Celebrating Our Love
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure, but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.
— Jack Gilbert, “A Brief for the Defense”
Elizabeth Gilbert, the author best known for the best seller, Eat, Pray, Love, discovered the works of the poet, Jack Gilbert (no relation), in 2006. She taught creative writing at a university where he had taught creative writing the previous year. He became for her “the poet laureate of my life.” She wrote that the poem referenced above, “is the most important piece of writing I’ve ever read for myself.” The poem had such an impact on her that she had the words “stubborn gladness” tattooed on her arm.
The first lines of his poem (which is worth reading in full) are “Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere.” With full realization of the world’s “ruthless furnace,” Jack Gilbert tells us, “We must risk delight.”
Although we would include risking pleasure as well, we love the point of the quote because we believe in the importance of celebrating the joy in our lives. We celebrate often the joy of having found each other and our love for each other. A book that we have found inspiring about accessing our joy is Awakening Joy: 10 Steps to True Happiness, by James Baraz and Shoshana Alexander.
Cultivating tenderness has consequences. A gentle and caring sensitivity to the feelings of others leaves us open to their pain. We are likely to be more sensitive to the pain of those close to us as well as those who we only know from the news of their misfortunes. Instead of feeling burdened by the increased sensitivity, we can choose to be grateful for our new levels of empathy.
Marc Ian Barasch writes, “We owe a debt to those who suffer, because they draw forth our tenderness.” If we are actively cultivating tenderness as a couple, we will likely be cultivating tenderness in our lives generally. In The Compassionate Life: Walking the Path of Kindness, Barasch treats us to engaging stories about his encounters with examples of compassion, and suggests that a simple shift in consciousness could create a different world.
Alleviating the suffering in the world is not within the grasp of any of us, and yet we each do our part in our own way. Amid those frustrating limitations, we “risk delight.” One of our favorite ways of doing so is by celebrating Us and how much we mean to each other.
OUR DAILY DANCE
We have a variety of favorite ways of celebrating Us, and we’ll mention a number of them. One of our favorites is something we call “Our Daily Dance.” We say “daily” because that’s how it started and that would be ideal. It doesn’t happen daily but we’ve allowed ourselves to flow with that. It happens often and it’s a delight whenever it does.
It began near Valentine’s Day in 1994. Bob heard a song on the car radio with lyrics that resonated so completely that he immediately went to buy the CD. It was “Asking Us to Dance,” sung by Kathy Mattea. It set a romantic scene of a full moon reflected on a lake and a couple who could use more romance. As the scene unfolded, they felt that everything in nature was “asking us to dance.”
That evening, Bob asked Cheryl to dance to the song after reading the lyrics together. It was an emotional experience for both of us. The next evening, Cheryl picked out a similar romantic song from among our collection and asked Bob to dance, and “Our Daily Dance” was born.
That set us on a quest to find other songs with similar attributes – they would celebrate our love and encourage more closeness. “Sweet and tender” is how we describe what we look for – with lyrics appropriate to sing to each other (as we sometimes do) while we “hug and sway.” There’s no fancy stepping involved. Our goal is to be in each other’s arms and allow the loving lyrics (and our bodies) to bring us closer. Sometimes the dance includes a prolonged kiss.
There are longer lists on this website under RESOURCES: SONGS, but for now, here are some of our favorites:
“Dance With Me Slow,” sung by Beth Nielson Chapman
“I’m Glad There Is You,” sung by Freddy Cole
“A Life For Me,” sung by The Real Group
“Tenderly With You,” sung by Carrie Newcomer
“I’m Yours,” sung by Jason Mraz
“Forever and a Day (Always),” sung by Jewel
“The Moon Is Ours Tonight,” sung by Erin Bode (lyrics by Bob Hellrung – see our first BLOG post for the story of the song’s creation.)
Finding new “sweet and tender” love songs is a delight. We listen to the lyrics at romantic movies (which we love), and have gotten some gems, including “Come What May,” from Moulin Rouge. It also happens to be a duet, which adds another lovely element to the song.
Once we did a workshop for couples called, “Dancing to the Beat of Our Hearts: The Power of Love Songs to Deeply Connect Us.” In addition to experiencing some dancing (lowered lights, “hug and sway”) to three of our sweet and tender favorites, participants each wrote down several of their favorites and handed them in. We had a laptop and a printer with us, and at the end of the workshop, we all went home with an expansive list of favorite love songs.
In that workshop, we also shared research results about the power of music to influence our emotions and bring us closer. In The Tao of Music: Sound Psychology, John Ortiz reports on experiments showing that “music provides a powerful means of increasing receptiveness and bridging discrepancies between any two individuals . . . it helps us to bond with each other.”
