“Do you have any advice for me?” the dejected man said to Kabir, whom he had visited with great hope, after hearing numerous stories of his penetrating wisdom.
“Why?” said Kabir, spinning the yarn on his wheel. “What is the matter?”
“My wife and I are totally incompatible. We argue over pretty much everything. I don’t know how to save my marriage.”
“Don’t lose heart, my friend.” Kabir stopped weaving. “There’s always a solution.”
A few moments lingered on in silence during which Kabir went back to mumbling his poetry and turning the wheel of his charkha. The visitor was sweating and there was no relief from the merciless Indian sun. He kept shifting on the mat he was sitting on, darting glances here and there. His discomfort as great as his despair. No shade, no hand fan, how does this man even live here, forget writing poetry.
But Kabir seemed soaked in contentment and quietude. No complaining, no whining about the weather or the drudgery of life. The frugality he was thrust into just because he didn’t belong to one of the higher castes and therefore, his remarkable poetry hadn’t caught on, didn’t make him a bitter person.
“You there?” Kabir softly called out to his wife who was in the kitchen. “Can you get me the lantern?”
Some ten minutes later his wife came with a lantern and placed it next to him. The tiny flame, completely redundant in front of the resplendent sun, was steady.
“We have a visitor,” Kabir said to his wife, “please, can you give him some jaggery with water?”
Those days, the rich often welcomed their guests with a spread of sweetmeats with water. The middle class with sweet pickle of Indian gooseberry (amla murabba) and the poor treated their guests with jaggery and water.
Jaggery is fine, but what kind of a nutcase needs a lantern in this broad daylight? Yet, the man uttered not a word and simply observed.
Another ten minutes passed, though it felt much longer, and his wife came out holding a glass of water and a plate that had an assortment of savory snacks. Kabir thanked his wife and offered the munchies to his guest.
What is this madness? First, she brings him a lantern in the middle of the day and then when he asks for sweets, she brings us all savory stuff. I am a bigger fool for coming here seeking wisdom.
“You must be wondering what on earth is going on here,” Kabir said to the man. “I make the ridiculous request for a lamp in broad daylight and she brings it without saying a word and then when I tell her to bring sweetmeats, she fetches for you salty snacks.”
“To be honest, I’m stumped.”
“You see, my friend, the secret of a happy marriage is to avoid unnecessary arguments most of which are usually on pointless things. Every argument lends a blow and if unchecked, one day it breaks the marriage. My wife could have asked why I needed a lantern at this time of the day, but she trusted me, she knew that I must have a reason for making a request as bizarre as that. And when she brought salty tidbits instead of sweetmeats, I figured we must have run out of jaggery or anything sweet. I trusted her rather than questioning her. The faith we have in each other gives both of us the space we need to do the best we can.”
“And how do we build this kind of faith?” the man asked.
“Be reasonable, honest and patient.”
It happens much too often, at least, I hear about it all the time, that two people even though married to each other for a long time, feel they are not compatible. She doesn’t listen to me, he doesn’t understand me, she doesn’t like any of the things I like, he doesn’t do any work around the house, our tastes don’t match, we are diametrically opposite in how we see the world or what we want from our lives and so on.
The truth is building compatibility is a mutual effort. If you open up to possibilities, you start adapting to each other’s tastes. While it doesn’t happen overnight, it does come about eventually. The trouble brews when we want the convenience and rewards of a relationship without earning it. Marrying someone is like signing an employment contract, it shows you have made a commitment. You may get a signup bonus, but the real work starts when you begin working there.
Just as to protect our health we watch what we put in our body, to protect and nurture a relationship, we need to be mindful of what we feed it. Put sincere efforts, noble intentions, kind words, honest actions in your relationship and you’re rewarded accordingly. The only caveat, and an important one at that, is that it only works if it’s a joint effort.
Sometimes, what can’t be accomplished by quarreling, arguing, bickering and threatening is easily attained by loving and inspiring the other person. Hence, I guess, in trying times, rather than proving your point, ask yourself, “What can I do to inspire this person to see my perspective?” Or even better, “What do I need to do to see his/her perspective?” That’ll make all the difference. In that mindfulness, you are unlikely to go down the road of hurling hurtful words at each other.
An argument saved is a bit more love earned. The more you accumulate, the more you have available to spend when you need it the most.
Love is just about the only defroster to thaw the coldness in two hearts. If you are in it and if there’s any chance of making it work, only love or its derivatives (kindness, care, gentleness, empathy etc.) can effect that change.
I read a little something in Reader’s Digest once:
A mother was giving her daughter tips on dating. “Make sure, Jane,” she said, “that the man you seek has similar, if not identical, tastes as yours. If he likes the same kind of food as you, if you both like watching the same genre of movies, if he also belongs to the same culture as you and practices the same religion, things will be a lot easier in your marriage.”
“But mom, differences are needed to keep the fire alive.” she reasoned. “I read that opposites attract each other!”
“Jane! Just being a man and a woman is opposite enough. We don’t need more!”
No doubt relationships can be difficult at times, but if you look around (or within), you’ll discover that we human beings can’t be without them either. Loneliness is utterly depressing for most people. And, if you are going to be in a relationship, you may as well make it work. I know, I know, you are not the reason for the trouble in your relationship, it’s him or her, you say. I urge you to think again. Sometimes, it’s in us to bring the best or the worst out of the other person.
So, I was saying that if you need to be in a relationship, you may as well work on it. Diligently. Patiently. It pays.