62. Compact Of the Heart, February, 2002
Lives are formed in mysterious ways. Mine began to take shape (without my knowing it) in a Modern English Poetry class at Bowling Green State University. There I encountered a pretty face with clear, intelligent (if sleepy) eyes, a strong chin (I had no idea what that would portend!), and the most delightful laugh I had ever heard. I was smitten. Some cups of coffee, a few well-planned “accidental“ meetings, one or two pitiful efforts to display my intelligence in class, and a first (double) date soon followed on July 4, 1962.
I liked it. She was easy to talk with, fun to be with, self-confident, and interesting. A few more dates and without ever quite discerning the beginning, a compact began to form. Somewhere beyond the dating dance (at which I was so inept) there began to be a connection, a discovery of shared interests, a perception of goodness, a capacity to have fun together — a compact. Of course, I was not the only suitor with whom she was having fun, but philosophers are taught to share and a little bit of her time was far better than none at all. Four or five more dates, at last a kiss [just kidding], and she became the only person I was “seeing” –- of course, previously I was seeing no one so this was not a remarkable sacrifice on my part.
There followed contrived excuses to travel to her hometown and idyllic dates on the shore of Lake Erie. I was pulling out all the stops.
But she was just pulling out: first to Wisconsin for the summer and then to Grosse Pointe for her first fulltime job as an English teacher. This was, I told myself, inevitable; I could handle it. But then there came a fateful day. I can still see it clearly in my mind. We were sitting in a small Detroit restaurant, she in an (in retrospect cruel) off-the-shoulder peasant blouse; she was telling me that our relation was over. She had been seduced by the “charms” of a football player and hence sent the philosopher packing. But philosophers are a patient bunch and though football players can be a passing fancy even a cheerleader can sow only so many wild oats.
A year or so later, after a few midway meetings between Toledo and Detroit, continuing correspondence, and a certain amount of whimpering on my part, the relationship was resumed, the compact restored.
But now it was my turn to “pull out” for the University of Colorado.
More letters. [Mine make excellent kindling.] She was persuaded to visit for the Thanksgiving holiday. I proposed. She accepted. The compact grew still tighter — sealed with a ring that Christmas.
Then it was more letters and phone calls until we were reunited when I came back from Colorado and she from Grosse Pointe.
The wedding was on a hot day in June, the 27th to be exact, in her hometown. No cold feet. It felt right from the first minute. But then, the compact had long preceded the wedding, which was merely its formal acknowledgment.
Honeymoon in New England; back to Boulder for another year at the University of Colorado; then three years at Notre Dame. She working; me studying, (all the time realizing that this compact was not only making me happy, it was making me better).
Next came Maine. Wallpapering at Mr. Kelly’s house showed how strong the compact was. And our first trip to Europe showed us how much sheer fun and adventure it could be. Life-long friendships were formed. We bought our first home. Rick soon joined us. Now the compact had expanded to three and let us grow into caring for and teaching our own child. Then Matt joined us: completely different, except in loveability. What fine memories.
We took our expanded compact on the road. It prospered in Connecticut just as it had in Maine. While the kids grew and developed and overcame threats by neighborhood bullies, she and I sat through Cub Scout meetings and Little League games. The compact was reinforced. We screwed our courage to the sticking post and bought the Maine property on Frenchman Bay, which has come to mean so much to us all through the years.
In Minnesota she was not only a working mother, but increasingly a community leader (the beginning of a long line of civic involvements). Rick and Matt continued to thrive: good schools, a wonderful town in which to roam and grow. And, perhaps most of all, they achieved their first real sense of excellence via swimming. Now our compact was tempered as we watched swim meets in hothouse pools and then froze as we dashed to a frigid car in the dark Minnesota night. You know the compact is strong when you roll out of a warm and cozy bed at 5:00am to drive Rick around his paper route in minus 30-degree weather.
In many ways, I think the days in Oswego were the best of all. Rick and Matt were growing into fine young men; swimming persisted with “Weber” beginning to dominate the record board. We treated them to their first visit to Europe. She was busy teaching and leading in the community; I was busy “presidenting”. The campus and community understood and appreciated the contributions we made. Matt and Rick found some ways to test us, but the compact was strong enough to hold them and we all escaped without serious damage — except for a few parental gray hairs. The hardest part was the semester I spent in Albany while she held down the fort in Oswego. That was hard, but the compact was strong and saw us through.
Then, just when the kids thought we could no longer surprise them, we were off for San Diego and southern California — and the culture shocks that came with them. It wasn’t easy at first, (It’s still not easy!), but once again, in spite of our advancing age, we grew to take on new challenges and opportunities. The university prospered. Once again, Susan emerged as a community leader.
Now here we are, Valentine’s Day, 2002, in a strange and foreign land. Our compact has expanded to include Kath, a great addition who helps Rick grow just as Susan helped me. The adventure continues, as does the compact. Susan is more active in the community than ever before and doing a world of good. I get to play with a really big train set. We are both able to use the talents and abilities we have acquired over the years to good and important purposes. Rick and Matt, full of intelligence and decency, are launched on good and productive lives.
So, my love, when you open this little Valentine ”sus” remember that the reason I like to give you compacts* is because you have given me such a wonderful one.
Happy Valentine’s Day.
*I used to give Susan antique compacts, (i.e. small shiny cases containing a mirror and powder), when I retuirned from my travels.
** There is a story behind this closing. When we were dating I would frequently write Susan long tortured love letters. They would end with affirmations of “undying”, “aching”, “unconditional” (Thank you Paul Tillich.), love. She, being more mature (and perhaps less desperate) would sign her letters “As ever.”