An additional benefit from creating mixes of our favorite love songs is their power to bring us closer when stress has created some distance. They provide an immediate reminder of what is really important – our love and what it means to us. They help create a more romantic mood whether played in the car or the kitchen or the bedroom. We’ve also created a “lively” mix of love songs that is great for more energetic dancing and road trips. A favorite on that mix is “Silly Love Songs” (Glee Cast version), because it affirms the value of love songs in our lives.
You may have heard of the theory that playing classical music to infants can increase their IQ, sometimes referred to as “the Mozart effect.” Based on our experience, dancing often to sweet and tender love songs will likely increase what we call your CQ – your “closeness quotient.” That’s why we have ended most of our workshops with a dance to a sweet and tender love song.
Please don’t let the word “daily” get in your way if you start this practice. It’s an aspiration, and also an affirmation that we want to reconnect in this sweet and tender way on a daily basis. Things get in the way, including travel, tiredness, deadlines and other distractions.
We have gotten discouraged about not being more consistent. We resolved to dance earlier in the evening before we got tired. We decided to alternate who picked the song each time. Things still get in the way. Sometimes after skipping a day or more, a dance is an even sweeter reconnection. Whenever it happens, it is always a treat.
LET’S HAVE SOME FUN
Having fun together is romantic. It is another way of celebrating Us. One of our workshops was entitled, “Spicing It Up: Tenderness, Fun and Romance.” As we did in our “love songs” workshop, we asked each participant to write and submit suggestions, this time about a fun activity and also a romantic activity. We later mailed them lists of their suggestions.
We encourage each of you to write a list of such activities, including your favorites and some new ones you’ve been thinking of doing together. Preferences are likely to be different, but you’ll almost certainly see some overlap when you compare your lists. The differences provide good opportunities to please each other. Your lists can be a great resource when it’s time to flavor your days by stirring in a little more fun and romance.
One way fun becomes romantic for us is by our acknowledgement that we’re enjoying being together. That doesn’t happen automatically. It’s up to us to voice it or express it physically, with a kiss or a hug or a tender touch. Fun together becomes a reminder of how fortunate we feel to be with each other. As one of our favorite songs says, “It’s always better when we’re together.” (“Better Together” by Jack Jones)
Movies are a favorite way for us to share some fun. We have gone to film festivals in Traverse City, Michigan and Bentonville, Arkansas. The films that attract us most have uplifting and inspiring stories, but we also seek out groundbreaking documentaries that increase our awareness about social or environmental issues. We usually even find a romance or two among the mix. We also have an active Netflix queue, where romantic movies have a top priority. You can find some of our favorite romantic movies listed on this website under RESOURCES: MOVIES.
Camping is another favorite activity, especially in state and national parks. We spend many nights every year on an air mattress in our tent. Going to sleep with the owls and waking up to the songbirds is a treat we still savor. Hiking in nature and exploring new birding habitats is usually part of the adventure. Some of the time we camp with friends, which adds another level of fun.
Seeking out new music in areas where such opportunities exist is a treat for us and has become a part of the camping adventure. Dancing is encouraged at many of the performances, which is an added pleasure. We have often come back to the tent after a night of music and dancing, feeling very fortunate and very grateful that our creaky bones continue to serve us well.
Then we come home after an extended camping trip, and tasks compete with fun time almost right away. Fun crawls into the back seat of the Taskmobile. It’s the difference between being at home and being on vacation.
Another factor is that Cheryl has a strong preference, based on her mother’s influence, to complete tasks before she allows herself to relax into enjoyment and fun. The problem is, the list of tasks at home is endless.
The challenge is to balance the list against a schedule that includes regular time for relaxation and fun. We sometimes notice that it seems like an age since we floated the river, or swam at our favorite lake, or hiked favorite trails, or sat by our campfire, or watched the moonrise from our deck. At that point, it’s way past time to schedule some fun together that will help us enjoy and celebrate our closeness.
WHILE WE STILL HAVE WINGS
Two years after Cheryl retired from her hospice social work job she gave Bob a card that sums up our attitude about travel and also enjoyment at this stage in our lives. Bob was still working as a family mediator in order to achieve certain financial goals, and Cheryl was ready for Bob to retire. The card said, “Come fly with me, while we still have wings.” Bob retired at the end of that year.
Because of Cheryl’s hospice work, we are keenly aware of how anyone’s good health can quickly deteriorate into very limiting life choices. Another one of our workshops was entitled, “Till Death Do Us Part,” and we gave couples an exercise called “Three Wishes Before I Can’t.” They wrote their answers separately and then dialogued about how they could help each other realize those dreams.
The basic message of the workshop was that an awareness of our mortality helps us savor the riches of our relationship. For some, the awareness of mortality can cause them to limit their intimacy to minimize emotional pain from potential loss. For us, embracing intimacy enhances our closeness, which may increase the poignancy of loss but also greatly enriches both our time together and our memories.
