Tuesday, December 09, 2008

We're Buildling Something Here

One of the classes I taught this semester ended the term by reading Nick Hornby's How to be Good. I had read it a few years back and put it on the syllabus in the hopes that it would present students a compelling picture of the challenges of searching for happiness in our crazy 21st century world--challenges that face even those of us in the suburban middle class. From the feedback I've received, it achieved those aims fairly well. It's not a perfect book, by any means. But Hornby's always a blast to read and I think that despite its faults, it qualifies as a very good book. I'd recommend it for your holiday reading pleasure if you're in the market for a ride that is both entertaining and thought provoking.

Marriage and domestic life lie at the heart of How to be Good and my own connection with the novel is at that level. (Since none of my students were married, I worried that this theme might be an impediment for them. But there is enough other stuff going on that it didn't seem to be a problem.) The main character is struggling with her commitment to her husband, her children, her career. Infidelity is part of the package but a mere desire to sleep with someone else isn't really the issue. It's rather that she's at something of a loss for why she should continue to put in the time and effort it takes to maintain domestic tranquility (to say nothing of domestic bliss).

Maybe I'm wrong but my guess is that these kinds of questions surface in some form for most anyone who has been at marriage and family for any length of time. It's hard. We feel trapped, sometimes--impeded by our obligations from doing what we'd really like to be doing. We don't always like our loved ones--be they old or young--and wonder if maybe life would be better if we were on our own. When we're in the grip of these concerns, the familiar themes of affection and love don't really bring us back into the fold since they are precisely what we aren't feeling. They ebb and flow and can't be relied upon when we need them. And if we are simply reminded of our commitment, we may only wonder whether it's one we should have made. We may not agonize or dwell on these thoughts. But my guess is that many of us have had them.

So why stay in the game? Why put up with it all? Here's the conclusion I've come to ten years and two kids down the road of family life. Because building anything of value--anything important or significant--is difficult and challenging and at the end of the day, domestic life is about building something: a family. A family is a creation--possibly the most beautiful human creation there can be and without a doubt exponentially more beautiful than the Sistine Chapel. And (to mix metaphors) even though we smudge the canvass occasionally and can't always balance the colors quite right, if we continue to work at it, we can put down our brushes after 50 years and rest content in the masterpiece we created.

1 comment:

abby said...

You put Nick Hornby on your course reading list, so you rock.