An Ordinary Passion

Two people in love broke up today. I’ve watched their relationship deepen through years of friendship and work, holidays and travel, pain and holding on when life hurts. They never argue. They get each other’s humor. They want the same things: family, children, a future together.

But there are separate careers ahead of them and years apart, and suddenly love doesn’t seem like enough. Rational heads have prevailed. Long-distance relationships never work. The decision is a no-brainer.

That’s the difference between our children’s generation and ours. My husband and I made a lot of mistakes, but there was one crucial decision we got right. We fell in love and made that relationship the thrust of our life. We still went for our dreams. Jobs were important, and family and friends, but our relationship? That was our keystone and we put no one and nothing before it.

Breaking up was not in our vocabulary.

It’s much harder today because our children set such high standards for themselves. Both must have careers, and neither must compromise, and it can’t be just any career, they must find and follow their passion.

Passion. They fling that word into the air like it is nothing, like it is ordinary, like it can be ascribed to a job and owned by common people.

A wise woman once told me the purpose of a job is to make money so you can spend the rest of your time doing what you really enjoy with the people you love. Passion for a career is a wonderful thing and it happens almost never. For the rest of us work is just that – work. But love, the kind of love that happens when you are young, when you have never loved another, when you love until you ache and can’t believe they feel the same because no one else on earth has ever felt this much love and all love stories – Romeo and Juliet, Antony and Cleopatra – pale at its feet, that kind of love happens to many, many of us, but only when we’re young, and only once. To throw this away for a job is to slap the face of God.

What I mourn in this generation is their inability to believe in the strength within them. The muscle is there, but never tested. If they really believed in love, if they could get past all their rationales and their cynicism and really commit, they could do what we did: face down hardship and separations, poverty and bad health – everything life throws at us – and make their love last.

Perhaps it’s simply the choice of words that clouds their vision. Our generation didn’t have careers, we had jobs. We worked hard during the day, and then went home to the love of our life – in our opinion – the passion of our life. Love does not preclude a career and often it enables it, but my husband and I have never regretted choosing ordinary jobs with ordinary pay because our nights and weekends have been filled with extraordinary joy. People gain jobs and lose them. People sacrifice for careers and never make it. You cannot plan your life. But you can plan who you will spend it with, and as life goes on you learn, it is the only choice that matters.

This essay was first published in The National Gallery of Writers

  • tgumster February 11, 2011 at 8:26 am

    Stunning post, Leigh, nothing ordinary about it at all, quite passionate in its eloquence.

    It seems oxymoronic that passion could lose its edge, its fervor but it does seem to happen when passion is pushed into a life goal. It’s not a good fit–“you cannot plan your life”–so dance with the “one that brung ya.”

  • Leigh Muller February 11, 2011 at 11:19 am

    Love and passion have been idealized for as long as man has known how to feel, but I think couples who live their entire lives believing their love is magical, special, even destiny, were more prevalent in my generation than my children’s. I suspect this is because we fell in love young, felt that spark pass between us, and believed — out of all the people on earth — this was our one. And because we lived believing without doubt that this was true and indisputable, it became so.

    Is there more than one person on earth you could love this passionately? Of course. But too many young and inexperienced people today don’t understand that quality is worth the wait. Each thoughtless hookup or series of shallow relationships steals another piece of the magic, and they can’t get it back. So of course if the choice comes down to job or yet another shallow relationship, they’re going to choose job because to them, this love is nothing special or irreplaceable.

    So yes, call me a cockeyed romantic. Insanely naive. Hopelessly old-fashioned. I won’t disagree. But be honest: which way would you rather live?

    • tgumster February 11, 2011 at 12:11 pm

      Here’s a confession: all my life I have lived as a 19th century romantic, believing it is in the striving that we learn–where we define our passion or it defines us–that at the very most, the attaining of the goal is secondary.

      I’m right there with you, Leigh as a “cockeyed romantic” and always, “insanely naive” and obtuse, from time to time.

      Living passionately may be the one thing I do completely. What concerns me is that passion–in its denotation–has lost its intensity, its devotion; in these days, passion is seen more as excitement, a momentary fervor.

      Passion is a driving force that comes from the core of one’s being–all-encompassing–it will not fit into a career opportunity because it’s not the question to ask. The question is how does the career fit the passion. I think you answer that with “…too many young and inexperienced people today don’t understand that quality is worth the wait.”

      “Worth the wait” is the key phrase. Careers fit or don’t; passion is a lifetime.

  • leigh February 11, 2011 at 1:05 pm

    How beautifully you cover many truths, tgumster. Thanks for taking the time to drop by.

  • tgumster February 11, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    Thank you, Leigh; your praise means a great deal to me. For all you do for writers, especially this blog, thanks for your passion.

  • February 12, 2011 at 6:40 am

    I fear that the problem is something far less lauditory than passion for career. Quick, convenient, and disposable are what is valued now. Legitimate excuses for these priorities can be made. The world is moving way, way too fast for the languishing and waiting required for a deep romantic love. The pace and thoroughness of change require an adaptability, a willingness to switch polarity on a moment’s notice that makes long-abiding relationships seem impractical and quaint.

