobs, who had provided a nice home in a good school district, who were married before the children were born and would stay married forever. When we went to the hospital to have Poppy, our nurse introduced us to the other nurses as Mr. and Mrs. E, and she emphasized that we were married. Clearly this was an anomaly for couples presenting for the birth of a child.
How functional we were! How sensible.
How smug. How arrogant.
I suppose I assumed that everyone else’s assessment of and expectations from my marriage were the same as mine. That’s why I expected shock and possibly judgment.
What turned out to be the real shocker was how few people were surprised to hear Lou and I were separating. More than that, I learned that other marriages I had taken for granted as being on the “strong” side weren’t. There were people out there who had gone through what I was going through, and all along, I had envisioned them as being divorce-proof. Just like Lou and me.
But where I have found grace has been in the love and support of friends and family. Even when I did air the dirty laundry–my own–I’ve still found acceptance. Acceptance that I don’t think I would have given.
Over and over in my life, I’ve had to learn the lesson that as soon as I judge another person’s actions or decisions and boldly proclaim that I would never act in kind, invariably I find that I do. And sometimes I must.
“I would never leave my husband.”
“I will never get divorced.”
“What that person has done is reprehensible. I would never.”
And this is where karma comes in.
While the vast majority of people have reacted to the news of Lou’s and my split with acceptance and understanding (at least to my face), there have some notable exceptions. Not long ago, I posted on Facebook about falling on my ass in the back yard and winding up with wood rot and chicken shit all over my pants. An associate of Lou’s commented with a single word: “karma.” He refused to elaborate, but it was clear he thought shitty pants and a sore rear were the least I deserved for my part in the coming dissolution of my marriage.
This became clearer when the same associate replied–“anonymously” under the pseudonym “a concerned parent”–to yesterday’s blog post about smoking and accountability.
ACCOUNTABILITY? THERE IS MORE THEN SMOKING THAT YOU NEED TO BE ACCOUNTED FOR. MAYBE YOU SHOULD HAVE THOUGHT ABOUT THAT BEFORE YOU WERE MARRIED AND HAD CHILDREN!!!
This feels so unfair. What does he know? Only what Lou may have told him and whatever scenario he may have created in his own mind of what our marriage looked like from the inside.
Ah, but that was all I ever knew when I made my own judgments. Our friend here, the concerned parent, is only putting into print the kinds of things I myself thought about others.
That’s the karma. The karma isn’t falling into chicken shit as punishment for leaving my husband. The karma is finding myself looking down the wrong end of my own judgments and realizing I was wrong. That I didn’t know what I thought I knew. That I failed to offer a kind word or a reassuring smile or even a charitable thought to someone whose circumstances were unknown to me and none of my damn business anyway.
But the amazing part is that this isn’t a punishment. This is grace. My pastor and friend replied to the chicken shit/karma exchange to point out that “Christians don’t believe in karma, we believe in grace–especially when covered with slime, deck rot and chicken excrement!”
It sucks being on the other side of that arrogance. It feels like slime on my hands and excrement on my knees. But it also feels, paradoxically, like forgiveness. Like understanding. Not that the concerned parent understands me–but I understand him, at least in part. And in that part, I understand myself. I can forgive him for reacting as he has, because I might have reacted the same way. And I can forgive myself for having that same reaction. And some people like him may never understand or accept me or what I’ve done, at least not in this life, but that’s okay, too. May they all receive the grace to find understanding and acceptance for themselves.
So, as I have at other points in my life, I’m reminding myself never to say “I would never,” because that’s almost a guarantee that I definitely will. But it’s a bit of a catch 22, isn’t it? If you never say never, will you then have to say never? And then, won’t you have to do the thing you said you’d never do? But what if you never do the thing you have to do? That’s a topic for a future blog… which I’m sure I’ll never write. 😛