By mistake? Oh, well maybe everyone does that.
But mine was a grammatical error.
Let me explain.
It is 1988. I am teaching English 1A to adults pretending to study English. They are actually in my class to obtain and maintain their student visas. The men succeed in not learning better than the women. So, in the interest of justice and fun (and being a former feminist), I don’t discriminate; I give all the men Ds. They consider their grades a joke. And among my underachieving students is my husband to-be. He asks me before, during and after class for the whole semester and succeeds (even without the benefit of eloquent English) not just in achieving a date with me but on winning my hand on our very first date!
Three months later we are on what can only be called a honeymoon by a great stretch of the imagination. We are in his country and all of the inhabitants are his relations. We are waiting for his visa so he can return to the US. We are a week into this experience when his sister in law (the only one among the throng who speaks English) asks me with undisguised wonder how we got married. I proudly relate the romantic story of my husband’s proposal on our first date.
In a surprised voice my sister in law tells me that my husband told her that I proposed to him! Me propose? What an outrage! What could this be about? Why would he make up such an absurd lie? How did I do it? I demand to know. Did I get down on bended knee? I fume: I would never propose to a man! (Feminism – out the window). I insist that I would know if I had proposed! I add I wouldn’t make a mistake about the most important moment of my life! (I’ve turned into my 1950’s Barbie doll). I’m furious!
She translates (where was she on my first date when I needed her?) that he said he would marry me if things worked out!
What! He said “I will marry you if you want” Not would! Nothing about if things worked out.
I explain to my sister in law. “I’ll tell you exactly what he said! He had just told to me that besides having a language gap we had a significant age gap. This seemed like a serious challenge to my mind. I was attempting to convey that to him in simple English by saying, ‘You are so nice. It’s too bad you are eight years younger than me. We could never marry.’ To which he replied, ‘I will marry you if you want.’ And I replied (copying his syntax) ‘I want.’”
Now my husband directly states the facts as he understands them: “You told me that you wanted to marry me, so I said OK.”
I get it! He never learned the conditional tense… the word ‘would’ was taught in the English 1B curriculum.
Thus the deed was done. What now?
What do we do when we realize we have made a mistake of breathtaking proportions?
What I did. I did the absolutely least logical thing possible: I carried on as if nothing had happened!
And hated myself for my mistake.
Five years later. I am at a lecture for married couples who want to improve their relationship. The speaker enters the room wearing a very substantial fur hat; a knee length black coat in a style sported in Poland a century ago and a long untrimmed beard. He is introduced as a Hassidic rabbi who works in the diamond district of Manhattan. He begins his talk by asking the couples in the room to raise our hands if they would marry their spouses again knowing what they know now. Not a hand shoots up. Then slowly, and with glances around, all the hands go up. The message was clear; everyone had gotten married by mistake! (Admittedly not by grammatical error – but really what’s the difference – we all wound up in the same place anyway.)
The rabbi then shares that he does marriage counseling and that he had presented day after day, year after year with couples who are almost exact opposites and absolutely incompatible. What truly amazes him, he says, is that these people ever believed they were compatible and had anything in common!
He then asks us if we know how a diamond is polished. He explains that that a diamond can only be polished by another diamond and that the friction brings out their perfection. He clenches his hands into fists and brings them together and twists his fists against each other.
He tells us “This friction is marriage. The purpose of marriage is the perfection of two people. The friction removes our rough edges and brings out our perfections!”
So marriage is a God-trick!
Wow! All our “negative” relationships are divinely ordained! All those annoying people at work, at cash registers, not to mention our blood relations are positioned to aggravate us on purpose… by God! No use begging Him to fix our enemies. No point in switching jobs or lines to avoid stress. Friction producers will beset us (I mean perfect us) every step of the way. God has a sense of humor!
We cannot avoid “stress”. Stress (or friction) isn’t the consequence of relationships – it’s the purpose! People are literally here to annoy the hell out of you. Actually, the friction is the relationship!
So what can we do to accelerate our growth (besides choosing a mismatch in marriage) to improve our lives? Just follow these four simple steps:
- Expect idiocy. Stop being shocked when things go wrong. Quit imagining that you (and others) are reasonable and capable. A little observation of human behavior will convince you that none of us are primarily motivated by reason. If we were rational beings we would let Chihuahuas become extinct, choose Aloe Vera juice and kelp over Crème Brule, forgive our siblings for being born, stop multitasking, never go to war or shopping malls, avoid Mocha Lattes, Coach bags and excesses of all kinds, drink eight glasses of filtered water daily, and we’d all be happy, healthy and wise. Not the case. People are more or less idiots. You too. No need to feel deceived, angry, dismayed, humiliated, or take revenge.
- Every time you encounter things that start with an i (ineptitude, incompetence, idiots, injustice, irrationality, interruptions, insults and insects), ask: What can I learn from this irritant? Keep your mind focused on the idea that annoyances are spiritual assets. Cherish the opportunities that noxious people and places afford you to perfect yourself. Choose the path of irritation.Bless your difficult, inept and uncooperative co-workers, partner (or ex), your children, parents, voice mail menus and people everywhere for offering you opportunities to develop patience and compassion (or both!) and accelerating your trip to enlightenment!
- Get ready to tumble! It’s human nature to climb mountains. And there is a natural law that says: What goes up must go down. We don’t really want to play a game where we are guaranteed to win. It’s boring. God set up the game of life so we are motivated to play: no guarantees, lots of confusion, and thankfully plenty of folks to inspire us by giving us a little push just when we think we’ve reached solid ground. Skip the blame and shame. When we fail we usually look for someone to blame but if we really investigate our feelings it’s always ourselves we are really upset with. Berating ourselves (or others) never improves performance. Try making someone develop a skill or work faster by yelling at them (I have-hasn’t worked yet).
- Share your mistakes… with everyone! Other people find them funny. Better yet – blog your most embarrassing moments – let the world enjoy them! After everyone finds out about how really inept you are it will be easier for you to embrace. If you did something drastic and really messed up your life you might even consider writing an edifying book about it and become a much sought after speaker. If you go to jail or get mixed up with crazy or very rich people someone might think it would amuse the public at large and you could be famous and make millions helping others see how bad your mistake was. Just a thought.
Remember, it’s all right. Ultimately, there are no mistakes. No wrong turns. The climb is steep, we are flawed, idiocy abounds… and that’s just perfect.