Betty Duffy

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The old softies

It's a cold hard day, freezing feet and noses, not wanting to get out from under blankets we haul from room to room, and we will be damned before we turn on the heater. My daughter climbed the apple trees to pick the last of them before we start getting morning freezes. I'd have put off getting up on a ladder indefinitely.

Similarly, I've put off getting down on hands and knees around the house to do the dirty work of cleaning the undersides of things, the dusty alcoves beneath the book cases, even the cereal accumulations that have already found a home under my brand new kitchen table. All good things have to be cared for and maintained, but I move in fits and bursts of energy, then fizzle down to the supine, lumpy figure I make on every couch, bed and chair. I have reached the third trimester.

Today I'm in hangover mode, not from drinking, but from having had a busy day yesterday. Drove the kids out to my parents', then my husband and I went out to dinner and a movie. Ate at a place subtitled "exciting food creations," a description repeated at various places throughout the online menu, and also on the sign over their door as we approached it running from the car through the rain. Exciting food creations! We are here at last!

They serve "frites" rather than french fries, tapenade rather than relish, aioli not mayo. And I have to admit, while these sorts of places used to appeal to me strongly, what I really wanted to eat was a fried fish taco, or a a chimichanga slathered in cheese (or queso if you're fancy). Play me a ukelele and bring me free cake--my birthday's next week should you care to know--and I'll deal with the heartburn later.

But the exciting food creations were near the movie theater, and while it sounded like a recipe for overpriced small plates, I was pleasantly surprised by the cornmeal breaded basa and chipotle slaw in a soft corn tortilla (or fried fish taco if you're not fancy).

We sat very close to another couple who was on a date, though clearly not married, and they were talking about politics--Obamaphone, actually--in self-conscious tones because they knew we could hear them as well as they could hear us. And our self-conscious small-talk was playing guess the Republican at all the tables around us. They are few and far between at a restaurant like this.

The female portion of the couple next door was a teacher, and she was saying that she didn't want to influence her students by talking about whom she's voting for, but they could probably guess regardless, "Because I'm such a hippy," she said, which made my husband and I both do a double-take. She didn't look like a hippy at all. Au contraire, she looked like a meticulously groomed person who enjoys fried fish tacos almost as much as I do. I don't know why I always think of hippies as being sort of wiry.

Made me wonder about the contradictions in the room between how others view us, and how we view ourselves. Could my husband and I pass for a happy fun couple expecting our first child? I like to think we are a happy fun couple, certainly happier and more fun than we were when we expected our first. We've both softened with age in a number of ways, accepting the terminal nature of everything--including marriage. We're going to go down together--let's do it with wine.

Seems like I went through an early period of thinking I had to save my husband's life, ensure that he made good choices, so that he could live long and care for me forever. We fought about speeding and seat-belts, drinking and chewing tobacco--safety standards--the male and female versions of which could not have been more different. I truly believed that living was more important than dying, and therefore there was no argument my husband could make that might undermine my purpose. Not that he argued with me. I argued, and as per his custom, he went about his business the way he wanted to.

I thought it was interesting in the readings this week, on the Feast of St Francis, that the sun and moon bless the Lord, earth and sea bless the Lord, indeed, both life and death bless the Lord. All created things, the beginnings of life and its ends, bless the Lord. Who can be afraid if such is the case? Who can afford to be hard towards the people they love, if such is the case?

And then this morning, the readings at Mass said that Moses allowed divorce because of the "hardness of your hearts"--perhaps because we expected one another to behave like gods, for our unions to be perfect. And then God became man, blessing and redeeming humanity, so that we could be soft and forgiving towards one another. No man can put asunder what God has joined together--but what he has joined are two broken, messy people who will probably have a broken and messy life together as they strive onward towards the goodness that is death. There will be very few perfect marriages in this life, and what a relief. It's a freedom to allow someone else to be who they are.

At the movie theater we saw The Master, which neither of us understood--except for the sex scenes which were pretty straightforward. From what I could gather it was about a seriously screwed up man who becomes a devotee of a cult leader (the Master) who claims you can perfect your nature by healing the wounds of your past lives. The poor man's nature never gets perfected, and the cult leader proves that he too, has a pretty screwed up nature as well. In many ways, it was a familiar story, the world's perpetual attempts to uncover false prophets and prove that there may be no help at all for the seriously screwed up people of the world.

One line redeemed the movie for me, and it was something to the effect of "no man gets by in life without serving a master" and the only choice you can make is which master you will serve. It was possibly the only true line in the movie, and it rang out like a gong in a smoggy abandoned city because of it.

When the seriously screwed up man proves himself irredeemable according to the Master's methods, he leaves the cult and goes full force into the service of his bestial nature, and there ends the movie. Rather hopeless. And yet it made me grateful for a Master (Christ) who is both fully human and fully divine, who stands up to careful scrutiny and will never prove himself a turd on closer inspection. I was also grateful to consider that there is no irredeemable nature, except for the one that loses hope in redemption or chooses the wrong master.

I hereby congratulate myself on having chosen the correct master--which is probably exactly the awkward position the director and writer of The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson) strove to create for religious moviegoers. How can you be sure you've chosen correctly? Have you been perfected? Can  you really hold on to hope for the hopeless?

Not in this life, necessarily.

And only if you believe death to be a blessing--which is another one of those childish leaps of faith Christians are always asked to be making that has the effect of being totally liberating.


Lizzie said...

