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Monday, October 20, 2014

Men and Women and Tires

My husband knelt on the dirt alongside a farmer's field to change our daughter's tire last night. I sat in our Jeep watching him finish the job in the glare of headlights. Under cover of darkness, I realized again how profoundly grateful I am for him.

All these years together, as I have fretted and planned, worried and analyzed, evaluated and adjusted our life together, he has simply stood calmly and quietly by. He has stepped in only when he needs to, in order to keep me from tipping the boat with my agitation. He mostly lets me wear myself out until I throw my hands up and rest.

I sometimes wish I could be like that- level, uniform, resilient. For all my building and fashioning of family, it would all collapse if he were not the bedrock on which it all rests. I can plan all the routes - and I do a lot of that - but it would be fruitless if he didn't keep me calmly reassured and step in to change the tires when they need changing.

While he was changing that tire, I watched my daughter. I could see it in her expression and posture: She was running over the incident in her mind, using "if-only" as a mantra, worrying about the expense of replacing the damaged wheel, questioning her decision to buy the wheels in the first place - churning in disquietude. She has her mother in her - poor girl. Her father, though, just kept changing the tire and then got into her car to drive it home, in case there was a problem with the spare. I love men.

I think that we, as the daughters of several waves of feminism, rarely give men their due. Yet, as bullets fly in movie theaters, men step in and risk their own safety to protect women that they do not know. For thousands of years, men have gone to war to protect women and children. Ordinary men get up each morning to go to work and then come home without complaint.  They ride out the emotional cycles of the women that they love. They kneel on dirt and asphalt to change tires for stranded women. It's a marvel really.

Still, men are curious creatures to a woman's mind. They're physical; we're emotional. They are hands-on while we live in our hearts and minds. How the twain ever meet is a mystery.

Millennia of experiences on the part of our foremothers have written on our DNA the need for caution. A man can physically harm a woman, or he can shield her from injury and abuse. He can provide protection, support, and leadership for a woman and her children; or he can abandon her and leave them in danger. He can be a partner to her, or he can demean and control her. He can be faithful, or he can emotionally destroy her.

While both are made vulnerable, I think that it's not quite such a huge risk for a man to enter into a relationship with a woman. He is relatively safe without her. She is unsafe without him, but she could be harmed by him. She must trust him to provide for her and her children. She must trust him to choose not to expose them to harm. Regardless of the advances women may have made in recent decades, I believe that these cautions are woven into our makeup and that they influence the steps that we take.

So, while physical intimacy- no matter how innocent -may be his natural means of communication and union, she must know him - really know him - first. She must fret and analyze, plan and consider. She must hear what he thinks, values, plans, and hopes for. She must know the priorities and beliefs upon which he bases his decisions, before she can submit to those decisions. She has to know where he is headed, and how he will decide changes in course, before she can follow. She must hear his words before she can be open to the vulnerability in which she receives his touch, no matter how much that touch is wanted.

It must baffle them.  We must baffle them. Yet, generation after generation, somehow, together we vanquish these obstacles and pair bonds remarkably form and endure.  Men learn to buttress women and stand by them. They learn to fill our needs, even when they don't understand them. They show kindness and patience. Then, they transform into fathers who change tires in the dirt on the edge of farmers' night-black fields, and they hug daughters who are unnerved. They send daughters to ride home with their mothers for talking. They take the keys and drive home on spare tires to shield wives and daughters from harm.

Pax Christi dear ones,

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