Jan 4, 2014

Love at First Word

A still from the classic romance Before Sunset

There's a lot of nonsense in movies, and romances have perhaps more than their share.  But not everything one finds in romantic movies is just sentimental wishful thinking.  Is it possible to meet someone and immediately fall in love?  Can immediate attraction and instant chemistry actually predict lasting love?  Only in the movies, some might say.  But that's not been my experience.

Recently I watched the movie Before Sunrise starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.  It really doesn't have much in the way of a plot.  Two strangers meet and walk around picturesque Vienna talking, and in the process falling in love. But the chemistry between the couple is compelling, and the simple tale of love at first sight resonated so strongly with me.  I had two similar experiences in 1995, the year the film was released.  Like Hawke's character I also met a beautiful young woman while traveling in Europe and ended up spending the last night before my travels continued, exploring the city with her (she was Dutch rather than French, and the city was Utrecht in the Netherlands rather than Vienna, Austria).  However, there the similarity ends.  There was no connection, no spark, no future.  Though I had hoped there might be one at the beginning of the evening, by the end of the night I was walking Utrecht's streets alone.  No, the more significant parallel experience happened a few months later in a less exotic setting---the campus of Andrews University in Southwest Michigan.  Once again I met an even more beautiful young woman, and once again we spent hours together talking, only this time their was an immediate and palpable connection.  I fell in love that first night, and well, eighteen years later, I'm in love still.
This is one of my favorite photos of Babs and I from our very earliest years.  I keep this picture on  my desk and it's literally glued to the glass on the picture frame now.  It was taken outside my apartment just a few months after we'd met and started dating.

I think the key to that initial attraction--and what I really connected with in Before Sunrise--was how Babs and I fell so naturally into conversation.  My first thoughts about Barbara, before we even spoke, when I saw her talking with others, was that I wanted to hear what this girl had to say.  She fascinated me.  And once we started talking, we kept going for eleven hours straight! And that connection through conversation remains one of the strongest pillars of our relationship today.  There's still no one I'd rather talk to more, no one I find more interesting.   We talk easily and honestly, and we always have.

I haven't seen the next two films in the Sunrise trilogy, Before Sunset which picks up nine years after the first film, and Before Midnight which is set yet another nine years down the road, though they're next up in my Netflix queue.  I'm not sure how Jess and Celine's story will pan out, but if they're lucky they'll end up like Babs and me, 18 years since we first started talking, and still happily conversing ever after.

Battling Boredom

"Winter is coming":  My oldest stands on The Wall anticipating the coming of some serious cold in the next few days (well actually it's just a mound of snowplowed snow at the end of our building but in his vivid imagination it was a castle.  Never a dull a moment with this guy!)

I wish I could find the special statement released by the National Weather Service last night.  For the moment the NWS abandoned it's usual bland recitation of temperature ranges, wind chills, and predicted snowfalls and indulged in some truly dramatic language, as if the scale of the approaching weather had flustered the meteorologists to the point that they lost some of their usual composure.  The prediction went something along the lines of "the coldest temperatures in twenty years will come sweeping into the region with full force on Monday and Tuesday."

Something about that twenty year gap jogged my memory and I realized that I remembered the last time we experienced winter of this magnitude.  It was almost 20 years ago exactly, the long weekend of Martin Luther King Day, 1994.  I was a 20 year old student at Andrews University in Michigan and it was the worst winter weather I've ever experienced.

Here's I how I reported it in my pen and paper journal from Tuesday, January 18, 1994:

We've been experiencing record low temperatures and absolutely brutal weather. The highs are below zero and with the wind chill factor at negative 40 to 50 and it has been snowing almost continually since Thursday night.  Monday was a holiday anyway but school was closed today and, along with the whole town of Berrien Springs, will be closed tomorrow. 

 The first part of this seven day weekend was spent watching six videos (that must be some sort of record and I felt positively sick afteward), reading three books, and tending to the myriad things that have gone wrong due to the sub-arctic temperatures--the car hasn't started since Sunday night, the hot water pipes to my apartment cracked Saturday night & have yet to be repaired, for awhile the garage door was opening itself, and the door to the garage is stuck shut.  I haven't been out of the apartment since Sunday and I feel I'm going slightly stir crazy particularly now that I've run out of things to do. I finished my last book this morning. . ., my homework last night and I get out to the video store, and besides I don't think I feel like watching any more videos for awhile.  For awhile I was reduced to reading old Reader's Digest until I remembered this book of African-American short stories I got from The Loft. . .

Mostly I just feel tired, mentally, physically, spiritually.  Too much inactivity.

I just now realized that this pretty much describes life before the internet (Or at least before it became ubiquitous. A couple of entries later, I was marveling over getting online for the first time and "talking" with my friend J Carlos at Southern Adventist University via a rudimentary chat room.)  If I'd found myself in similar circumstances today I would have had the entire web at my fingertips.  I would have whiled away the hours on Facebook, binge watching Orange is the New Black on Netflix, and reading all the articles I'd been meaning to get to on Slate.com.

I often tell my students that the last time I was bored was in the winter of 1994 and it's this particular storm I'm referring to.  Today between our smart phones, tablets, and even old-school laptops, I don't know that boredom is even possible anymore.

But maybe that's an overstatement.  I think what I missed most during my isolation while that epic storm raged was human contact.  Who knows if the record-shattering low temps will materialize (already the worst of the snow forecast for tomorrow will likely miss us) but if,  if the whole city does shut down for a few days, I'll won't have to hole up alone this time; I'll have my wife and kids to keep boredom at bay.  As exciting as the internet may be, there's nothing like real human contact to make the passing hours a treasure rather than a chore.