Four years ago I wrote about the ending of our marriage. "Reflections on Healing a Broken Heart" was my way of making sense of what didn't make sense—a good marriage that unraveled for no apparent reason. I thought it was a brave attempt to delve into the discrepancy between the overt and the covert facts. The shock of our mutual choice to separate had sent me into a state of withdrawal and grieving, which I called "cocooning," and simultaneously challenged me to be in the world in a new way—wounded but not whining. It took a consistent, and at times faltering effort to do that, to not shame or blame him or myself. I can simply say that we didn't know how to do it any better at the time. The question has come around again, and the answer remains too be seen: do we know how to do it better at this point? Have we really grown in such a way that we can now re-marry? We're hoping the answer is yes, but we don't really know.
Our story is an unfamiliar one, yet the reasons people reunite can be quite varied. Loneliness and dismay at the dating experience are obvious reasons, but that wasn't our primary experience. My ex had loved and lived with a woman for three of those four years, and although he was never engaged, they appeared to be blissfully happy. They bought a lovely country house together and moved out of state. I, too, made a valiant attempt at happiness, becoming engaged to a man after a two year courtship. But I found myself missing my old love at the strangest times. I would be the last to think that I would be beset by heartache while vacationing in Italy on the shores of lake Magiore with my new fiancée. But these moments did occur, and eventually I broke off the wedding engagement six weeks before the marriage. Both of our new relationships were serious attempts to disengage from each other and they each failed. Why?
About a year ago I went away on vacation by myself, and in the process of slowing down and allowing myself to really feel and assess my life, I noted over breakfast one day that I seriously missed my ex-husband. Writing him a letter I admitted there, was a split in my life that no other man could heal. I wrote that we felt like an unfinished story, and that the bittersweet weight of our mutual history felt as integral a part of my life as my own arms or legs. I felt that I had been tragically severed by our mutual decisions to separate. Six months later I got a reply. My ex had found himself unexpectedly in tears one day while browsing through the Hallmark cards; the anniversary cards were too much for him to bear. He too felt that our story was unfinished.
So was it nostalgia? Partly. And perhaps, forgive me if I sound too romantic, but we've come to believe that we never really stopped loving each other. Perhaps we simply weren't conscious enough to see that a mid-life crisis, a passing depression, or a growing apart are events that can be part of a marriage and not a reason to end it. We needed a healing and a time apart, but we almost lost the chance for a wholeness in our lives that we are now attempting.
Why couldn't we commit ourselves to our other loves? It is still a mystery—the way love is a mystery—yet it seems to be less the fault of the significant other and more about us. Perhaps we were deeply rooted in each other and felt at home in the same soil, and so the transplant simply didn't work. And perhaps we were still haunted by our original love and our vows to hang in there with each other through thick and thin. We had let go too easily when things got thin.
Since I don't believe in accidents but do believe in choice, I suspect we needed to do exactly what we did. We needed to experience in our new relationships what was missing in our partner to see if that made a difference. And so we found partners who supplied qualities each of us lacked. He found an emotionally supportive, consistently cheerful woman who, yes, even looked like me, and who helped him feel safe enough to do some inner work and therapy. She was not as demanding as I had been. And I had found a man who liked to read, travel and talk intimately about everything. He said "yes" to many of my dreams and, although he looked nothing like my husband, I must admit he had some of the same traits. (Being an astrologer I once jokingly prayed to God to never send me another Virgo. Well, "he" was a double Virgo! Who knows best what we need?)
As an astrological counselor I am always being asked about the aspects and omens of love. If I see that my client has Uranus in the 7th house squaring his Mars in Aries and opposing his Moon in Capricorn, and his lover's Saturn sits directly on his Mars... well, I try to find convincing ways to say how every relationship has its challenges. Nothing is fated, and the chart, reflecting the chemistry of a relationship hints at the climate one will be exposed to, but not the outcome. What is most important is the intention of the couple and their willingness to use their free will to make conscious decisions. That's the clincher: conscious. Sometimes when we're in a Neptunian cycle of our life, its not that easy to accurately assess what we feel. Ego and soul needs are confused. And when we are in a Plutonian cycle, experiencing a life-changing event, we may lose memory and consciousness altogether, as we know it.
Last weekend I was at a craft festival helping my ex sell his pottery. As I was wrapping up a pot in a newspaper I spotted a recently published article on Ram Dass, the spiritual spokesperson for many baby boomers. Three years ago, just before the massive stroke that severely challenged his ability to speak, he was told by his editor that his new book (being published this month) was too glib and not visceral or deep enough. Today he sees his stroke as a "fierce grace" which allowed him to know and respect the extreme suffering and vulnerability that can come with age. People close to him noted that the stroke changed him, making him more humble and compassionate. The truth is that it nearly destroyed his faith.
As I read the article, the similarities between a near-death experience, such as a stroke, and the psychic earthquake of a divorce resonated in me. The shock to the system, the tearing away of illusions and vanity, and the vulnerability must be experienced to be truly known.
At these times the soul's ruthless orchestration of destiny confronts us with uncomfortable questions. If God is compassionate and I've been "good," then how can this be happening to me? Who's wrong? Can I redefine what is a loving God or a loving mate? Are "they" giving us what we want or what we need? When we are in the midst of illness or tragedy, we are motivated to redefine our relationship with a loving or not so loving God, whereas redefining human love in relationship is a conscious choice not everyone chooses to do. It feels easier to start over or drop out.
When love is not the endorphin-filled romance of wine-tinged illusions but rather the wrenching off of our socially pleasing mask, we may need some new definitions of love and peace. This is not a time for failure of imagination. What would love feel like? What would peace feel like? The challenge is to re-imagine the possible while not indulging in tight expectations.
In his interview. Ram Dass noted that in preparing for death one prepares for the deepest mystery of the universe, and you prepare so that you'll be open, curious, and not clinging to the past. You'll just be present, moment by moment. This may be the key. In loving and in dying the act of not resisting the present moment allows the soul to have its voice. It allows for the unexpected, for newness, for a chance to see things differently. In not resisting what is, an attitude of acceptance frees the energy that was previously bound by old expectations.
Some people say if a relationship didn't work before, it won't work now because people don't change that much. What needs changing? Who needs changing? Who's in charge? When the shattering of romantic illusions and all the small betrayals stand face to face with every real hope for peace, healing, and forgiveness, the chance for change is seductive. When I consider that my lover has heard the hard edges of arrogance and fear in my tone of voice and feels the uneasy questions within me and is still willing to love me again... well! Perhaps the only hard question then is whether or not he's willing to live with someone who prowls (noisily) around the house on the nights she can't sleep.
Last week I came upon a poem by Wendell Berry that moved me so much I inscribed it with a few minor changes on a day tablet and gave it to my new "old love". Today, after rereading the article written four years ago, I saw in it I had quoted a short poem also by Wendell Berry. A sweet synchronicity seems to be echoing here:
How joyful to be together, alone
each other, as we did not then
and now instead of two stories fumbling
we touch each other with the tenderness
at the sight of you
Elizabeth Spring, MA has been an astrologer and counselor since 1992. She has studied astrology and the work of Carl Jung in England, Switzerland, and California, and has written numerous articles for newspapers and magazines, which can be read on-line. She does readings by phone (401-294-5863) and in person (R.I.), and can be contacted through her web site: www.elizabethspring.com or at: elizabethspring@aol.