Essay #2 - Renovations

It's been warming up this past week. I haven't been this excited about something in a long time. It's amazing how a little sunlight can make everything better. I can see why so many cultures throughout human history have worshiped the Sun. I mean I won't be performing any ritual sacrifices but I sure am grateful to that great mass of gravity and thermonuclear reaction that allows life on the planet, and today is bringing some sort of relief into mine.

...Overall the Parisiens seem indifferent.

I took a walk along the Seine to benefit from the weather. And it was there, standing in front of what Becca called "The Ugliest thing in Paris" that I realized something. It was the kind of realization that threatens to change everything, a brand new thought that blurred... or perhaps focused all my other thoughts, that changed their color and composition. I stood on the bank of the river watching all the pretty photons bouncing off the surface and in that moment I became aware of the fact that love is not permanent.

Depending on your particular level of adherence to the cult of romanticism you probably either think this statement is obvious, or that it couldn't possibly be true. Knowing you, you'll probably tell yourself that in the case of our love (yours and mine) of course it didn't last forever... and it's about time I realized that... but then you'll say that Love, in the overall sense of the word does last forever in some cases. But you're wrong. It doesn't. Not naturally. And this is the thought that changed everything, nothing naturally lasts forever and love is no exception. Perhaps you'll allow me to explain.

"The ugliest thing in Paris" is actually a giant temporary wall covered with larger than life pictures of police men and firefighters. It's designed to disguise the work-in-progress renovation of the police precinct. All of Paris (if I can speak for all of Paris) is waiting patiently for the construction to be finished so that they can take it down. To be honest, as ridiculous as the giant civil servants are, it probably is much nicer to look at than a giant scaffold. Even the construction in Paris has certain aesthetic standards. But today when I looked up at it I thought of New York City.

I love New York City. I've only been twice, for a total of a couple weeks, but I love New York City. There is an energy there... the whole city is just crawling with life. So much happening in so little area. It's like no place else that I have ever been. Both times I was there I noticed a large amount of construction. It seemed like it was everywhere. I remember mentioning this to Chris, a friend of mine who lived in New York. I think I said something like...

Me: It's a shame that there is all this construction, I'd like to see the city without all of these scaffolds.

Chris: There's always construction. In a city this big there are a lot of things to keep up.

When I first moved to Paris I noticed the same thing. Like New York, the construction is everywhere. Paris' metro system is fantastic but it seems like there is always something shut down, right now it's the line 1, every night after 10 PM. In addition barricades and other construction materials are scattered throughout the city, sometimes randomly it seems (side note: I once saw a woman duck behind one such abandoned construction barricade and turn it into a make shift toilet). Earlier this week I was down by the Porte Dorée off of the line 8. There was some major construction going on on a long stretch of the Boulevard Poniatowski. I watched them tear up the road for a while before they all went home for the night. Then today standing across the river from the police precinct renovation it occurred to me that Paris is always under construction.

This might seem evident, but let me finish. When I say always, I mean always. My realization was that in the last five hundred years or more there probably hasn't been a single day that something in the city didn't need to be built or fixed. This led me deeper to the realization that all cities are like this, all institutions are like this, all people are like this... all relationships are like this.

Everything is in a state of constant flux. Everything needs to be built, rebuilt, or maintained. All the time.

But people don't think like this. As I person, I can tell you that we live in an illusionary world of permanence. We think things will last. We use "long lasting" as an effective marketing slogan and we see change as a negative characteristic. When we buy a car we are always shocked when it needs repairs. When we come home from vacation we are always surprised at how fast the time went. And when our love is dried up... we cry and moan and wail. But the fact remains that no matter how long things last, nothing ever does. And no matter how long things take to change, everything will.

Our relationships are no exception. Consider this: all dating relationships end. 99% end when the people stop dating and the other 1% end in marriage. All of my dating relationships have ended. But you might say that in those other 1% of cases, love did last... and though half of those marriages end in divorce, in the other half won't their love last forever? No, it doesn't.  ...but maybe it can.

Diamond rings were chosen as symbols of a marriage possibly because a diamond lasts. Because of it's hardness it will endure daily wear and tear and stay brilliant. But this was a mistake. Marriages aren't like diamonds. Love is not like a diamond. The epiphany that I had was that all things naturally decay and change and fade. And love is no different. Love doesn't resist daily wear and tear. Love isn't permanent. Love is more like a city. Like a house. Like your bedroom. Like your car. Like everything else in the world that falls apart if we let it. And most of the time it just won't last unless we make special effort to take care of it. Love itself is not immune to the degeneration and decay, even if it's the love between two people that manage to stay married. Love must be constantly bolstered, strengthened, reinforced, invested in, if we want it to last. And it takes both sides. The man and the woman have to both agree that the love is worth preserving and then both put in the construction and renovation work necessary to maintain it.

But there is another problem here.

Take me for example. Because I always assume erroneously that everything will be around forever, it seems that I never really realize how much I really love something until it's gone. I never take the time to care for and appreciate something until I am threatened with loss (Take my teeth for example... or better yet... you). So most couples out there are taking each other for granted assuming that the other will always be around... assuming that their love is permanent. Most of them have never even asked themselves if their love is worth preserving... let alone put in the effort necessary to maintain it. And then they are always surprised when it doesn't work out. In essence they find out too late that something needed to be fixed, and then it's easier to move on than to fix it.

What I'm proposing is that we look at relationships differently. Instead of spending our lives searching for some imaginary love that is going to last forever, we can look at each of our relationships, our friendships, our marriages as a work in progress. More specifically I propose that we treat our relationships as if we are building a sand castle. Bear with me here, each relationship is a chance to create a beautiful and magical and temporary castle with someone else, made with sand and sweat and love. We know that it won't last. Even if we decide to build a wall around it or dig a channel to protect it from the sea, we still know at the end of the day that it won't be there tomorrow. So we do our best to create something beautiful, stopping often to admire our work and to plan the next phase. After we are done we take a moment to adore it, if it was particularly wonderful we take a picture, and then we move on. We know it can't last but we do it because we like the work. Of course as our castles are beaten down by the ocean there are many that we will just let go and others that we will want to rebuild. The difference comes from knowing from the beginning that we are building something temporary.

In rare cases we create something so fantastic that we both agree it's worth preserving. So we expand the walls and raise the roof and we move in. But channeling the tide and rebuilding protective walls is daily work that will never end. Because sandcastles are like everything else in life, they aren't designed to last forever. But like Paris and New York, if we invest enough effort, if we work on them long enough, we'll create something wonderful. In that sense a marriage is a life's work, and it's truly a masterpiece.

I wish I was on the beach now... But I'll settle for the bank of the Seine. Like I said before I'm just grateful that it's sunny today. Our sandcastle (yours and mine) was completely buried in the high tide. It's been utterly demolished. I haven't seen a trace of it in months. But I keep writing these letters hoping that maybe one day it can be rebuilt... in some form or another.

If there is a part of our relationships that lasts forever it's the part that we take with us out into the darkness... But a memory, as vividly as we might feel it, is not a relationship. 



Currently Listening:


U.S. Royalty - Equestrian

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