Thursday, August 6, 2009
Walking at Night
Before our marriage, my husband and I spent most of our time together outside in the dark. I lived with my parents, we both worked long days, we were trying to avoid messing around, so rather than languishing on the couch in the evening, we clocked miles walking the country roads around my parents’ house.
Our method of courtship was suitable to my husband’s personality. While I enjoy sitting across from people, making directionless conversation and eye-contact, my husband enjoys doing things, and speaks freely when he is at work. But he’s never been one to make friends via artful conversation at a coffee house, for instance. People observing our relationship from the outside might mistake his quiet for disinterest and assume that we never communicate—because even still, our best talking occurs at night, in the dark, typically right before we go to sleep. He likes to speak unobserved. And some of my favorite spousal conversations are wordless; holding hands in our bed, or an affectionate nudge of the feet under covers.
I mention all this because being outside at night enabled and protected our pre-marital relationship without my realizing it. We’d walked through the humid nights of late summer, and into the chilly burning whiff of fall, when he proposed to me on one of our walks. We’d cut through a field, tripping on corn stumps and clumps of dirt, and finally sat down to rest in a dried up creek bed. The moon made our breath glow in the dark. And veiled by night, with shadows on his face, I have no idea how my husband looked when he proposed. It’s one of the great mysteries of our relationship.
For some of the most pivotal moments in our relationship we've been unseen to each other, but entirely present--from those walks when we first hypothesized on beginning a marriage and family, to the dark, tactile hopefulness or fear in which each of our children were conceived. Starting a family seems to require a little voluntary blindness.
Having children and doing some time in a neighborhood that was not conducive to night rambling, we don’t get out as much after dark as we once did. We still like to sit on our porch at night, but we’ve had to sacrifice the directionless walking and talking that fostered so much early philosophizing about a future together, at least until our kids can be left alone for an hour or two. The past few days, I’ve been walking by myself at night, because I can where we now live. My first night out, I was struck with the realization, “This is night! I remember night! I love being out at night!”
Aside from turning out the kitchen lights and putting kids to bed, what I love about night is the elevation of feeling that comes from darkening the other senses. I know many a smug morning person who will boast that lifetimes are lived before 8 a.m., but the same can be said of the world after 8 p.m. Like my husband who is liberated to speak freely unobserved, veiling the body and face and eyes in darkness allows a freedom of thought that to me is critical for creative contemplation, prayer, and a renewed belief in the general goodness of the world. Sort of funny I have to close my eyes to see it.
For a good time, read this poem:
The Country of Marriage
BY WENDELL BERRY