Betty Duffy

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

All Things Bright and Beautiful

On a Sunday Drive, the sky was blue, and everything else was white, white, white. It made my husband think maybe we should consider having our teeth bleached. He had just asked me to fill his coffee mug from the carafe I’d brought, however, I was two cups ahead of him that morning and when I tipped the carafe towards his cup, I could only work out a couple of drops. It appeared that I had single-handedly emptied the pot of coffee in just two wallops of my Lake Victoria-sized mug.

“We don’t need to whiten our teeth,” I said. “Who would benefit from that?”

“We will,” he said. “It’s good to stay attractive for one another.”

“We’re just going to keep getting older,” I answered. “Pretty soon we’re not even going to have teeth. And… coffee is good.” I had to play adversary, because I was the only coffee consumer that morning, and the thought of bleaching obviously had arisen from his looking at my teeth.

We were on our way to Cincinnati to measure for a new woodworking commission. When my husband creates a piece from scratch, in this case, built in bookcases for a family room, I sketch out the client’s vision, and scribe my husband’s measurements. And then we turn the rest of the afternoon into a date. We’d just delivered a finished commission, a pair of end tables, and were thinking about lunch.

With a limited selection within a certain radius, we ended up at a Claddagh Irish pub, built into a mall, so that he could get a beer, and I could get a salad. We hadn’t been there long before I said, “This place makes me want to poke my eye out.” The walls were painted to look tobacco-stained. The woodwork was cheap plywood stock, stained dark, with faux stone accents. “What an Irish Pub rip-off.”

“You’ve never been to Ireland before,” my husband said, whereas his Irish exploits have taken on a legendary status in his family. When he was seventeen and visiting his older brother in the Seminary, he snuck out for a tour of the Guinness Factory, and ended up spending the night hiccupping in a ditch.

What he had pushed out of his memory, or maybe I hadn’t talked about much, is that I had been to Ireland before, in fact, got engaged there, to a different boy. Got my diamond ring set at a Dublin jeweler, and my fiancé insulted the jeweler by having me examine the stone under their magnifier so that I could be sure they didn’t replace it with a fake. “I assure you, Sir, we are a very reputable establishment.” That ring sat so tall on my finger. It never felt like it was mine. I photographed it excessively, stared at it for the entire ferry ride back to England, as though at any moment it would hop off my finger and run away.

I guess I wasn’t in Ireland for long, but long enough to have visited a couple pubs, and to know that they bear no resemblance to the Claddagh. Plus my salad had wilted lettuce, and as usual, I wanted to eat what my husband had ordered, which was a black and tan, and fried fish and chips.

A passive grumpiness settled over our table as we each considered the other’s dark past. My husband has never given me a hard time about mine, though any mention of former flames tends to silence him.

I’d heard somewhere that letting a boy trample all over your territory before marriage marks you for life, that there is some alchemy that takes place, and that you will harbor forever the microscopic evidence of that visitor’s DNA in your body. When grown-ups pass on such damning “scientific” testimony in efforts to scare young women into chastity, it’s no wonder so many girls enter the Sacrament of marriage, thinking they are already somehow married. Fortunately, I realized long before the wedding that there was nothing Sacramental about that relationship, and escaped, relatively unscathed. And while I remember the diamond quite clearly, I cannot for the life of me conjure up the curves and shades of that boy’s childish face.

When I remember my past, which is not very often, I no longer think of it with a shudder of regret. I trust that somehow it prepared me for the life I now live, for the husband I would soon meet, for a life of grace. There is no doubt in my mind, that the mistakes I made in past relationships triggered in me a movement towards conversion, and for that, I can only be grateful.

I read recently from The Cloud of Unknowing: “I believe that our Lord deliberately chooses to work in those who have been habitual sinners rather than in those who, by comparison, have never grieved him at all. Yes, he seems to do this very often. For I think he wants us to realize that he is all-merciful, almighty, and that he is perfectly free to work as he pleases, where he pleases, and when he pleases.”

