I do not know if there is such a thing as reincarnation. I don’t think any of us really knows. But I do know that, now and then, we meet someone we have such an affinity for, it might seem to us that we have shared a prior life with them. I have a friend like that. She is married, with kids, and about 20 years younger than me — Yet, despite those differences, it feels like I’ve known her for lifetimes.
Recently, we’ve become even closer. In a way, it is her husband who has thrown us together. He is a devout fundamentalist. For all the years of their marriage, he has felt it was his right — perhaps even his duty — to demand of her that she conform to his rules and expectations, which he believes are justified because they are religiously grounded. That’s to say, he does not care about her as a person so much as he cares about her religion or ideology.
Because of her husband’s religiously motivated indifference to her as a person, some of her most compelling needs as a human and as an individual have gone unfulfilled. Consequently, she has sought me out as someone who she feels might more fully accept her.
My friend was in her late teens when she got married. It seems, from what she’s told me, that the marriage was a bit on the loveless side from the start. He was always more interested in being true to his religion than in being true to his wife. She has also said that she would not marry him if she had to make that decision today. Yet, nevertheless, she wants her marriage to succeed. She clings to the hope he will change.
He is not a stupid man, but he is a man more driven by ideology than by love, and people who are more driven by ideologies than by love quite often behave as if they are the very model of a village idiot. He does not seem to fully comprehend what he has done — and what he still continues to do — to his wife. There is even a wicked part of me that feels absolutely no sympathy for him; that feels he has entirely brought upon himself the fact his wife is turning away from him; and that feels deeply offended at him for what he has done to her. Yet, I try to see more positive things in him than that. “At least”, I tell myself, “he is a good provider.”
His wife has tried to be a good fundamentalist Christian. She has involved herself in his church. She has studied his religion. She has forced upon herself his ideals, ethics, and morals. She has even fervently prayed to and worshiped his god. People have praised her. Told her she was a good Christian. A model wife. A saintly woman to admire and emulate. But none of that has worked for her, for all of that has been no more, nor any less, than a total betrayal of her self.
Although it sometimes seems she does not entirely grasp this fact, she is — in a profound, vital, and basic way — a free spirit. And that’s the rub. No matter what else the world’s fundamentalisms may be, they are not religions suited to the world’s free spirits. Mixing the two is like putting rocket fuel in a Model T: Something’s going to explode, and you will be lucky — very lucky — that when it does explode, parts of it don’t end up in three counties. She, my friend, has already ended up in the lap of another man (so to speak), and I judge the real explosion has only just begun.
By ranking his ideology higher than his wife, by ranking his religion higher than love, the fool is going to drive her from him more surely than if he actually beat away her with a stick — and she is a very strong woman who is otherwise so devoted to her husband and to her family that she still, even today, clings to the notion she can make her marriage work.
As for myself, I believe the marriage is over in all but name. There is a possibility she will somehow manage to make things work, but that possibility seems remote to me. Most ideologues have the learning curve of a brick. If they catch on, it’s usually too late, for — no matter how smart they rank by an IQ test — in life they are usually more concerned with fixing blame and guilt for things than with doing anything intelligent. Marriages take two people to work. I admire the immense effort she is undertaking to make her marriage work, but — and I could be wrong — I simply don’t think he is going to rise to the opportunity she is graciously creating for him.
Oh well. At least he’s saved his eternal soul.
I worry more about her than about him. There seems to me a much greater chance she — who is someone inclined to self-sacrifice — will “make her marriage work” at the steep cost of betraying her self — betraying who she is as a person — than there is a chance she will truly and genuinely make her marriage work. If she actually makes her marriage work (as opposed to merely making it last), then all will be well. But if she makes it work only at the expense of sacrificing herself, then my friend will inevitably become a hollow shell, a free spirit whose heart has been locked and channeled by Satan’s Corps of Engineers — and can you believe they do those things to rivers?
Now and then, I have known someone who made that infamous, wicked compromise with circumstances — that is, who chose to betray themselves to save a relationship — and I have observed that all too often their eyes appear lifeless and dead. Sometimes, they look out of those shades of theirs, those zombie eyes, like someone who hates for just being born. And, if you did not actually know their history, then you would never guess they were once deep rivers who flowed beautiful, wise, and unfettered to the sea.
At any rate, I’ve told you my opinion. Now, it’s time for yours. What do you think she should do? Any ideas?