Tuesday, September 8, 2009

On marriage and morgy-broth

The Mousehole Cat
I recently asked friends to name a story, film, song, piece of music, meal or place which somehow evoked their relationship. I'm helping them prepare a ritual for marriage, so the question was not entirely out of the blue!

But it got me to thinking. Which story evokes my marriage with my husband? And has it changed? We've been together for over a decade; is it the same story as it was ten years ago?

As I pondered these questions, I found myself reflecting, again*, on The Mousehole Cat by by Antonia Barber and Nicola Bayley. And I realise that it is our story so far.

For on the one hand, our marriage has felt like Mousehole: warm, safe, snug, and battered by storms. We partnered soon after my husband's first marriage ended, and his grief, rage and sense of betrayal swept through the air, lashing at us and those around us. Related conflict with friends and church thundered around. My mother, who had a galloping form of multiple sclerosis, moved quickly through paraplegia to quadriplegia to blindness to, shortly before our wedding, death, and the waves of grief almost washed us away. Early in my first pregnancy, his mother died; and soon after that our grandfathers. When I think back to those early years, I remember a black hole of rage and sorrow and loss, so that we almost foundered; yet we held fast. I cannot but think of the seawall, battered by the Great Storm Cat but keeping the worst of the winds and the seas at bay.

But our relationship is growing out of that deeply inward, protective stage. And yet I am still in the same story, because my husband reminds me of Old Tom. He's the sort of man who will put himself out to help others; the one who hands children food off his own plate, who will forfeit the last piece of cake or his own desires if it makes someone else happy. He gets up in the night with the crying baby. He has structured his work to direct resources into the deeply unpopular field of clergy abuse; he has structured his home life so he can spend good time with his children. He's decent, honest, an enabler; what the Yiddish might call a real mensch. I can imagine him, trapped by winter storms in a small town, giving away what food he has and, when that runs out, risking the sea to catch fish for all.

Like Old Tom's cat Mowzer, I can imagine getting into the boat with him, thinking, as usual, of my stomach and filled with hope for morgy-broth and stargazy pie. I can imagine sitting in the prow as he guides the boat, and singing to the Great Storm Cat, finding the words from deep within which placate the winds and the rain. I can imagine being scared, scoured by water and buffeted by the gale, but willing to risk my life in a boat with my husband. I can see him filling the nets, and turning the boat. And between his sailing and my singing, together, I imagine, we might steer through the storms and find our way home, guided by the candles that fill the windows of our town. Welcomed back, we would feast on morgy-broth and stargazy pie, and celebrate with everyone!

Partnership, sacrifice, songs, community. And stargazy pie. What else could a marriage need?

*For more about The Mousehole Cat, see the post below or click here.

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