Amazing reflection Betty. I love it when you write about marriage, faith and our flawed nature. It feels like a free marriage prep course - if, God willing, I marry a good man one day! God bless you in your third trimester. You continue to be in my prayers.

ps Just for the record, I'm staking my claim on that master too and trusting that death will be a blessing.

Peter and Nancy said...

I like these ruminative posts that take in the mundane and the sublime by turns. They usually are all mixed up together.

And I like to think that you and your husband are a fun couple. A friend and I were sitting next to a couple on what looked like a computer-facilitated/blind date (the man stood up both times when my friend and I entered the foyer, and said hello). We listened in a little bit on their exploratory conversation, and were both very grateful for our established marriages -- and for the "softening" you've described here.

BettyDuffy said...

I'm glad you guys like these ruminative posts--they're about all I'm capable of right now. My brain is all over the place. My son handed me his glasses last night before bed because he didn't want to lose them--and lo, I lost them for him.

Lizzie, I will pray for you that God will be willing.

Matthew Lickona said...

I disagree that he goes full bestial at the end. I actually think that's a happy ending. (Spoilers ahead.) Not that sexual hookups are a good thing, but he has come a long way from the opening scene, where he's violently sexing a sand woman before curling up next to her like she's mommy. The next time we see him with a woman, he's ready for sexytimes, but when he takes her out to dinner, he passes out - he has nothing to say to her. In that final scene, he's actually relating to the (flesh and blood) woman he's having sex with like she's a person. Sure, he's quoting Dodd, but it's in the context of what Dodd was doing right in the midst of his deceptions: connecting with people, paying attention, making them feel known and valued. "Say your name" is shorthand for "tell me who you are," as the followup questions show. It's why Dodd got through to Freddie, and even after Freddie has rejected the cult, he's kept what was good and true in Dodd's approach. Freddie at the outset was violent and twisted. Freddie at the end is something approaching integrated and capable of love - at least the rudimentary form of love that notices other people as people. Viz also his reaction to the news that his dream girl has gone and married someone else.

BettyDuffy said...

"Freddie at the end is something approaching integrated and capable of love - at least the rudimentary form of love that notices other people as people."--now see, I didn't get this at all. He seemed to me almost spiritually vacant from his body--I don't know what Anderson did to make his eyes look opaque in those last scenes, but he's thin, alone, and hallucinating in a movie theater. Maybe more time passes than I perceived between his visit to England and the closing credits, but there wasn't anything there to show healing or regeneration from his most degraded self (after he realizes that his Master is a fraud). And then the scene at the end with the woman seemed like a more satanic method of seduction--feigning personal interest--than the earlier scenes where he puts on no pretenses that he wants anything more than sex.

I don't know. You probably understood it more than I did.

Matthew Lickona said...

He's already seduced her when he starts asking her questions - they're already having sex. I don't think it's seduction; I think it's a stepping back from the purely animal aspect of sex - so much so that he slips out of her. And then is able to laugh about it.
And did you really read him as spiritually vacant in the scene where he learns his dream girl is married? Not me.
Here's how I read it: his final revelation during the back-and-forth is that he is free to go where he pleases. Once he realizes that, he has the strength to ride off in the desert, go back to the girl he says he loves. (Before this, he is unable to say why he doesn't go back.) He goes back, learns she is gone, and accepts it like a man - no fury, no lashing out. True, he is at a loss after that, so he goes to the movies, just like Binx Bolling. When Dodd calls, he comes, because he doesn't know what else to do. But when he gets there, he realizes he can no longer stay. He ventures out into the world, and connects with another human being.

BettyDuffy said...

Just to prove I REALLY didn't understand the movie: I thought during the scene in the desert that Dodd was trying to kill him, or was at least really hoping he'd die.

I also thought the phone call in the movie theater was a dream--because when he got to England they acted like they weren't expecting him.

You're probably right about the girl scene.

Trish Bailey de Arceo said...

I didn't see the movie but heard another person say it was a disappointment... they said it was painful to watch the actors trying so hard... that you could see them "acting."

As for your wonderfully rambling post, the line that stood out most for me was this: "There will be very few perfect marriages in this life, and what a relief. It's a freedom to allow someone else to be who they are." Thanks for putting it into words! In my 3 years of experience, this has been the key to beginning that "softening" process (my softening, that is!)... just learning to see who the other person is and be grateful for that, not trying to squish them into a preconceived mold of what I think they should be in order to serve me more effectively. Ha ha! It's wonderful to think of older couples growing into an even more joyful and relaxed marriage... it's something to look forward to, something to build today. Thanks!

Sean said...


I haven't seen "The Master", but I heard the director interviewed. The master is L. Ron Hubbard and the cult is Scientology. It is a deceptive, pernicious, exploitative, greedy cult that is only interested in making money off the gullible and emotionally needy -- thus the list of Hollywood stars.

L Ron was an arrogant, self important, delusional crank and 3-rate science fiction writer. L Ron, Ayn Rand and Satanist Anton Levey influenced each other's malicious nonsense. These odious human beings in turn inspired other cults and opportunist movements like Werner Erhard's EST.

Werner was a used car salesman who left his wife & family in the Midwest to go to California [the source of so much cultural debris] to start his self-help guru nonsense for the Me Decade boomers who were only too happy to abandon their traditional faiths and abase themselves before these shysters.

Werner got in loads of trouble for financial & sexual misconduct. He sold his EST business to others who made it more corporate. It still exists today known as the "the Forum" or "Landmark".

I'm rambling but these groups are dangerous and not well known. I will go to see the film.