Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Setting Down of Histories, and One

After some thought, I've decided to give my quick spiel about committing a history to writing before doing one myself.
History, as I'm seeing it, is the passing of stories from one generation to the next. That definition encapsulates the entire "interpretive" arguments histories invoke. Of course, each historian is biased in his view... he is as biased as the evening story-teller gathering facts before his story is told. History is important. So important is it that many of the subjects we learn in school are simply narrowed courses of history. Philosophy, for one. Has anyone who has taken their INTRO to PHILO course in university felt as disappointed as I did when I found the syllabus contained more fact than rhetoric? That the course is designed to give you a history of philosophy should give you a clue that you're not actually taking Philosophy. It's history... just focused on the history of philosophy. I got the same information out of three weeks of Jostein Gaarder's Sophie's World. Or how about an art appreciation course? I certainly felt gypped out of my credits when I realized my class in Religion was a history of the histories each major religion contains. I was hoping for discussions concerning the nature of religion, and its impact on individuals. Instead, I got a de-definition of religion (that "it is whatever one makes it out to be" can only be the stripping away of a definition) and a view of its impact on history. History, it seems, ought to be the first thing we teach in schools. We'd bypass so many of this annoying tangents in classes where any given student doesn't recall WHY something is.
Thus, I find it important to read histories whenever I can. They fill in a gap. They tell us, if not why a thing is, what events precluded its existence. I'm certain that if we had a sharper appreciation of history, smaller questions would cease to entertain us as much. Seinfeld episodes would be less funny if we actually knew the events surrounding the decision to compose chocolate into hand-sized bars. Some people believe "Critical Thinking" is an ability, like doing somersaults, that brains can apply toward any problem. Not so. Instead, Critical thinking is an activity requiring fuel, like starting a fire. Before it can illuminate, it needs appropriate materials. Those appropriate materials are historical background. (Natually, wood does not spontaneously burst into flame. I am not implying that with a better knowledge of history, everyone would get an "A" in Critical Thinking. I am suggesting that we all need the background before we can apply our thought.) That is why a politician knows better than a scientist what to do in Washington D.C. The scientist, though brilliant, is not aware of the same nuances that the politician is. That is because the scientist was not present or does not know about the back history. That is why social workers, fresh from college, have a significant disadvantage in dealing with the gang-riven streets: the peacemakers in the neighborhood know the WHYs behind the WHOs. By knowing a little bit about the background, by remembering history, we know more about our present stage. That is why I'm setting down how my wife and I sealed our engagement. When it is written, I can look back on it with the same detail as my brain has now, for detail, the rough edges that give each story footholds for the reader, erode with time until one is left with the impregnable and unilluminating fact that 'it happened. Period.'
I could have chosen to write how Lynné and I met. Perhaps I will one day. Instead, though, I must commit to one story at a time.
It happened on December 17th, 2003, that I gave Lynné the ring. I had donated plasma since January of that year (actually just earlier, I think) and, with a little added from my tutoring job, put the proceeds into a Paypal account. Twice a week for fifty-two weeks, I donated plasma and finally chose a ring (which she literally had to purchase for me since no diamondier would send his work to a totally different region. You see, I was studying at the University of North Texas (40 miles from Dallas), and she was living about 50 miles from Spokane. (How we met IS a good story.) So with money from selling blood, she chose and found a ring. I had it engraved secretly, and all of this in the autumn leading up to my visit in December where I had two weeks to present the ring officially to her.
She worked in Spokane as a seamstress during this time, commuting to and from Spokane each day. Since I had journeyed up to Spokane by plane, there was only one car for us both. I rode into town with her each day. When she started work, though, I was not allowed to spend too much time with her--she had a job to do. I did as well. I set about preparations. How does one prepare for such an event? I was essentially staging a scene where I would ask her to be my wife and all the rest. It was overcast and rainy. So my skywriter idea was out. She had asked me not to do it in a restaurant. So hiding it in her food wouldn't work. And on and on, my thoughts went for nearly a week.
