Art and I need to begin writing our Ketubah. Before our August 20 wedding. If we can. A Ketubah is a document signed by Jews – bride, groom, officiant and witnesses – that details promises and hopes for a couple in their married life. Stew and I never had one. Instead, Stew liked to say “Our Ketubah is in Cuba with Dhoruba.” Dhoruba being a jailed (and now freed thanks to Bob Boyle, a former student of mine turned lawyer) Black Panther.
With Stew, I never desired a written document. I accepted Stew’s rhyme as a Stew-style commitment that symbolized he and I would treat each other as we thought good revolutionaries must: with equality, passion and with great love. In our Yippie way, we modeled ourselves after Che – a true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love….and hate. Stew’s and my relationship maintained itself on great feelings of love – for each other, for Jessica, for our friends. We focused our hatred not toward each other but on the multiple oppressions that surrounded us. It worked for the almost 30 years we lived and loved together.
With David, I had a document that we wrote together, that I had calligrapher and for a while longer will maintain it’s place above the couch. Its most memorable phrase Is that he and I would be tolerant of each other’s “eccentricities and fuck-ups.” Our statement turned out to be too superficial. Building a strong relationship goes a lot deeper than putting up with eccentricities such my revulsion at David’s eating week plus old food. Or fuck-ups which I know we both made but can no longer recall. A strong relationship includes developing an ability to communicate a seriously and deeply. I did not always do that with David. Instead, I tolerated his occasional mean remarks, remarks he would make not just to me but also to long time friends and cohousers. I would work them out with my therapist but not with him. Still, a week before David died; he was sitting on a chair & I sat facing him on the bed. Out of the blue, he said, “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry for what?” I asked.
“For every time I was mean to you.”
Any hostility I harbored vanished in that instant, it was as if David’s harsh remarks had nnever happened. My conclusion? a heart-felt apology is more binding in the face of impending death than words in a ketubah can ever be in life.
Art and I are very grateful to have found each other in this, the final chapters of our lives. One of the many strengths of our relationship is that we talk to each other deeply and truthfully about everything. We recognize we don’t have that much time left. We do have disagreements but we have no reason to dissemble. Or to cover up. So we talk. Constantly and deeply.
Art and I do, however, disagree about some political issues. When we first got together we made a wise decision. Bob Dylan’s has a line in Love Minus Zero/No Limit: ” I know too much to argue or to judge.” Art and I agreed – when we disagreed on politics we would “Bob” it. Put it aside. If we had not done that, I believe that our relationship would not have survived.
Stew and I grew up together as Yippies, we protested for decades without political disagreement, with one major exception – the years between 1970 & 1972 I left him to join the women’s movement. With Art, I was so used to having political single-mindedness as a couple, it was difficult for me at first to tolerate a relationship with a man some of whose views differed from mine. Art is a full-n progressive, hates T***P as much as I do, but we disagree on the Middle East. Still, I recognize as my 74 the birthday approaches that political differences can be secondary; it’s the relationship, the time we will have to spend together that counts. I look for guidance to my married friends of 30 plus years, women who I respect, who don’t agree politically with their spouses. I tell myself if they can tolerate differences, so can I.
Underlying my decision to be tolerant is that both I and Art are surrounded by ill and dying friends. That turns out to be what happens when you reach our age, but youth culture did not prepare me for getting older. Still it emphasizes to me the importance of the love, comfort and companionship our relationship brings.
So I ask – what exactly should we put in our ketubah except a commitment to commitment?