Sometimes truth arrives in disguise

by Kristin on October 23, 2012

in Love, family & community

Photo by Sterlic

It had been a gorgeous fall day—the sort that looks like it’s hurrying toward winter, but if you close your eyes it feels like it’s still holding hands with summer, lingering in that in-between moment.

Jason and I waited until evening, though, to pull our rakes and leaf bags out of the garage. The early retreat of the sun has been taking us by surprise—Wasn’t it just last week that soccer practice could carry on until 7 pm?—so we worked quickly, as if we could somehow ward off the encroaching darkness. Our neighborhood’s street lights turned on, joining the glow of our porch light as our rakes made rhythmic, efficient sounds, working concentric paths around the growing piles of leaves we created.

We talked a bit as we worked. It wasn’t deep or momentous, as far as conversations go—we were just catching up, gathering and sharing some of the crumbs of our lives that had been brushed into corners over the course of the previous busy week. Mostly, though, we worked in silence, focused on bagging as many leaves as possible before it was too dark to see, and before the next day’s rain. We fell into a system of cooperative tasks: me bagging the leaves, while Jason alternated between tamping them down tightly and consolidating the piles that scattered and diminished as we worked.

I have always loved the idea of talking with my husband as we work together on some project—raking leaves or painting a room. But in reality, what I seem to love even more is working silently together, side by side, toward some common goal. The work creates a rhythm of conversation that doesn’t require words, and a connection that doesn’t require contact. It creates a space for poetic paradox, a moment when two married people can be completely autonomous and yet utterly one.

As I raked in the circle of street light with Jason, already feeling the pleasant ache of muscles put to good use, I couldn’t help but think of the moment when I felt most alone in my life. At least it’s the alone moment that’s most sharply engrained in my memory, as if framed and displayed in a gallery of indelibly formative moments. It was an autumn Sunday eight years ago, and I was raking by myself as my two daughters, then four and six, alternately played and argued as sisters do.

I had been divorced for a year then, but that feeling of being utterly alone had been surprisingly rare. I had even taken on my now-solo to-do list with a sense of relief—there were fewer expectations and fewer disappointments, which meant there was essentially no tension (save from the inner debates I dabbled in). When I worked alone, I knew exactly why I was working alone—not because my partner was doing something else, or because we didn’t work well together, but because I was on my own and was daily proving to myself that I could be on my own.

But something about raking alone undid me. Maybe it’s the overwhelming nature of the work, and how much it helps to have someone open a new bag and hold it steady while you put the first few armfuls of leaves in. Or maybe it’s just the nature of fall—the days so gorgeous you want to share them with someone, and also so fragile you want to cling to someone for comfort and warmth. It has always been during this time of year, after all, that I’ve understood best what melancholy is—especially at dusk, just as street lights and dining room lights turn on, and people gather together in the warmth and love of their homes, enacting their small, daily reunions.

Now, I have all of that, with Jason. I have someone to come home to, to turn on lights with, to cook and rake with. And while it does fill those holes I felt, it doesn’t fill them in exactly the ways I imagined, just like my “aloneness” after my divorce didn’t feel like I imagined. Maybe what it means to “grow up” is ultimately rooted in those moments, when we finally realize the fullness and truth of something, even though it doesn’t arrive in our lives like we thought it would, or look like we expected.

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  • HopefulLeigh

    Beautiful reflection, Kristin. I wonder if there’s something about such work that lends itself to wanting company. I often wish I had someone to share the load when I’m doing chores or tackling a project- not just for the physical help but for the solidarity.

    • Kristin T.

      Solidarity is definitely a big part of what I long for when I’m doing that type of work. I also realize now, in retrospect, that the biggest thing I hated about doing the dishes when I was a kid was that we treated it as a one-person job rather than two—we let the dishes air dry in the dish drainer. As an extrovert, I suspect I didn’t wish for “help” as much as I wished for company and solidarity.

  • Kathryn Teapole Jones

    Sometimes on fall walks in the late evening darkness, I look up at the lit, welcoming windows of my own house, and I marvel at the fact that I have such a home. Not a house (condo really) — but a home. Marriage, the second time round, is not perfect. But it is a partnership in ways that the first (youthful) marriage was not. It’s a place where I can be alone but not lonely. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Kristin T.

      Isn’t that an amazing experience? To see your home, or someone you love, as if through the eyes of a stranger who is noticing it/him/her for the first time? It takes me by surprise, every time, and I truly value those rare surprises in the midst of everyday life. Thanks for reading and sharing part of your story, too.

  • Matthew Gladney

    That was…. beautiful.

    • Kristin T.

      Thank you, Matthew.

  • Katie Noah Gibson

    This is so lovely, and I can almost smell the leaves. I am also grateful for partnership in my marriage, though I admit it doesn’t always look like I thought it would. And I love this idea of growing up: the ability to recognize and accept truth when it comes in unusual forms.

    • Kristin T.

      I’m glad that resonates with you—it just sort of came to me, so it wasn’t a fully test-driven thought. :) I was thinking just yesterday, though, that when I was younger I tended to ignore or discount truths in disguise. Maybe it has something to do with our capacity for subtlety expanding as we mature?

  • Ed_Cyzewski

    yes to this! I feel the same way when Julie and I go on a hike.

    • Kristin T.

      I’ve never felt especially uncomfortable with silences, but as a talker I’m definitely geared toward filling them. If there’s time to talk and someone to talk with, I’m game! Because that’s my tendency, it makes me appreciate even more those natural silences.

  • Erin Burke

    Such a lovely reflection. I too enjoy company, especially when painting a room. And raking leaves, too. I think I’ll always remember when my brother came over to help me rake a massive pile of leaves when we were both in college and how much I appreciated it.

  • Lisa Colón DeLay

    I can’t believe I’m reading this. Fascinating b/c….I just had a leave raking encounter too, today. I was thinking, “What if I didn’t have a husband. I’m raking this right now, and he tends to get this done. What would I do if he wasn’t here? What then.”

    It’s interesting that you were on the other side of that question, and then it came full circle.
    It’s funny how some tasks get us reflective in a certain way, isn’t it?