Sunday, May 12, 2013

What do you want in a spouse?

Now that I'm engaged, I'm rereading a favorite quote from a favorite book of mine -- The Call of Earth, from Orson Scott Card's Homecoming series. This is from chapter 3, “Protection,” and the hero Nafai is having a conversation with the Oversoul (essentially God). 

The central theme here is the gap between what Nafai wants in a spouse and what he should want, how the gap is caused by his own fears and insecurities and how he overcomes them.
Are you saying Eiadh is bad at heart? 
 I’m saying she lives in a world whose center of gravity is herself. She has no purpose higher than her own desires. But you, Nafai, will never be content unless your life is accomplishing something that will change the world. I am giving you that, if you will have the patience to trust me until it comes to you. I will also give you a wife who will share the same dreams, who will help you instead of distracting you.  
 Who is my wife, then? 
The face of Luet came into his mind. 
Nafai shuddered. Luet. She had helped him escape, and saved his life at great risk to herself.  
She had taken him down to the land of women…for bringing him there she might have been killed, right along with him; instead she faced down the women and persuaded them that the Oversoul had commanded it…. 
Nafai owed her much. And he liked her, she was a good person, simple and sweet. So why couldn’t he think of her as a wife? Why did he recoil at the thought?Because she is the waterseer. 
The waterseer – that’s why he didn’t want to marry her. Because she had been having visions from the Oversoul for far longer than he; because she had strength and wisdom that he couldn’t even hope to have. Because she was better than Nafai in every way he could think of. Because if they became partners in this journey back to Earth, she would hear the voice of the Oversoul better than he; she would know the way when he knew nothing at all. When all was silent for him, she would hear music; when he was blind, she would have light. I can’t bear it, to be tied to a woman who will have no reason to respect me, because whatever I do, she has done it first, she can do it better. 
So…you didn’t want to a wife, after all. You wanted a worshipper.  
This realization made him flush with self-contempt. Is that who I am? A boy who is so weak that he can’t imagine loving a woman who is strong? 
The faces of Rasa and Wetchik, his mother and father, came into his mind. Mother was a strong woman – perhaps the strongest in Basilica, though she had never tried to use her prestige and influence to win power for herself. Did it weaken Father because Mother was at least – at least – his equal?.... 
Mother did not have to diminish herself to be part of Father’s life, and he did not have to dominate her in order to be part of her life. Nor did domination flow the other way; the Wetchik had always been his own man, and Rasa had never felt a need to rule over him. 
….I understand, he said silently. They are one person. What does it matter which of them happens to be the voice, whose hands happen to act? 
Can I find such a partnership with Luet? Can I bear it, to have her hear the Oversoul when I cannot? Can I listen to Luet’s dreams, and not be envious? 
And what about her? Will she accept me? 
The question is not, Can I bear to live as one with her. The question is, Am I worthy to be partnered with such a one as that? 
 He felt a trembling warmth suffuse through him, as he were filled with light. Yes, said the Oversoul inside his mind. Yes, that is the question. That is the question.

Here is the conversation when he proposes. It's in the end of chapter 5, “Husbands.”

As the thought formed in his mind, he blurted it out. “The Oversoul chose us for each other, and so yes, I’m asking you to marry me, even though I’m afraid.”  
“Afraid of me?”  
“Not that you mean me any harm – you’ve saved my life, and my father’s life before that. I’m afraid – of your disdain for me. I’m afraid that I’ll always be humiliated before you and your sister, the two of you, seeing everything weak about me, looking down on me. The way you see me now.”

 In all his life, Nafai had never spoken with such brutal frankness about his own fear; he had never felt so exposed and vulnerable in front of anyone.

 “Oh Nafai, I’m sorry,” whispered Luet. “Nafai, I only thought of how frightened I was. I never imagined you might feel that way, too.”

  She was afraid of him?

 “Won’t you look at me, Nafai?” she asked. “I know you never looked at me before, not with hope or with longing, anyway, but now that the Oversoul has given us to each other, can’t you look at me with – with kindness, anyway?”

 How could he lift his face to her now, with his eyes full of tears; and yet, since she asked with, since it would mean disappointment to her if he did not, how could he refuse? He looked at her, and even though his eyes swam with teams – of joy, of relief, of emotions even stronger that he didn’t understand – he saw her as if for the first time, as if her soul had been made transparent to him. He saw the purity of her heart. He saw how fully she had given herself to the Oversoul, and to Basilica, and to her sister, and to him. He saw that in her heart she longed only to build something fine and beautiful, and how readily she was willing to try to do that with this boy who sat before her.

 “What do you see, when you look at me like that?” asked Luet, her voice timid, yet daring to ask.

 “I see what a great and glorious woman you are,” he said, “and how little reason I have to fear you, because you’d never harm me or any other soul.”

 “Is that all you see?” she asked.

 “I see that the Oversoul has found in you the most perfect example of what the human race must all become, if we are to be whole, and not destroy ourselves again.”

 “Nothing more?” she asked.

 By now his eyes had cleared enough to see that she was now on the verge of crying – but not for joy….

 Impulsively he knelt up and gathered her into his arms and held her close, the way he might hold a weeping child. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.

 “Don’t be sorry, please,” she said. But her voice was high, the voice of a child who is trying not to be caught crying, and he could feel her tears soaking into his shirt.

 “I’m sorry that it’s only me you get as a husband,” he said.

 “And I’m sorry that it’s only me you get as a wife,” she said. “Not the waterseer, not the glorious being you imagined that you saw. Only me.”

 Finally he understood what she had been asking for all along, and couldn’t help but laugh, because without knowing it he had just now given it to her. “Did you think that I said those things to the waterseer?” he asked. “No, you poor thing, I said those things to you, to Luet, to the girl I met in my mother’s school, to the girl who sassed me any anybody else when she felt like it, to the girl that I’m holding in my arms right now.”

 She laughed then – or sobbed harder, he wasn’t sure. But he knew that whatever she was doing now, it was better. That was all she needed – was for him to tell that he didn’t expect her to be the waterseer all the time, that he was marrying the fragile, imperfect human being, and not the overpowering image that she inadvertently wore.


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