The morning of December 17th, I felt more prepared. She and I had goneonce the previous year to this superb restaurant that was more like a marina--and I badgered her that morning to dine with me there. There was a lake, albeit frozen, and everything was more private. I even had some extra cash for the event. She hesitated. This restaurant was another 45 minutes driving--in the other direction. It was in a town called Sandpoint, beyond Spokane and Newport. But this was my less-than-subtle way of doing things, so she assented. So we drove into Spokane, and after dropping her off, I went to my errands.
Around 5 o'clock, I arrived to pick her up. She got into the car a little huffy. Her composure was regaining, but I wasn't sure from what. I found out that she and her boss had had a falling out again. She was hungry, tired, not really in a romantic mood. I am not one for tipping my cards too early, so I refrained from giving her the surprise waiting in the backseat. Instead, I talked to her, gently warming her up. And she turns to me at a red light, and says, "Youssef, I really don't want to drive all the way out to Sandpoint. I'm just--not in the mood right now."
"All right." That was her subtle refusal not to play the game I'd set up today. She wasn't feeling that romantic anyway. "Well, let's get something to eat anyway." I still was determined to do something with my preparations. So I drove to Division St.
Division is the main road of Spokane. If you've never been to Spokane, think of a brain full of wrinkles and lines. Division St. is the main crease down the center of the brain, and every other street is minor compared to it. Furthermore, it is lined with restaurants. Division is the testing ground of restaurant franchises, so it has the most--factual knowledge here--the absolute most restaurants on it than any road in North America. So, combined with the myriad of restaurants to choose from and my relative unfamiliarity with the area, you have to forgive me for asking her where she wanted to eat. Normally, the chivalrous thing would be to take up the decision and find some place good. To me, each place was equally good and bad. I never saw so many restaurant signs as I did on that rainy December 17th.
"Oh, can we go to the Onion?"
The Onion? Had I heard her right? There were five restaurants I'd just passed that had more romantic names. The original restaurant I wanted was called "Swan's Landing," but now I would settle for any place more romantic sounding than "The Onion." I felt that to walk in would be a jinx on my breath--and any talking I hoped to do there.
"Sure," I said.
The rain had turned to slush by the time we parked, and I got us as near to the door as I could. We walked in, and waited. I took in the entire ambience.
The Onion reminded me of so many "Chili's" restaurants I'd been to. Casual, rambunctious, and with a thin veil of smoke hovering below the ceiling that smells of burgers, steak, and fajitas. When we were seated, Lynné and I spent a few quiet minutes deciding what to order. I was bursting already, but my stomach was empty.
Right after the waitress took our order, Lynné asked, "Is everything all right?"
It was like having the tab pulled on a shaken Pepsi can. I burst into a silly tirade about how nervous I feel when I don't know that I have anything to be nervous over, how out of my element I felt at trying to orchestrate something of the magnitude I wanted for her in a town I barely knew, and on and on. I remember these words. "I want to meet what you are hoping for, what you're expecting. Here's what I wish I could do: We could have a romantic dinner, and then walk up the hill behind your house. The trees part, the rocks move, and a voice in the air echoes the feeling in my heart: Take this ring; be my wife." I paused. "I don't know if it'll be that good."
Lynné was laughing at me at this point. "It doesn't have to be like that."
"But I want it to be something you remember," I said. And I decided not to do it that night, in my head. So, I said, "Would you excuse me? ... bathroom."
The surprise in my car was a pair of roses. I didn't know how well they held up after being in the car half of the day anyway. Of course, if I wasn't going to present the ring today, that would be $10 or so wasted. As well as the roses. So, why not give them to her? In our long-distance talk, she and I had been sending flower messages to each other. We both had a definition sheet of what the flowers meant in Shakespeare's times. And I intended to give her a flower message tonight, even if she wasn't going to get the ring.
When I returned, she was completely surprised. Here, my mouth took over. I sat down.
"I bought these roses for you. The red rose represents all of the substance within a marriage: love, passion, and courage. The white rose represents the hows, the manners of a marriage: transparency, honesty, purity. The two roses together represent unity of love, and that they are tied by a ribbon represents an engagement." This reminded me of the book reports I delivered in third grade: hasty recitation of fact, opinion, and insight delivered in choppy sentences. "The two roses depict a hopeful picture until you look at them closer.
