Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Wisdom of the Aged

So last Saturday morning Julianne and I met a lovely young couple who are engaged to be married in a few weeks. As part of their church-sponsored pre-marital counseling, one of their assignments was to meet with a newlywed couple as well as with a young couple with very young children. Lastly, they were to meet with an “established” couple.

In other words, with an “old” couple.

Guess which of these categories that Julianne and I satisfied?

Now to be sure, this couple is adorably fresh and stunningly handsome with impossibly perfect gums and lovely dewy skin. They are sweet and kind-hearted, innocent in demeanor, quick to smile and laugh, and just generally a cause for hope in the future of humanity. They are fit, skin golden from sun, muscularly toned, youthful nordic gods, simply pulsing with young-person life and openness.

Frankly we were chosen by this gorgeous vigorous and idealistic couple for having been sufficiently beat down by life. The young man had earlier approached Julianne and asked her, rather tactfully I thought, how old “your husband is.” When she told him my age (43), he knew he had hit the jackpot!

Old people central! Woo hoo!

He told us we were chosen because we could offer them “wisdom.” Wisdom. Yeah, right. We understand what “wisdom” is code for. Aged. Infirm. Old.

So we met them at Starbucks, and after we purchased our drinks, we sat outside in the baking and broiling sun. After a while I began to drift off a bit, preserving my mental energy impelled by the slim hope I might yet be able to avoid heat stroke. Both Juli and I promptly propped our elbows on the table and rested our chins on our hands, leaning forward to pop the straw into our mouths—typically requiring no more than three or four tries--engaging in precise calculations designed to economize our motions to save our strength for the rest of the day. We moved only to jostle with one another to fight for the drifting shadow of the umbrella.

Our young friends, in contrast, leaned back, ribs and muscles showing through their shirts, to soak in the rays. Later that day they were going to repair cars on the half-melted asphalt and go biking in the 98 degree heat.

Bless their hearts.

Our conversation went something like this.

Adonis: So what can you tell us to prepare for the transition to the married life?

Juli: Well for us it was actually blissfully seamless. We had dated for some seven years, and we were best friends. We knew each other very well, and we knew going into our marriage that our personalities dovetailed together. We were all eagerness, and marriage was like the flowering of an already beautiful plant.

Me: I read on CNN just yesterday that the people whom we find to smell the best—and to whom, it turns out, we unconsciously gravitate—are those whose genetic makeup for their immune systems are the most dissimilar to our own. Apparently the evolutionary advantage of this attraction is that your offspring will benefit from a blending of complementary immune systems. So that’s one useful warning I can issue--if either of you smells chronically malodorous to the other, that definitely does not bode well for your kids. I’m guessing they’ll have asthma. At least.

If your husband be funky, your kids be feeling punky!

Juli: MIKE!!!

Me: Right. Sorry. Juli’s right, the transition from dating to marriage was all good. But what did we know? We were so young. You’re young, I’m sure you’ll be fine. Look at you. Look at them, Juli! You are both SO gorgeous! Juli, were we ever that young? Really. We were ever as handsome as them? I don’t think so. This guy, I mean…..his arms are like pistons!

Venus: Okay then……I’m sorry to interrupt you, Mr. Bailey. But could you tell us about the transition from being married without kids to having kids?

Juli: That one is trickier to negotiate. When you go from a situation when you’re attending almost solely to one another’s needs to one in which you need to care for this other little creature who’s so helpless and so needy and so time and labor-intensive, it means that the relationship dynamics will have to be reworked.

Venus: That makes sense.

Me: People tell you all the time that love isn’t zero-sum but expands with each addition of the family. Bogus. I’m telling you right now, 100 percent bogus.

Adonis: I’m sorry?

Me: Okay, love does expand. You do manage to love each new member of the family. But you don’t get more hours in the day now, do you? Or more energy. Love expands, but it just doesn’t expand enough. Which is why studies show that married couples with kids are less happy than those without them. So it’s not 100 percent bogus. But it’s a good 20 percent bogus.

So stay childless as long as you can pull it off.

Juli: Mike, you don’t mean that. You love our kids!

