As of last Friday, Jerry and I have been married for twenty-four years. By the time we met, neither of us expected to meet our true love – Mr. and Ms. Right – much less meet the way we did.
I’d even made use of (what stood in my mind for) a traditional marriage broker, putting a petitionary note in a crevice of the Western Wall, the outer retaining wall that was all the Romans left standing of the Second Temple when they destroyed it in Jerusalem in 70 CE.
“Did you pray at The Wall?” my Israeli cousins asked me in their ironically commonsensical tones.
“Of course!” I replied staunchly. “Do you think I’m going to pay the price of a round-trip El Al ticket and not pray at The Wall?”
My note had been quite simple and straightforward. It said,
I’d like to meet and marry the right man for me.
A few years later, to my surprise, the man who at the time seemed to me right accepted a job offer from the Sydney University’s Department of Traditional and Modern Philosophy. While our union lasted, we had what was probably the longest commuting and epistolary marriage in the profession. During the intervals when I could get to Sydney, we’d join his amusing and cultivated colleagues for lunch at the Staff Club. At the time, I was researching A Good Look at Evil, and they helped steer me to relevant philosophical work from their side of the field. So, as an unexpected side-benefit of an otherwise inharmonious marriage, my book gained a wider scope and readership than it would otherwise have enjoyed.
Does the God who makes marriages also make divorces? Who can say? In any event, I hadn’t yet given up on the Western Wall. The next time I visited my Israeli cousins, the note that I put in a crevice petitioned for nothing more permanent than the right Romantic Other.
Did that note work any better? Eventually, circumstances led me circuitously to Paris and a reunion with my first Romantic Other. And it was pretty awful. By then, being out of ideas, I decided not to bother God again.
The following fall, the administration of Brooklyn College notified the faculty that it was about to revise our award-winning liberal arts curriculum, replacing it with course offerings that would revolve around … the Borough of Brooklyn! You know, the Philosophy of Brooklyn, Scientific Methods of Brooklyn, Social Sciences of Brooklyn, you get the idea. There was only one other faculty member, a distinguished woman in the History Department, who was prepared to fight it. Margaret King telephoned me and we agreed to meet for lunch at the Graduate Center.
“Incidentally,” I asked her, after we’d mapped some initial strategic steps, “do you pray?”
“Daily,” she replied promptly.
“Me too. Good. Because that’s about all we have going for us.”
Neither of us seriously imagined winning. My own feeling was that, when my time came, I couldn’t die in peace knowing I’d done nothing to stop this preposterous nonsense.
Such a battle would of course mean giving up whatever was left of my personal life. I wouldn’t have time to meet my teaching obligations, fight this fight, and also see friends, stop in at a museum or café – even take a walk!
By February, we had got to the point where a faculty vote could be taken on “Brooklyn Connections.” With secret ballots. These were essential since the administration had many ways of making its anger felt if it knew you’d voted against its wishes. The faculty vote went about fifty/fifty. Certainly not a college-wide endorsement. The college president told Margaret and me that he planned to forge ahead with Brooklyn Connections.
We started calling around to see who or what could help save the college’s liberal arts curriculum. One of the organizations dedicated to championing excellence in higher education was located in Washington D.C. It had been founded by a philosopher named Jerry L. Martin. As things turned out, Dr. Martin was about the only one we called who was sympathetic and actually willing to try to help us! By the time – against all odds – that we actually won the fight, Jerry and I had been on the phone almost daily for the remainder of spring term.
Our conversations, focused on a shared but impersonal objective, gave leeway for a highly personal interest to unfold without my noticing it in time to protect myself. From what might I have sought protection? From a feeling – a REALITY – bigger than my own definite sense of who I had been up to that point.
How exactly does God make marriages? Did the Creator put this bad idea into the mind of the college president just to set the stage for our true love?
I really don’t know.
You’ll have to ask the theologians.
I just live here.