If you see my friend Margaret, ask her to tell you about her encounter with a bear. She texted me about it right after it happened, which was really exciting, but she told me about it in person, at her house on Sunday night, and it was even better. Margaret is one of the most animated humans I know, which makes for captivating storytelling. She'll tell you about the cornfield she was near and the big shadow she saw. Wait until you see how she describes the way the bear moved and how beautiful it was. It's a great story; I hope you run into Margaret today.
A long time ago Margaret was my sister-in-law. Then she wasn't, because her husband's brother and I got divorced. So now she's just my friend, and we have defied the laws of...relationships, I guess, by still loving each other. Quite honestly, I can't imagine my world, any world, without Margaret in it anymore.
When you talk about Margaret, you almost always start talking about Mark, too, her husband. Mark and Margaret. Or, more like....markandmargaret. I could write a whole story about the two of them, and I will someday, but this morning there's another story here chomping at the bit.
They asked us to join them for dinner on Sunday night -- Mark and Margaret and their daughter, Ashley. Ashley is not their biological daughter, but Mark and Margaret are raising her anyway, even though their two biological kids have left for college. In welcoming Ashley into their home and their lives, when she was a teenager, they chose to do something that would make most people confused.
We had a great time there with them, needless to say. Not only are Mark and Margaret great cooks, but their home is the kind of place you just want to be, like Mr. Plumbean's in The Big Orange Splot. Also, it's fun to watch them together and to listen to them. They've been married for a really long time, and they're nice to each other and they get really excited about the projects they're doing together. When I look at Mark and Margaret, I see what marriage is supposed to be or can be. With their marriage, the two of them have created something that makes the world a better place.
Coco was with us, even though it was Sunday night and she was a little tired. But Coco doesn't go to school on Mondays now, so it was OK. Her school has allowed us to take one day a week so that Coco can explore more deeply the things she's curious about. Not a bad idea, huh? Right now it's cooking, so she cooks and she looks at cookbooks and she visits cooking supply stores and we are reading Ruth Reichl's Tender at the Bone. And she is being mentored by Auntie Margaret, who is a chef, and in a couple of weeks she's going to be the guest chef on a local television show, cooking in front of a live audience. For the past few weeks she's been going through the rather arduous process of interviews and applications for the show called Chopped Junior.
All of this is happening outside of school.
When we are growing up we are taught a whole bunch of things that don't necessarily serve us well in this complex and wonderful world: walking in straight lines down the hallway, staying inside the lines in the coloring book. What a bunch of hooey. The names we give our relationships, or even ourselves...who cares? The confines we humans create for ourselves do just that...confine our thinking and our acting to a very narrow strip of real estate.
Technically Margaret and I should have gone our separate ways when her husband's brother and I split up, right? Technically my daughter from the marriage I had after the one I had to her brother-in-law, isn't Margaret's niece. But Coco calls her Auntie Margaret anyway.
Technically Mark and Margaret's life would be smoother sailing if they hadn't chosen to take on the raising on another teenager just when their two teenagers were leaving the nest. But they did it anyway.
Technically Coco should be inside of a school building every Monday. But anyone who knows anything about anything knows that we learn the best and the most when we love with all our hearts the thing we're studying. Most often that encounter is made, not inside of an institution, but somewhere out in the wide world. The teachers and administrators at Coco's school are brilliant and brave in their acknowledgement of this.
It all comes down to this, people: love. Margaret and I love each other. We probably shouldn't, right? I caused a lot of pain when I didn't want to be married to Mark's brother anymore. Mark shouldn't really like me; he has grounds not to. Mark and Margaret love Ashley as one of their own. They probably shouldn't because they have a ton of things on their plate already and they have two kids already and kids are expensive! And Coco and her not-school Mondays...it doesn't really make any sense.
We can get past these things, these labels, these crappy conventional ideas about what does and doesn't make sense in this life, I know we can. Because underneath all that nonsense is the home of love, and life is richer, and funnier and kinder there. Mark and Margaret are there and the amazing Ashley is there and cooking and eating and learning and growing and being brave are there. It's messy, this life, and that's exactly how it should be. Amen.