"The white rose is a little yellowed, and the red rose has wrinkles in the petals. They represent a difficult path. I cannot offer you perfect roses in the same way I cannot offer a perfect marriage. These roses have undergone a hard life, much like diamonds.
"Diamonds, like the one for your wedding ring, are formed deep in the earth, hidden from everything else. They are dead life--plants and animals that traveled deep into the earth. And the whole earth shifts to put pressure and heat on that raw material. It's a difficult process taking many years. That's the picture of marriage I can offer you.
"I could have offered something less than diamonds. Sapphires, ruby, or emeralds--they are all the same stone, formed in the same caverns, and undergo an easier transformation. But they break easy, too. I could have offered you one of the deep green stones, a mineral that forms very deep underground into an intricate pattern so beautiful that geologists brave deep caves to find them. And they can never leave the deep caves with that stone. That stone depends on the pressure; it will rust and fall apart if its removed from the depths. That I cannot offer you either.
"I love you. Would--" and here I was cut short by the arrival of our food.
And that's when I realized that here was the mood, here was the moment--but in a restaurant. A restaurant called The Onion. "Can we have our check now?"
"Yeah, sure."
"Can we box this up? I want to leave as soon as possible."
The next five minutes were a blur for me. I grabbed, pack, swiped, ran. Lynné was so calm, I think she floated to the car. The car drive, she says, lasted only a little while. I think it lasted for weeks--and that's a long time for your "perfect moment" to linger. We zipped to her parents' house, and I said, "Let's go up the hill, even if it snows on us." It was snowing already.
She asked, "Should we go in and tell them we're home?"
I grabbed my last prop, two pages of paper, from the car and said, "Nope, they'll figure it out."
We walked in mostly silence up the hill. The snow was over a foot deep. I could tell because my city shoes were not high and my socks were wet and cold. The forest that covered our trail was dark. Things moved in the shadows that we thankfully didn't see. Halfway up, I wondered if the top of the hill was the best place to deliver my words: my breathing had become wheezing. (It was the altitude--I'm normally in good shape, especially for just a walk.) Even so, we continued, and we didn't even notice the change in the world around us until we reached the top.
The clouds with the snow had drifted off a bit, mingling with farther hills and mountains. The trees spread out, sparse-looking in the daylight and evenly spread at night. The night had decidedly fallen, and the light of the moon dimmed away. It was a new moon that night, I think. The stars glowed brightly. What we couldn't see of our way didn't matter, Lynné was more familiar with the path, and at this point, she found and stood on her favorite rock.
"I brought this," I said, pulling out my papers. "They're lists. I stayed up last night thinking about what I like and do not like about you. They're honest lists. I realized today, though, that they don't matter at all. Each item on this list could change the next day, either in my mind or in you. None of them matters in making a decision this big. Only the Lord, He who brought us together in the first place, can bring two people together like this, and only He can deliver love to two mortals like us." I was feeling in my pocket for the ring. Where was it?
"What matters in this decision is, do I believe He brought us together?" There it was! My numb fingers couldn't feel it! "Yes!" I said, "I do believe He did." And I pulled my hand out of my pocket. The ring felt slick, like it would fall. I sank on one knee, thinking I'd be able to find it if it fell. And the cold snow wet my pant leg, nearly freezing it to me. How would I read the engraving in this light? I clasped my palm into her hand, pressing the ring to her. "I had the ring engraved. It says, 'Know how I love you. 1 Corinthians 13: 7 - 8.' That verse is 'Love bears all things, believes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. But if there is prophecies, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will pass away; if there are tongues, they will stop.' And that is how I love you. Will you be my wife?"
She grabbed me, hugged me, and we nearly fell back in the snow. As we stood there, warming, the night sky seemed unique in some way. Orion stood, steadying his aim on our left. Just opposite him was a cluster of stars, bunched very close together. As we watched, they began to fall--one streak after another. We saw seven that night, I think. She slipped the ring on, handing me the butterfly ring I had bought for her once. Then, Lynné looked at me and said, "Did I say yes? Yes. I said that, right?"
I nodded and told her that, yes, she did say it.

And that is how I presented my wife her ring. I like how unplanned the important parts were.

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