Sometime around the year 1420, a monk named Thomas a Kempis wrote a book, The Imitation of Christ, which in the fulness of time would become the most widely-read Christian book besides the Bible. And, in its turn, it also became one of the all-time favorite books of one Mr. Desmond Jones.
The Imitation reads sort of like a medieval Christian Book of Proverbs - wisdom for living the Christian life from a wise old monk. It is simply dense with rich and challenging quotes, several of which have made their way into 'Desmond's Book of Quotes' (not available in stores). One of my favorites, which I commend to the attention of all my blog-friends is this, from chapter 6 of Book 3:
"A wise lover does not so much consider the gift of his lover as he does the love of the giver."
I first came across this many years ago, but it has become one of the favorite 'bywords' that Molly and I will quote to each other. It bespeaks a kind of humble gratitude, which has served us really well in building our marriage over the years.
On the face of it, it's pretty simple, really - sort of like etiquette advice for opening presents on Christmas morning - be grateful for the gifts you get, even if they're not exactly the ones you were hoping for. But you know, Thomas doesn't present it as etiquette advice; he just says, "A wise lover. . ." More like, "this is wisdom beyond what meets the eye. . ." And it works on multiple levels. . .
I'm adopted. At some point when I was in college, I connected the dots, and the realization dawned on me that I had been somebody's 'unwanted pregnancy'. It occurred to me that my very existence was due to somebody I'd never met taking the trouble to see me through nine months of pregnancy. Molly and I got married and began having our own children - 1F was actually the first person I ever knew who was genetically related to me. And all the while, the realization of what it had cost my birth-mother for me to be alive was growing stronger. Until finally, the sense of gratitude for my own existence became my strongest motivation to find and meet my birth-mother.
My birth-mother and I have always had a great relationship. Not so much because either of us are such wonderful people, but because at the bottom of it all, our relationship is one of mutual gratitude - I'm grateful to her for giving me life (and putting up with everything that went into that, including relinquishing me to be adopted by a family that could raise me), and she's grateful, even after all the years, to have a relationship with the son of her womb (and a fine son he is, if I may say so myself). We're both fairly quirky individuals, and there would be a lot to be annoyed with in each other, if we were so inclined, but from the beginning, our relationship has been founded on gratitude, so the quirks just seem really minor.
And all the moreso in marriage. I'm so grateful to Molly for throwing her life in with mine, for the love she gives me every day, and for the richness of the life we share together, that her quirks just aren't a very big deal by comparison. And I know that it works the same way from her end.
It's not just a matter of 'seeing the glass half-full' or 'looking on the bright side', although both of those are good advice. Temperamentally, I'm not a 'glass-half-full' person. But being able to receive with joy 'the gift my lover brings', just because I know how it's expressive of her love for me (quite a separate question from how good a gift it is), brings deep joy to my whole life. Does that make sense?
So I'm not really meaning to hold myself up as a shining example of superior virtue, or anything like that. But I do believe that we've learned something really good and valuable, and I'd commend it to any of my friends who can receive it.