About the Size of a Fist

One of the dangers of nostalgia, of looking back, when you’re my age, is that, like Orpheus, you may catch a fleeting glance of a love that has died, but is still following behind you, confronts you every time you look in your daughter's eyes or pick up your grandson. While looking up “For America,” I ran into another song on the album I liked even more and one that, perhaps, brought back even more unpleasant memories than Vietnam, if that’s possible.

It’s one of several songs I used to console myself with after my 17-year marriage died a long, slow painful death. In some unknown way, it helped me to make sense of a divorce that I never wanted and never really understood. It may be the best song on Jackson Browne’s Lives in the Balance, and, sadly, seems nearly as much of an anthem of my generation as "Doctor My Eyes":

In the Shape of a Heart

Was a ruby that she wore
On a chain around her neck
In the shape of a heart
In the shape of a heart
It was a time I won't forget
For the sorrow and regret
And the shape of a heart
And the shape of a heart

I guess I never knew
What she was talking about
I guess I never knew
She was living without

People speak of love don't know what they're thinking of
Wait around for the one who fits just like a glove
Speak in terms of belief and belonging
Try to fit some name to their longing

There was a hole left in the wall
From some ancient fight
About the size of a fist
Something thrown that had missed
There were other holes as well
In the house where our nights fell
Far too many to repair
In the time that we were there

People speak of love don't know what they're thinking of
Reach out to each other though the push and shove
Speak in terms of a life and the learning
Try to think of a word for the burning

Keep it up
Try so hard
To keep a life from coming apart
And never know
What breaches and faults are concealed
In the shape of a heart
In the shape of a heart
In the shape of a heart

Was the ruby that she wore
On a stand beside the bed
In the hour before dawn
When I knew she was gone
And I held it in my hand
For a little while
Dropped it into the wall
Let it go, and heard it fall

I guess I never knew
What she was talking about
I guess I never knew
What she was living without
People speak of love don't know what they're thinking of
Wait around for the one who fits just like a glove
Speak in terms of a life and the living
Try to find the word for forgiving

Keep it up
Try so hard
To keep a life from coming apart
And never know
The shallows and the unseen reefs
That are there from the start
In the shape of a heart

It sometimes seems to me that in comparison to my parents’ generation, we treated love and marriage like jewelry, something to be worn for a while and then discarded when out of fashion or when we have tired of. No need for diamonds here, rubies will last longer than this marriage!

Sadly enough, it is possible to live with someone for seventeen years and never know “what she was talking about” and never realize that “she was living without.” Perhaps it’s as simple as men are from Mars and women are from Venus, but I suspect that it goes much deeper than that. Beliefs that seemed unimportant when young and in love, suddenly seem insurmountable barriers when raising kids.

Maybe we simply weren’t willing to settle for what our parents settled for. We wanted a marriage that fulfilled all our dreams. We wanted a lover that “fits just like a glove.” Perhaps we simply expected too much from marriage and too little from ourselves. Surely if you don’t “reach out to each other through the push and shove” that’s inevitable in any relationship, it isn’t going to last.

Perhaps we simply never know each other, can “… never know/ What breaches and faults are concealed/ In the shape of a heart” until we encounter them in our evolving relationship. And, unless we are good navigators of the heart, “The shallows and the unseen reefs/ That are there from the start/ In the shape of a heart” will leave us high and dry, stranded on the island that is ourselves, cut off from all those we once loved.

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