When I was a little girl, my dad used to line up all the family’s shoes on a Sunday night and clean them. So I had never cleaned a shoe in my life. In fact I didn’t even know where the shoe cleaning stuff was kept or where to buy it. My father just produced it, with a flourish, a tiny box crammed with tins and brushes, and having covered the kitchen table with newspaper, he’d lovingly work polish into leather. Then I went off to university and from there to my first teaching job. I was so happy when my husband proposed because, apart from having secured an actual man who liked me, I was really looking forward to having clean shoes again. The problem was, in the house where my husband grew up, a different person cleaned the shoes – him. And he was really looking forward to having a break from all the shoe cleaning stress of his youth. I was dismayed to find he didn’t even possess a shoe cleaning kit. But it was too late – I’d married him.
My husband is a very nice man. He is kind to children and animals. He is patient. In nearly thirty years I have never seen him lose his temper. My husband works in an office at the end of the garden built by a company called Green Retreats (Is this product placement?) It’s not green though, it’s brown and it’s certainly not a retreat. Inside that office my husband writes sermons, composes emails, liaises with outside organisations, draws up rotas, plans meetings and does a million other things. He is the hardest worker I know. I have also never met anyone with greater integrity. All this in one slab of manhood. (I am honestly not angling for a jewellery-related anniversary present. Though I’m willing to accept one. Gracious, as always)
When I married this man, I’d read a book. It was called, “How to have a Perfectly Happy Marriage” or something like that and so I thought, naturally, that we would. Since we’d read the book and everything. So it came as a surprise to me that, although I’d married this near-perfect man, that there were things about our marriage that weren’t perfect. And most of it, unsurprisingly – since this is the basis of most problems in any relationship – boiled down in some way to communication.
According to the University of Kent, effective spoken communication requires being able to express your ideas and views clearly, confidently and concisely in speech, tailoring your content and style to the audience and promoting free-flowing communication. That’s all very well, I’m thinking, until you add in variables like a malfunctioning computer or a long hot day at work or corns. These things tend to influence the way you communicate so that instead of being concise and appropriate you just want to roar at everyone. Of course you can’t, because they wouldn’t like you, so you have to save it all up for when you get home and then you roar at your loved ones instead. Sadly we can do that because although they may not like it, they will usually keep loving us, whatever.
Then there are those things that you gradually stop talking about – the old chestnuts that come up again and again and send you round in circles until you’re dizzy with frustration and fatigue. Because nothing seems to change, at least not for long. Because human nature cannot be changed, at least by us. And life, with its tendency to throw things at you out of the blue, if you are not careful, can squeeze the joy out of everything… How is it that sometimes the simple act of talking, the thing that draws two people together in the first place, can be the hardest thing to do? Maybe it’s the shape of what we say conjuring up things from the past, things that the speaker may or may not know about, that pull the familiar triggers of guilt, blame and anger. We are not free to react solely in the present, invaded as we are by past hurts and future fears. And so after a while, if we’re not careful, something inside us curls up and hides. It’s then that the most damage can be done if we remain silent. Because, as my mother used to say, what goes in must come out. One day it will explode. And the fall-out could be huge.
So, even though it’s always painful, we’ll keep talking about the shoes…
My story, The Evenness of Things, now for sale as an Amazon Kindle e-book, is about the effects of long term silence on a relationship. In the story, a woman buys a house without telling her husband, a misguided attempt to deal with a tragedy from the past which now threatens to overwhelm her completely. But Daisy believes that the house will save her…
The story is about the unpredictable impact of grief on faith and relationships, the need for retreat, and how life itself can show us how to cope, “if we let it, if we listen.”