Me: I’m not saying kids make you unhappy. I’m just saying they make you unhappier.

Juli: Mike?

Me: Look, I wouldn’t give up my kids for the world. I’d rather cut off my right arm and left leg with a Swiss army knife like that dude in the movie than see them get hurt. But I have to accept that part of the reason I think this way is because I’ve suffered from so much cumulative sleep-deprivation. And you know why? Because of them! You end up loving them because they’ll cause your neural wiring to fray.

Juli: Maybe we should move out of the sun.

Me: And don’t be pressured into having kids!!!

Adonis: What do you mean, “pressured”?

Me: Well, you know. In the secular world it’s considered bad taste—a sign of certifiable ya-hoo-ness--to have more than one or two kids. Have enough to replace yourself at most. To have more is to prove in plain sight that you’re unconcerned about our planet’s dwindling resources. You’re selfish. Each birth of your babies shows just how fervently you hate polar bears. But you’re not secularists. You’re evangelicals. So you’re going to feel pressure—mostly subtle but nonetheless very real pressure—to have lots of kids. To show that you trust in God’s providence to take care of you despite the fact that you’re broke and have no business bringing kids into the world. And to obey his command to submit the earth to your dominion and to rid the world of those pesky polar bears. You’re not really considered a real evangelical unless you have at least three kids, preferably four or more, and if you really have the Holy Spirit you’ll adopt a gaggle of children from regions of the world you learned about by reading National Geographic.

I’m saying this: Don’t buy either story. Bogus.

Juli: Yeah. Okay. Anyway, we’ve found kids to be genuine blessing.

Venus and Adonis (looking nervously at one another, eyeing their watches, clearly itching to go running and kayaking.) What do you do spiritually to stay close?

Me: Close to whom? To one another? Or close to God? Or close to God and to one another--the whole triangle business?

Them: umm….both to god and to one another?

Juli: Well, we’ve had all sorts of wonderful church experiences. We used to go to a really fine church in Austin that….

Me: They’re not asking that, Juli.

(Venus and Adonis look nervously at one another.)

Juli: We’ve done lots of great things, edifying things, over the years in church.

Me (to Venus and Adonis): You’re asking about our Walk With The Lord, right? The ol’ WWTL.

Them: Uhhh….well….really….we’re

Juli: He’s teasing. Ha ha. We are spiritual. We go to church. I love hymns. And…..and….soup kitchen…and…Sunday school.

Me: No no no. Our Walk With the Lord! You know! As in how we pray with and for one another. For our marriage. How we wake up early for our quiet time of prayer and bible study. As in how we’ve come up with family mission statement. How I attend Promise Keeper meetings. How you bake me casseroles. That kind of stuff.

So to answer your question, that ain’t us. We don’t do that stuff. Not that there’s anything wrong with it.

Juli: Mike, umm… I think that maybe here we ought…

Me: To be fair, Juli prays. And she sometimes wears an apron, too. I pray, too, you know, and no, not just when I lose stuff. I pray all the time. Some people call it muttering to myself, but I know better. And so does God. I love to pray when I mow the lawn for some reason. I listen to hip hop, mow, and pray. It’s one of my favorite things. Don’t know why, really. Must be something about the drone of the mower and the beat of the music that busts open the floodgates. Hey! I naturally pray when I shower, too! Something about being naked just…

Juli: Ok. Mike. Ok.

Me: You know, I didn’t used to go for this iced coffee thing. Seemed like a bad idea. I gotta say I’m a convert!

Them: Okay, well. Hey, this was great. We sure appreciate…

Me: I’ve thought of something else, too. Don’t do what other people tell you. Just live your life. Discover what you want and then do it. Do things together but have your own hobbies, too. Be polite to others. Listen to them. Be kind. But live your own life with one another. You’re not married to your parents. Or to your friends. Or your colleagues. You want twelve kids? Have twelve kids. There’s enough polar bears. You don’t want kids? Don’t have any. You want to live in Sweden? Go. Do what you want. Do what you want. Do what you want.

Mostly just don’t listen to advice. Really. Except for this: Try the ice coffee. Excellent stuff.