What an incredible thought.

But what I do regret about my past, and what I could not possibly have foreseen, is how my history would hurt others: this flicker of sadness that crosses my husband’s face, which he so quickly suppresses. I want to tell him, “It was nothing.” But the fact remains that I visited the real Ireland with some other guy whose love was cheap, while here we sit with our ten years of ever deepening knowledge of and love for one another in a sham Irish pub.

“Let’s go,” we said when the bill came. No point in lingering here in this dark place. Get back out into the sun and snow, where the only stains we see on one another are the coffee stains on our teeth.


Smoochagator said...

Betty, posts like this are why I get excited whenever I see your blog pop up in my Google reader.

wifemotherexpletive said...

me too. i love the weight and yet the breadth/breath of your writing. it makes me feel like a more worthy reader... :)

Kristin T. (@kt_writes) said...

Amazing. I love how you weave your stories in a way that both entertains and tugs at my heart. I feel like I know you--partly because you share yourself so fully, and partly because I see so much of my own life in you.

This, in particular, perfectly describes my take on God's grace and redemption in my life:

"When I remember my past, which is not very often, I no longer think of it with a shudder of regret. I trust that somehow it prepared me for the life I now live, for the husband I would soon meet, for a life of grace. There is no doubt in my mind, that the mistakes I made in past relationships triggered in me a movement towards conversion, and for that, I can only be grateful."

This Heavenly Life said...

That flicker of pain across my husband's face...that's what stops me too. That's what makes me feel regret where I'd otherwise write it off as a stepping stone on my path. I love how you've told this.

I agree with Smoochagator and wifemotherexpletive: these posts are why I'm always excited to see what you have to say, and they DO make me feel like a more worthy reader. Very well said.

Jennifer @ Conversion Diary said...

Love, love this post. Eloquent. Powerful. Insightful.

Also, on a shallow note, I just had to chime in to say that I am SO GLAD to know that I'm not the only one who always wants whatever my husband has ordered.

Thanks for another great post.

Gardenia said...

oh you just know how to really SAY things! I'm tickled I found you. and want to sit right down and read your whole blog through! alas, maybe when my 3 year old is off to college and I can retire. your post just resonated with me. thank you. now, get moving on that book of yours!

Anne said...

Great story! I love the Cloud of Unknowing quote.

Kate Wicker @ Momopoly said...

My, you're an incredible writer. Thank you for this beautiful, honest post. I'm so thankful to have discovered your blog recently.

Tina Fisher said...

This my first time here and I love it! I am so glad to have found some Catholic blogs!

I agree with all that the other commententers said. I also found a little humor in your writing? Maybe it's just me and the humor I take from things?

So love your blog and will be back for more reading!

BettyDuffy said...

So Grateful for all of your comments and tweets.

Tina, yes, humor (I hope!).

Wifemotherexpletive, I think that may be the best compliment I've ever received. Thank you.

Lizzie said...

Thank you for another 'oh yes, that's it!' post. I think often about this - I am a single mum and already am sorry for that flicker of pain that may one day pass across a future husband's face...
You're inspiring me to attempt some writing - I've wondered about short stories/blogging for a while and it's brought those thoughts to the fore again.
I can echo all the compliments here - you make me feel more connected to my femininity somehow. I think because you have so many of the same passions, ideas, questions about being a woman that I do. It's reassuring yet challenging too.
Thank you!

Erin said...

Beautiful - as usual. I think St. Teresa of Avila said she thought she received visions and mystical experiences from God because her weak soul needed that comfort. She noted that one of the older nuns in her convent had never experienced God's presence in that way, but St. Teresa said it was because that nun's soul was so strong that she didn't need it. I think "The Cloud of Unknowing" is spot on - and it brings me great comfort (though I doubt St. Teresa's soul was all that weak compared to mine...).

JMB said...

My husband out orders me all the time! In fact, he won't ever tell me in advance what he'll order.

Thought provoking post, especially for those of us who do have pasts. Thank you:)