Here's my take on Valentine's Day: on February 14, I remember that there's always enough. I will explain.
I got married about eight and a half months ago, at 41. By the time I said I do, I had been living a pretty habit-ridden bachelor existence for quite some time. A congenital daydreamer, I used to spend most of my time either at the movies or poring through my personal library, which was stuffed into a one-room apartment. I could have afforded more space had I wanted to live in the boroughs, but my dream of being a writer had always been tied to life in Manhattan--and one room had always been enough for me anyway. I liked having my stuff at hand--my stuff being books. I didn't like living a diffused life. It was safe, because one room was a bare minimum, and I didn't believe in taking giant steps toward realizing those big dreams of mine, for fear of overstepping some fixed boundary set by an inscrutible fate. The penalty would surely be the undoing of what progress I had already made.
Now, my wife, Denise, had also been used to living in tight spaces and making do with the bare minimum. But she was also used to sharing, either with siblings or roommates. Yet she was always able to find room, not because she accommodated herself to the space, but because the space seemed to accommodate itself to her. She was a loaves-and-fishes kind of person. She made things blossom, which I should have expected, since she is also a plant person. For years she designed indoor landscapes and gardens, finding ways to make dead space bloom. The only plants I knew of spewed soot onto my windowsills.
Denise also had what I would call an expansive spirituality: a vague pantheism, a little Catholic Mariology, a little angelology, a belief in psychic phenomena. She had also accepted Jesus as personal savior at a revival meeting. There was room in her soul for many definitions of the divine.
Conversely, by the time we started dating, my spiritual world was a cramped and lonely business. I was caught in a no-man's-land between a Calvinism that taught there was just enough grace for the Elect--and if you had to ask who the Elect were, I guarantee, it wasn't you--and complete spiritual exhaustion. My father had just died after several years of suffering through Alzheimer's disease, and God seemed very far away. The idea that there was some magical quality to the universe, or that there were angels or faeries keeping watch over us, or an almighty paternalistic deity, for that matter, was ludicrous. It's not so much that I stopped believing in the existence of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but that I no longer believed we miserable sinners mattered to him.
So I moved to Brooklyn. I am not fond of Brooklyn. Brooklyn is just Queens with beachfront property. Dogs barking morning, noon, and night. Noisy next-door neighbors out partying in their yards till 2 in the morning. Congregants of a Pentecostal church streaming out into the street at 10 p.m., tambourines in hand. But what was worse--there was no room.
How can that be, when I had exchanged a one-room apartment for a two-bedroom with dining nook? There's no room because there's too much room. Nothing was at hand anymore. And it seemed that Denise had spilled into everything. There was no clearly defined me-space and she-space. Then I saw my way out. I had landed a job at Reader's Digest magazine, whose headquarters are in Westchester, N.Y. That meant a four-and-a-half-hour commute every day. Now I had the perfect excuse to get out of Brooklyn. I'd find more room. In Manhattan.
Those of you who know what housing is like in Manhattan are already falling off your chairs. "You're leaving Brooklyn to find more room...in Manhattan?" Yet I blithely assumed that my fatter salary and a depressed rental market would take care of everything. Of course, nothing in New York is so simple.
I couldn't look for apartments during the week because I was stuck in Chappaqua all day. Every normal-size apartment I saw was beyond my means, even though I was making more money then ever. What was within my means made my old studio look like a Brazilian soccer stadium. Not enough money, not enough time, not enough room. That's all marriage was beginning to mean to me. I was barely getting my own needs met when I was single, constantly struggling to appease an angry God determined, as I saw it, to undermine me at every turn. Now all the decisions I made--where I worked, how long it took me to get there and back, where I lived, how I spent my money--had to take into consideration another person's needs. I'm sorry, I don't have the resources. There isn't enough.
Denise took all this in stride. She intrepidly sought out apartments up and down the East Side of Manhattan, excited because being back in the city would make me happy. She had already made room for everything in her heart and in her head. Of course there's enough room. Of course we'll economize.
Easter is the story of how the eternal Word of God was murdered, because the world had no room for salvation. Who wants to be told "Your sins are forgiven"? Better to be told you have been sinned against. So he was placed in a tomb. But the dark places could not contain him. He burst back into the world and proclaimed the end of all that constrains us. He bought back the world and its goods from sin, death, and the devil, making it all a Valentine--a love gift--to us.
There is only one condition: you must say thank you. But how? Realize that you are not alone anymore, that you must take someone else into consideration, and that there is no going back to your old way of life. But it's okay, because there's more than enough. I had to learn what I already knew: there will never be enough money, time, and room, as long as I fail to say thank you.
This, then, is a Valentine to my wife, who showed me there is always room, right where I am, if only I would see with better eyes. Thank you. And this is a Valentine to a revived faith in a God who promised "In my father's house there are many mansions." Thank you. For now, though, Brooklyn will do.