Bob’s habit of creating acronyms produced “SAVOR: Sweetly Appreciating the Value of Our Relationship.” But that wasn’t all. To help them remember our message, we left them with “MARRIAGE: Mortality Awareness Richly Rewards Intimates Appreciating the Gift of Existence.” We closed the workshop with a sweet and tender slow dance to, “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” sung by Diana Krall.
Dr. William Doherty, noted author and family therapist, believes that rituals are an essential resource for couples. In his book, Take Back Your Marriage: Sticking Together in a World That Pulls Us Apart, he writes, “The key to growing a marriage that is personal, and not just logistical, is to be intentional about the connection rituals of everyday life.”
We couldn’t agree more, although we call them “reconnection rituals.” We believe there is a natural rhythm of drift and reconnection, as our duties, deadlines and other distractions absorb our focus throughout the day. Drift can create distance if we let it. Recall our earlier “Yes to a Dance” from Chapter One. Origins: Why Tenderness.
The pace and the flood of distraction
Creates drift that skirts disconnection
Until there is no satisfaction
And loving is far from perfection
Just then comes a note from Romance
Saying this is worth taking the chance
Daring to ask, just perchance
If s/he’d say yes to a dance.
Our Daily Dance is our favorite reconnection ritual, and yes, we always say, “yes” to a dance. We have adopted other rituals over the years. Seeing a heart shape in nature led to a spontaneous kiss and a heart rock collection. Now many other images of hearts grace our home. We have expanded the ritual of a kiss to whenever we first see the moon, and even when we ride on escalators.
We got a memorable reaction to one of our kisses. We were in a department store on an up escalator that was opposite a down escalator. After we kissed we heard a young girl’s voice from the opposite escalator say, “Get a room.” It gave us a laugh. We were happy to let her see that romance isn’t limited to the bedroom and that romance knows no age limits.
Other rituals include hello kisses and goodbye kisses, and even passing by kisses. We put the full moons on our daybooks and try to see them on the horizon and watch them rise. Occasions like birthdays, anniversaries and Valentine’s Day are opportunities to celebrate together. They sometimes inspire love poetry.
HAPPY TO BE SAPPY: YOU COULD DO VERSE
We urge you to write love poems to each other. Some think that’s too sappy. Be happy to be sappy. This is just between the two of you.
Some think it’s too hard to be good at it. What on earth does “good” mean? The important thing is it’s about the two of you and celebrates your relationship in some way. Again, this is just between the two of you (unless you decide to write a book about it). 😉
Some say they can’t think of anything to write. Here’s a secret that many writers will tell you. Sitting down to write and giving yourself some time and space is often all it takes for words to appear on the page. They will form into writing that will many times surprise you, and pleasantly so.
Here’s another secret. Your partner probably won’t think it’s too sappy. Your effort will likely be appreciated and felt as a heart caress. Your sincerity will come through, regardless of what the words say exactly.
They don’t need to rhyme, although most of ours do, out of habit. And length doesn’t matter. One of our favorites is only 20 words:
I’m the tide to your shore
And the shore to your tide
Come what may
I’ll be by your side.
They can sometimes sound like a greeting card, and that can be just fine once you embrace the idea. In fact, after years of spending too much on greeting cards, we started occasionally making our own simple ones from sheets of red paper folded in half and in half again.
Cheryl has gotten more elaborate at times. One Valentine’s Day she created a bouquet with cut out red hearts and paper doilies. Each of the hearts had a poem. One read:
Being near you
Just us two
I love best
Moments of rest
Spent in folds of cotton and silk
Eating cookies and milk
Watching the moon, the stars, the fire’s glow
Dancing a tune, talking low
Laughing soft, being with you
Just us two
We have also enjoyed using the Magnetic Poetry Kit (Original version) to create poems out of refrigerator magnets. One of Cheryl’s has stayed there forever because we love it:
In your ear
I adore you
a star glistens
we two snuggle more
make a good full life
You can do this! It’s not meant to be critiqued. It’s only meant to express your love and caring to your sweetheart.
Stay sappy and stay happy, dear readers.
OK, we know this won’t appeal to everyone. Neither will some of our other experiences and ideas. That’s to be expected. We’re each unique individuals. This is what works for us. If anything we have shared turns out to be helpful in enhancing your closeness, we’ll be delighted.
You already have some favorite ways to celebrate your love. Our hope is that you’ll be inspired to add some new ways to your choices – not from what works for us but whatever works best for you. The goal is to find ways to celebrate and cherish each other and your relationship.
To close our theme of Celebrating Our Love, here’s a poem that Bob wrote to Cheryl for Valentine’s Day, 2017. It is now available on iTunes and elsewhere as a song by Erin Bode: “The Moon Is Ours Tonight.” As mentioned earlier, the story of how that happened is in our first blog post.