Thursday, November 12, 2015

The art of things unsaid

One of the pieces of family history that my dad handed over to me was a wonderful black and white photo of my favorite ‘aunt and uncle,’ as we say, that is, Uncle Hank and Aunt Irene (we reverse the order when calling them by name). That's the young couple in the photograph above. On the back of the photograph is neatly handwritten ‘April 16, 1950’ and my guess is, it was taken on the back porch of the second or third floor of a flat in Chicago.

What strikes me instantly and… deeply is the look on my aunt's face, her beautiful face, a look that cannot be put into words, yet I can read it, full of things unsaid. My uncle looks off to his right with his characteristic ‘you can't pull a fast one on me’ face, or maybe it was just the look of ‘no matter what you say or do, I'm here.’ A look of somewhat light-hearted but matter-of-fact faithfulness. But it's Aunt Irene's look that holds me, I can't get away from it. She really loved Hank, and he really loved her. Till death do us part.
(Click the image to enlarge the photograph for a closer look.)

Uncle Hank was 38 and Aunt Irene was half a year from her 39th birthday. They had been married 15 years less one month. They were dairy farmers, running their southern Wisconsin farm at Slades Corners near Genoa City single-handed most of the time. That meant they almost never got away. We had to go and see them. Their farm was where I spent some of my boyhood summers. Aunt Irene was never able to bear children. Uncle Hank never let his disappointment ‘mount as far as his throat’ as the Desert Fathers say. He simply loved his wife and never let anything get in the way of that, not even their childlessness. And what wonderful parents they would have made. Yet, that's not what the Lord wanted for them.

As they had no children, my dad became the inheritor of their few memorabilia, and now he has turned them over to me. I still use Uncle Hank's bulky cast aluminum electric drill—with two handles to hold onto for dear life—probably from the first generation of power tools. But other than a few small artefacts, and some photos, I have little else… except for their official documents, birth, baptism and marriage certificates. It is their marriage certificate in its dusty grey slipcover that I found most interesting when I first inherited it after Aunt Irene reposed (Uncle Hank had pre-deceased her by ten years or so).

Behind the certificate in its tassled cover was another document, titled “How to Perpetuate The Honeymoon.” The credits under the title read, ‘From Home and Health, by permission of W. H. DuPuy, A. M., D. D.’ In that document are given twelve pieces of good advice for keeping a good marriage. Perhaps in another post I will list them all, but the tenth bit of advice caught my attention and I remembered it, and when I first saw the photograph that I've posted above, I thought of it.This is the advice…

Do not allow yourself ever to come to an open rupture.
Things unsaid need less repentance.

The first sentence is boldfaced as the header for what follows, in this case only one more sentence (some of the others have a short paragraph). What follows is the instruction for achieving what the header advises. In only five words, it describes a truth of unlimited application. Another version of the same but less pointed might be an even shorter saying, ‘Silence is golden.’ All of these, of course, come from the Bible, but in 1935, official documents were already trying to avoid bringing that up. Christianity was on its way to being put in the archives. The modern age was about to begin.

Things unsaid need less repentance. I want to keep thinking about this some more. The longer I live, the more value I see in leaving things unsaid.

Not to keep people guessing, not as leverage in a situation, but simply because some things cannot be explained or reported using language. This is where other forms of communication come in, like my aunt's look.

And not everything unsaid that can be passed to others by non-verbal means is meant for everyone in the first place, but like that white stone Jesus promises in the book of Revelation (2:17), it's only readable by the one to whom it is given.

I just wanted to remember my aunt and uncle today, two unsung saints that I was blessed to know, and to hold high their love and faithfulness to each other and to those whom the Lord sent them. Eternal be your memory, beloved Hank and Irene, for you are worthy of blessedness and life in the world to come.

Αιωνία η μνήμη.


yudikris said...

Beautiful reminiscence... Eionia imnimi!

GretchenJoanna said...

Recently I was reminded of a parallel saying: "The less said, the sooner mended." Thank you for sharing this real-life example, and for giving honor to these people you love.

Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

Yes, that is a great way of putting it, and so true! Thanks for your comment.