December 13, 2017

Walter Wangerin: Ignoring God’s Staged Armistice

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In his book, Ragman: And Other Cries of Faith, Walter Wangerin writes about the way he and his wife Thanne fought throughout their marriage. Their bouts would follow a pattern.

He talked.

She was silent.

Then she would cry.

He would sigh to signal that he had troubles too, and would ask her what was the matter. And she would cry.

He would concede guilt and ask her what he had done. And she would cry.

He would press her, try to touch her, stomp around the room in anguish.

She would stop crying, and let him have it — “And then poured forth such an ocean of wrongs, such a delineation of sins in such numbered and dated detail (whether I had intended any of them or not!) that I would stand shocked before the passion in one so short, plain drowning in her venom, aware that things had gotten out of hand, but speechless myself and very weak.”

And he would throw his coat on and walk out.

Take that!

But then it happened that the Lord intervened, and one night there should have been a different ending to the battle.

…On that particular night (my birthday, as I remember, and Thanne had strung that fact in large letters from wall to wall of the living room, dear woman) we had followed the usual script of our non-fights latterly, through solicitation, tears, pressure, tears, stompings, undeserved accusations and the basset hound look in my face, and tears —

Indeed, all went well, right up to the jamming of my arms into the overcoat, the running downstairs, and the dramatic leap into the night. But then God piddled on the affair.

When I slammed the front door, I caught my coat in it.

Mad and madder, I rifled my pockets for the key, to unlock the damn door, to complete this most crucial tactic against Thanne’s peace of mind. Take —

But there was no key. My tail was truly in the door, and the door was made of oak.

I had two alternatives. Either I could shed the coat and pace the night unhouseled, unprotected. There was real drama in that, a tremendous statement of my heart’s hurt — except that Thanne wouldn’t know it, and the temperature was below freezing.

Or else I could ring the doorbell.

Ten minutes of blue shivering convinced me which was the more expedient measure. I rang the doorbell.

So then, my wife came down the steps. So then, my wife peeped out. So then, my wife unlocked the door — and what was she doing? Laughing! Oh, she laughed so hard the tears streamed down her face and she had to put her hand on my shoulder, to hold her up.

And I could have smiled a little bit, too. I could have chuckled a tiny chuckle; for this was the gift of God, arranging armistice, staging reconciliation between a wife and her husband, a gift more sweet than all the rains of heaven. Laughter: extraordinary forgiveness!

But what did the dummy do? Well, he batted her hand away, cried “Hmph!” and bolted to stalk the night more grimly than ever before. Then he should have wondered about the survival of his marriage, not by fights distressed, but by his stupid, blind, inordinate and all-consuming pride.

For he had denied the manipulations of the Deity.

Comments

  1. That the happiness and sanity of ourselves and others lies at the mercy of our egos…

    Lord have mercy.

  2. I’ve played out the equivalent of this scene with my wife on more occasions than I can count. It was following those moments, when my pride had made its sterile and empty gestures of defiance, that I truly did wonder about the survival of my marriage. In the aftermath of those moments I became aware of my utter powerlessness to fix what I had done, and that I had given away any right to have further influence over, or say in, whether my marriage would survive or not.

    Those were moments and nights and days of dread.

    You would think that even one such moment of dread and powerlessness would have been enough to humble me, but, alas, it wasn’t. Even after many such moments, my pride kicks me hard from the inside, always trying to get out to poison and destroy. You could say my marriage has survived, but I sometimes wonder, and I know my wife sometimes wonders, if it really has.

  3. Their style of arguing sounds like the plot of Hemingway’s short story “Hills Like White Elephants.” We never learn the end of that story however, proving that the reader’s imagination is an important part of fiction.

    • So what happened with Walter and his wife? I assume he came home.

    • A bit off-topic, but I have always loved Hills Like White Elephants, and I’ve always been surprised that macho-man Hemingway wrote something so sensitive to a woman’s viewpoint. As far as I know, he never did again.

      I’ve never had any question about the end of the story, as far as the immediate topic (abortion) is concerned. As far as the relationship, it’s obviously not going to be any good (“And we could have all this,”she said. “And we could have everything…”)

  4. This reminds me of the Tragedian/Dwarf Ghost section of The Great Divorce, but with a happy ending.

    I do not know that I ever saw anything more terrible than the struggle of that Dwarf Ghost against joy. For he had almost been overcome. Somewhere, incalculable ages ago, there must have been gleams of humour and reason in him. For one moment, while she looked at him in her love and mirth, he saw the absurdity of the Tragedian. For one moment he did not at all misunderstand her laughter: he too must once have known that no people find each other more absurd than lovers. But the light that reached him, reached him against his will. This was not the meeting he had pictured; he would not accept it.

    Whenever I fight with my wife, and I have the opportunity to just suck it up and end it, but I really really don’t want, I always think of the Tragedian. I could just let it go…but man, ego is stubborn.

    • Clay Crouch says:

      Yes, my need to justify and ability score keep is boundless.

