All or Nothing at All

All In 1 


“All In”


Don’t make me over. It’s an old Dionne Warwick song, and it’s been in my head all morning, ever since our discussion over coffee (I’m writing this on a Saturday). One of the ladies Christine works with has taken up photography and has become very good at it, to such an extent that she can hardly drive anywhere these days without seeing something she’d like to shoot. Last Christmas she gave Christine one of her photographs, which I then framed for her office. It’s a wonderful composition, and since then her friend has only gotten better.


She and Christine recently got into a discussion on her friend’s photography, during the course of which Christine stated an untruth. “I really admire you for so being so passionate about your photography. Me, I’m not passionate about anything.” I’ll have more to say on why I disagree with that self-assessment, but to continue with this, Christine then said, “Joe’s very passionate too. He writes, and he’s a cabinetmaker, and he reads a ton of history, so he’s always excited about something. I don’t have any of those things.”


“You have Joe,” her friend said. “He’s your passion.”


“Of course, I love him, and we’re very devoted to each other. But you can’t be passionate about a person; you have to be passionate about what you do.”


All In 2Then her friend turned reflective. “In a way I think you’re right. I’ve never married, but there were a few times when I thought I might. It was always with someone a lot different than me, but someone I loved. Or thought I did. But when I was with those guys I found myself changing my whole life just to be with them. Whatever they wanted was what I wanted. What they loved, I loved.” She gave a little self-deprecating laugh. “Like Ruth in the Bible. Their gods became my gods. But it never really worked, and afterwards I was always resentful that I had done that to myself for a man.”


Christine and I are as different as any two people can be. We often comment on that. How can two such different people make such a harmonious union, but really, it was my goal from the very beginning. I got out of the Army at age 21 and thought I was ready for marriage. I wasn’t, but if I’d found someone at that age, that would have been my marriage, and almost certainly, a disaster. As it turned out, I didn’t marry for ten more years, but I put that decade to good use, thinking about the kind of husband I would like to be, should I ever become so fortunate. One of the most profound things I ever heard on the subject came at the very beginning of that ten-year journey, at my first job, actually. It was a restaurant, and one of the older cooks I worked with told me he was going on vacation. I said I hoped his wife would enjoy it too and was shocked when he told me she wasn’t going. It turned out that he had very different interests from his wife, which meant they often took separate vacations. “Marriage doesn’t have to be a ball-and-chain,” he said.


Well, as it turns out, Christine and I have sometimes had separate vacations too. Most of the time we travel together to places we both love, but she also loves Las Vegas, and I don’t. When I go, I’m pretty much a wet blanket, so after a failed trip or two, she got to where she just went with her parents, little extended weekend jaunts several times a year. When I wanted to drive around the state of California for some research, I went by myself because she didn’t want to just sit in a car for four days.


But much more than the occasional separate vacation, we have let each other breathe. I am a voracious reader of history and biographies. She reads only occasionally, and almost always it is a novel. She watches TV every night. Other than sporting events, I never turn it on. During the week we have dinner together, usually watching “Wheel of Fortune,” just to have some time together. Then we chat in the living room for fifteen minutes or so, after which she retires to the bedroom and her TV, and I trundle off to the study for the book in progress. She does not beg me to watch her shows with her, and I do not press my latest history tome on her. We leave each other the hell alone. On the other hand, movies and the NFL are shared pleasures. We love going to the movies together, then discussing them later over dinner. And different as we are, we tend to like and dislike the same movies.


When we’re together it’s because we want to be together. We do not drag each other to things. A few weeks ago we visited an elaborate traveling exhibit on King Tutankhamun, an event we both thoroughly enjoyed. And, as I said last week, we can always have a wonderful time with a cup of coffee and each other. Ours is a marriage that is every bit as serene as we say it is.


The day of our wedding Christine called her mother in a panic. She told her mother she was getting scared, and her mother immediately said, “Honey, you don’t have to do anything you want to do. But it’s natural for brides to get the jitters at the last minute.”


All In 3Christine thought about that for a moment, then said, “The thing is, though, I just always feel comfortable around him, like I can just be me, and that’s going to be good enough.”


“Then that’s your answer,” her mother said.


One thing I never wanted to do was to make her into something else. We are all of us different, in how we look at things, in what we can do, in what our interests are. She is not in this world to live up to my expectations. And in any case, I cannot think of a reason in this world why I would want to change her. My woodworking friends are very vocal on that subject. Don’t fix it if it’s not broken. And now we’re back to her misstatement on passion.


Christine really is passionate, but about different things. Mostly, I think, she is passionate about life and about people. I remember once at a family get-together she was whooping and hollering over an Antonio Banderas video, and one of my sisters-in-law said, “She’s so much fun.”


Describing her to an acquaintance, I said, “She really lights up a room, whereas mine is a personality that tends to go about the room snuffing out the candles.” But that’s just the nature of things, really. I write, and I’m a woodworker, working always with my own designs. Any artist is necessarily an introvert because art comes from the inside out. But I have never tried to mold her to me.


She has an empathy for others that absolutely astounds me at times, because she has an incredible knack for getting to the heart of the matter at once. She’s been a human resources manager for over thirty years, and that’s what makes her so valuable in that role, her unerring touch for people relations. She always seems to know just what to say, and especially so whenever she is called upon to mediate between a manager and employee or between two feuding employees. She has often come into a room with a recalcitrant employee, sitting there with arms across their chest, all but defying her to say anything at all in furtherance of getting that person to, quite frankly, knock it off. And in half an hour or so, the employee in question has apologized for the bad behavior and promised to sin no more!


I don’t know why so many people who don’t have a creative bent feel so inadequate around those who do, but it’s a feeling she’s long had. In thinking that she does herself a disservice. I’m the guy who runs the table saw, but I cannot tell you how many times I have asked for her advice on certain design dilemmas—and been glad to get it! But, really, whether she does or doesn’t, it doesn’t matter.


I didn’t have coffee this morning with Christine, the famous writer, or Christine, the world renowned cabinetmaker, or historian, or any other distinguished type, not even with Christine, the great beauty, although she is still as beautiful to me as she was 38 years ago, and her heart is the same miracle it’s always been. I had coffee with my wife, my lover, my helpmate, my confidant, my best friend. And my all.



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