    And one more thing, and this applies to what we do as story tellers. A life long romance is a linear story. It builds and makes sense over the course of the years it takes to unfold. It gains nuance day by day. The linear story is beginning to look as quaint and impractical as a grand romance in a world of sound bites and quick clicks. The attention span needed for the slow revelation that is a linear story–or true love–is disappearing.

    People opt for grabbing moments of pleasure instead of the longer, slower, deeper joy of a real love. They don’t miss what they’ve never had, except with a vague feeling that something is missing–and there’s an ap for that.

    • Anonymous February 12, 2011 at 9:34 am

      Immediate gratitification is never as fulfilling as something long-desired and awaited. I would add to Leigh’s and Karen’s key phrase: ‘worth the wait’, that such a relationship also is ‘worth the work.’ The kinds of passionate and fulfilling relationships described in this post and comments take prolonged effort, something that does not seem to be in the make-up of young people today. Geez, I sound old. But I see it in my workplace and among my younger siblings’ friends, and it makes me sad. But also very, very thankful for the special love I have. I would end this with “Happy Valentine’s Day!” but that’s just one day, a quickly passing moment in years of love that we celebrate each and every day.

      Thank you for your post Leigh. Always when I read your blog, and Adrian’s, I feel something inside me has been righted. Both heart and brain are adjusted, perspective put in place, priorities realigned. Thank you, thank you for all you do as a writer and a friend.

      • Leigh Muller February 12, 2011 at 12:11 pm

        Wow, Anonymous, you made my week. Whichever friend you are, you are certainly dear. This blog takes much more time and effort than I had expected; comments like yours renew my spirit.

        And your addition of ‘worth the work’ as the second part of the equation is equally, if not more important. A lifetime relationship doesn’t mean a lifetime without trials. There are days when we are tempted by biology. There are months when we are tested by so many compounding problems we want to run away simply to escape facing them. And there are times when our partner says or does something so unexpected, we stop in our tracks and wonder if we really know this person at all. All of these moments are to be expected; we are human, we are imperfect. But we also have great capacity for growth, and if we stop, listen, search out what is really at the root of the problem and talk it out honestly, both we and our commitment will come out stronger on the other side.

        Perhaps commitment is like writing; it requires stubbornness beyond all reason.

        Enjoy your special love, Anonymous. You’ve earned it.

      • leigh February 12, 2011 at 3:56 pm

        Anonymous has emerged and it’s not that she’s shy; Roadhouse decided to hide her name. But her comment is too beautiful for the author to go unknown, so here it is: Gina. And if you’re looking for more of her fine thoughts, you can read her blog, Dancing At The Orange Peel (there’s a link for it to the right of this column under Enjoyable Reads. Sorry about that, Gina. The elves are weeding out that glitch as we speak.

    • Leigh Muller February 12, 2011 at 12:59 pm

      It makes you wonder how much of the disposable attitude is related to our migrating society. We used to grow up in one town, among family and friends who’s families had known each other for generations. For better or worse, we had to find a way to live and work with the people around us, because we were going to be living with them for many decades to come. Now we move around, exchanging friends and co-workers as easily as houses.

      Adrian, you end with the vague feeling that something is missing. I hear this echoed more and more in our culture. It’s a nudge now, but I sense it has the capacity to push us off the high speed rail we so eagerly leaped onto, and set us back onto solid ground. I think perhaps over saturation is a necessary first step in any growth. After we have explored the world thoroughly, both physically and virtually, perhaps we will find our way back home, and with new appreciation for a simpler, more linear, life.

      • February 12, 2011 at 3:07 pm

        Or else we will acquire the wisdom needed to live at this faster, more quickly changing pace. And maybe it isn’t all bad. The growing up in one town, staying at the same job, also cemented prejudices and supported grudges and opinions that spanned generations: “You know that family, they’re just trash!”

        But we do have to pay attention to our limits. The human animal is not built for the kind of speed technology is demanding, and in the end perhaps what each of us needs most is someone who walks with us, and at our own pace.

        • leigh February 12, 2011 at 3:29 pm

          Well, what we probably need is more stamina and good health, which is hopeful, because they’re easier to come by than wisdom.

          But as usual, Adrian, your points are well-taken. It’s hard to grow when you aren’t challenged and don’t know any better. And life is much easier lived as a pair, hand in hand.

  • Susan Heyboer O'Keefe February 12, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    This blog–the posts and the comments–are as dense and rich as brownies. Leigh, I feel so greedily glutted with words after reading your blog that I just want to sit. It’s hard to respond because there’s so much to respond to in every post.

  • leigh February 12, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    Words and chocolate — can’t live without either, Susan. Come back next time you have a craving.

  • tgumster February 13, 2011 at 8:59 am

    Overall, I’m an optimist. Pairs are preferable, whenever possible; paws are unconditional, if proffered; pace, our daily parade, is uneven in its passing.

    Whether it’s technology, good health or wisdom, I focus on the immediate of the nanosecond. It’s all I know to do. My mind whirls away unless I say, “Come here, for just a moment. Sit down. Remember?”

    It took me years to get here or there but time is all any one of us has. It’s ours to own. There is no bigger banquet.

  • Leigh Muller February 15, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    tgumster, each and every thought and phrase in your last comment either touches my core or steals my breath. Susan and I won’t touch a brownie for a month.

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