      • My marriage is based on three words from a Billy Joel song: “Don’t go changin’.” I say those words to her even when I don’t necessarily feel them just to remind me that this marriage is not a structured program for my wife’s improvement. Neither is it one for mine (though sometimes there would seem to be more of a need for that). Let go, give in, allow, accept; or stated positively, cherish, celebrate, embrace. Either way it’s all tough business when our dander is up. One of the things I insist on for levity’ sake is that she periodically quote the end of that line from the movie Beetlejuice where Michael Keeton magically takes over Winona Ryder’s voice and says, ” I am Lydia Deetz and I am of sound mind. The man next to me is the one I want. You asked me, I’m answering. Yes I love that man of mine.” Levity and small kindnesses go a long way in some cases. Giving in to the smile or the laugh because in the end this is the person to whom I am joined. Sometimes it’s the same with the Lord when we stare into the abyss but admit that we are not going anywhere. He has our hearts.

        • This was meant generally, not as a specific reply. Obviously it’s in the context of the conversation.

  5. @Chap Mike: your recent thread on marriage is like reading an oncology report. Not sure what stage my illnesses are, and not sure of either prognosis, or diagnosis, but I’m grateful to get what I would want from any medical specialist: Brutal and complete honesty. thanks for giving straightforward, yet hopeful words regarding marriage.

    God have mercy on all who’ve made these vows before GOD and men; especially upon me.

    • +1.

      I was at a Christian conference several weeks ago and one of the speakers spoke about Nehemiah and suggested that when Nehemiah heard about the brokenness of Jerusalem (Neh. 1:3) he could’ve stuck his head in the sand and said “Not my problem.” Instead, he faced the reality of the brokenness (v.4) and decided to do something about it.

      I am broken. My marriage has cracks in it. I can either stick my head in the sand and pretend it ain’t broke, or I can face reality, sit down, weep, fast and pray before the God of heaven for help. Currently, I’ve chosen the latter, praying that God helps me bring the fruits of the spirit into our home and marriage.

    • Clay Crouch says:

      I’m afraid we’re all terminal. But that’s good news!

  6. And this is the genius of marriage, isn’t it?

    Marriage vows handcuff two people together so that they HAVE to figure out how to live, to survive, to manage together. It is a gift from God to face us with communion. Much like the Eucharist, I think, but in marriage, we experience the humiliation, the self-denial, the suffering ourselves. At least, that’s the idea. The actual result is often quite different.

    When we refuse to take the Christ posture (pride!), it is then we have the dragging of one where he or she does not want to go. The beating senseless of one who cannot escape. The earplugs and wall-building. The sulking silent truce. Or the gnawing off of arms to escape.

    I’m also thinking of how this relates to the Benedictine vow of stability. There is a common thread there I think. Recognizing that pride is deadly, and that staying in “one place” is a great exercise in humility. And so perhaps we (the church) needs to start teaching how marriage truly is a spiritual discipline in the truest sense of the word.

  7. Just based on the story before the block quote…that wife is highly manipulative and I’d encourage that man to get a divorce. There’s no reason to keep a marriage like that going, since it’s not even a marriage anymore. It’s “the manipulations of the Deity”, or someone who thinks they are.

    But then the Lord intervened.

    • slightly off topic, but right now I’m very thankful I’m single and not married. Not that I had had opportunities to get married, but if I had drunk the koolaid a little more I’d probably be married with many kids and working in some IFB ministry somewhere. But if I was that person, and went through all that I’ve gone through in the past year or two, I’d probably be getting divorced and running as fast away as I can from that life.

      Thank God for the small mercies.

    • Hard to tell, but it does sound like there was fault on both sides. And frankly, though he shouldn’t have walked out, I didn’t find her laughter so very charming if he accurately described the argument that led to that scene. You laugh at yourself if you want to make peace after a bitter argument–it would have been great if he had done the laughing first and then she joined in.

  8. ‘Fighting’ in marriage is not always what it seems. I can tell you about a phenomenon noticed by military wives (Navy) of whom I was one . . .

    it seems that during the week prior to a deployment overseas or a six-months cruise, a devoted couple may have a ‘fight’ . . . which then somehow eases ‘saying goodbye’, go figure.

    Psychologically, I’m sure this can be explained (emphasis on ‘psycho’, not ‘logic’ ), but a lot of us Navy wives saw this in our own marriages and accepted it as a part of the ‘ritual’ in those days prior to a long separation.
    Was it a way of ‘letting go’, or was it a ‘gone-wrong’ expression of how much we cared for each other? I don’t know. Likely some of both, because it seemed to be a way of relieving the tension of separation and many of us wives were surprised to find out that it happened to other Navy couples also . . . I sometimes think that it was a ‘fast-forwarding’ expression of concerns coming out ‘all at once’ out of necessity as time together was running out to deal with these concerns. So perhaps these ‘fights’ were just compacted discussions, too much at one time, overwhelming, emotional, but somehow necessary in the scheme of things.