Them: Yeah. Okay. Well….you know. Hey. Thanks.

Us: You bet!!!

And that was that. So I’m thinking they’ve got a pretty solid marriage ahead of them. Not entirely thanks to me.

Just mostly.


justcurious said...

Was the stony silence awkward?

Technoprairie said...

You forgot the part about how coffee never used to cost $3.69 and there weren't all these silly flavors and lattes and whips and ices and grandes when you meant large and ventis when you meant medium.

Andy D. said...

This is an all-time classic! Like the blend of the coffee, the story blends bits of Curb, Bryson, Woody Allen/Monty Python, and When Harry Met Sally. Very, very good stuff.


PS -- word for the day is "bigosed." I'm not sure the definition, but I think if I could have talked with that young couple immediately after they met with Big Talking Married Mike, I would have told them, "You just been BIGOSED."


Andy D. said...

I'm betting you're going to become the "go-to" established couple for this church. "Now to meet your established couple, you'll go down to Rome. They'll meet you at the Starbucks. No really, I know what you've probably been told about them, but you'll be fine, I initially had those same questions. Just don't look him in the eye while he's speaking, eating, or grooming himself."

Claudia said...

This. Is. Awesome!

justcurious said...

Does everyone recall that my comment was here BEFORE the post? When there was just a photo of stone people? Remember that!?

I could delete it now that it doesn't make sense in the context of the story but you guys are practically family and I think family should be able to deal with the weird. It stands.

Andy D. said...

JC -- it stands! It was an awesome joke and worthy of significant praise. From us. And especially from Mike, who obviously wrote the whole story to answer your pun.

Keep up the good work, A+, gold star, etc. :)


Andy D. said...

PS - my capcha word just there -- "figoofi." Youz all too figoofi fuh me.

Mike Bailey said...

justcurious--you know it's harder to have a bigger fan of you than me, but i swear that first comment you posted just makes no sense. at all. stony awkward silence? after all that dialogue? what do you want, woman?!

justcurious said...

Mike, what I think I hear you saying is that in the aforementioned family, you're the uncle, always ready with a quick noogie and a pull-my-finger joke?

Mike Bailey said...

You never specified which family you want. If you wanted a Lindholm, you should have asked for one.

justcurious said...

Okay, excellent point.

justcurious said...

Oh and thanks, fun cousin Andy!

Julie said...

At least you didn't just give them the predictable answers. The ones they expected. Hopefully, they are mature enough to dig for what are the pearls of wisdom hidden in your answers.
As for the science of attraction...surely, they should be impressed and thoughtful on that one! I would (in your future premarital counseling sessions) include that physical beauty is really an issue of symmetry and averages. Who doesn't just love the science of it all? (side note: future pick up line..."Dang girl! You have amazingly average proportions and you don't stink.")
Personally, I would have been an awful oldie for the church to send young ones to. My recommendation would have been to live in sin for at least two years before deciding to marry. Probably wouldn't go over real well.

Mike Bailey said...

Julie--I think you're right in thinking that the church might not go for the Julie line of questioning:

1. You stinky? Nope, that's good. Stink is a deal-breaker, and bad for the kids, too.
2. You know why you're attracted to each other, right? Symmetry and averages. And it's clear you both have that in abundance. Good. Check.
3. So you shacking up? No? 'Tis a pity. Try a couple of years of that and come back and we can chat then.

It would certainly have been more succinct than my own long-winded and indirect method.

Paul Wallace said...

That is wonderful, Mike. I could see you out there on Turner McCall, and hear your voice. I laughed out loud about six times. Keep up the blog. It's beautiful.

Andy D. said...

Julie - oh, there are pearls.

Sis-in-law said...

I cannot remember when I have laughed out loud more frequently. Thank you for making 2011 slightly more palatable for me :-). Keep up the amazing writing...

Steven Taylor said...

See, I just figured the stony silence and its commensurate awkwardness took place in the car after the encounter.

Indeed, prolly twice: in both the cars of the Old and the Young (but for different reasons).

Of course, on second thought, having ridden in the car with MB, I don't think silence was probable.