Lessons from a loveless marriage

Once upon a time a man told me that he had gone ahead and married his wife, even though he knew he didn't love her.

'But why?' I asked, mystified, for surely living with someone you are not in love with is the hardest thing in the world.

He looked straight at me and then said levelly, 'Because it wasn't important.'

I gasped; I distinctly remember gasping, even though I had long moved in a world of arranged marriages, where love, if it came, was a big fat bonus.

But this man was not part of such a world.

Much later, a Catholic friend and I were discussing the matter of justice. She made the point that justice does prevail, if not in this world, in the next: she is a firm believer in God as Judge, while I am not. Neither do I know my way through theological mazes: what I do know, however, is that I want justice here and now and not in the sweet by-and-by. So I had a question: 'Do you believe God considers we are as important as all that?'

Her answer was a resounding, unequivocal Yes, and I was reminded once more of the biblical notion that God heeds every sparrow that falls, and also of the accompanying assertion that we humans are of rather more value than the average sparrow in any case.

We do not guess this when we are young, but our idea of what is important changes over time, and so the man who married heedlessly and in haste eventually realised that his decision had been important, after all: regret, I think, figured largely in his learning, but then regret is so often part of learning and ageing.

Perhaps one of the few advantages of the latter process is that we have an opportunity to re-organise our priorities. And so we ask ourselves the question: How important is it? Finding an answer is invariably difficult. Of course it is. But we learn to shed the little things. Eventually. Usually.

Recently I decided I simply had to go to England, after a gap of nine years: I felt compelled to see three of my girlfriends. I use the word girl advisedly, though, for they are aged 94, 90 and 86. I felt it important to visit them before it was too late; it is important to them to meet extreme old age with courage, charm and grace.

And this is what they are doing: they take pleasure in family and friends, in their gardens, and in the blessing of relatively good health, but they are also brave in facing setbacks and in coping with the sure and certain knowledge of an end. They seem to be quite unafraid of the future and the inevitable great change. This was a significant lesson taught me, because, frail vessel that I am, I do not know how to cope with such knowledge.

But these three are still choosing to accept any invitation life extends; they are still choosing to create each day in a positive fashion. They continue to make life new, even if they themselves are old.

Recently I was on a ferry, travelling between Crete and the island of Kythera. The winds were high, the wine-dark seas were extremely rough: when I ventured out on to the deck I could hardly stand up. People with sensitive stomachs were being sick everywhere, and a boy of about ten moved from hanging miserably over the deck rail, and lay down in the shade.

Then his thin 12-year-old sister appeared. No wind or sea was going to subdue her, or her spirit. As I watched, she proceeded to turn cartwheels against the elements, and that act suddenly seemed to me to sum up the whole matter of importance: deciding what it is, really, and acting upon the decision. Even if you are only 12. And if you've got that problem resolved then, well ...

But of course it is not as simple as that. It just isn't. I found myself hoping, nevertheless, and with all my heart, that the little girl could keep on turning cartwheels for as long as necessary, and on every windswept deck, no matter what the fates throw up at her in future. That's important.

Gillian BourasGillian Bouras is an Australian writer who has been based in Greece for 30 years. She has had nine books published. Her most recent is No Time For Dances. Her latest, Seeing and Believing, is appearing in instalments on her website.

Topic tags: Gillian Bouras, matters of importance, ferry ride, cartwheels, loveless marriage



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Existing comments

That's a lovely piece, and layered lovely also -- it's about several things at once, which is refreshing, and perhaps a mark of the best essays. Sad, brave, riveting.
brian doyle | 22 September 2010

How I welcome the reflections of Gillian Bouras. Thank you Gillian.
Mary Long | 22 September 2010

How very true. Many thanks to you Gillian for your wonder and seeing of the world. Not such an awful place after all, God's in His Heaven.!!
Rosemary Keenan
Rosemary Keenan Gwelup WA | 22 September 2010

Even without God in his heaven this is a beautiful world.....full of interesting risktakers.

I believe they are everywhere and so busy risktaking we don't see or hear them
If that young woman is turning cartwheels at 12 then I suspect she will turn cartwheels all her life..........the cup half full philosophy rarely seems to leave the spirit

We need to nourish these people as they are the spice in the curry

GAJ | 22 September 2010

Here is a writer I must meet, whether it be in Greece, Australia or online. I often wonder about the choice of reading material that is presented to our High School students. Do the works of Stephen King,the Twilight series and other scaries get more followers than any other dramatic works.
Ray O'Donoghue | 22 September 2010

Gillian, as usual, your musings enchant, enlighten and please me enormously. What more can I say? thanks

Di | 23 September 2010

I have studied and reread and thought about this article over the last 2 days.

Your message is subtle, but in fact very profound.
John Whitehead | 23 September 2010


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