It was a quiet tantrum but a tantrum nonetheless.
My wife and I had gone away to Melbourne to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. When we were married we had both come out of unhappy marriages and recent divorces so the experts decreed that the prospects of us achieving a long marriage were not great. After a few rocky years in the early days, it has been a very happy and life-giving relationship.
Love certainly changes over the years, but if nurtured properly with sufficient commitment to do what must be done and change what must be changed, love grows strong.
We had a lovely afternoon and evening in Melbourne but the next morning breakfast at our hotel was hijacked by what can only be described as a full on tantrum from a middle aged woman towards her husband. “This is not breakfast! I’m not eating this xxxx”, she hissed in her English accent.
It is hard to pretend you haven’t heard the outburst when you are sitting just a metre away at another small table but we did our best. Good manners seemed to dictate that we should keep out if it unless it became violent. Fortunately, it stayed just vitriolic with relentless glares and brooding silences.
The woman’s husband offered to go to another café where they served a cooked breakfast but she declined and he made the mistake of listening to what she said, instead of what she meant. In my experience when someone says, “No, stay, have your breakfast”, they actually mean “Get me out of here now to a place that understands what a civilized breakfast means or you will pay dearly for this.” But he heard “No, stay…” and no doubt he would quote this back to her at some later stage when they would re-visit their conversation in private.
As he sat trying to force down his breakfast, I imagined each mouthful sticking to the sides of his throat, his stomach confused by the mix of adrenaline and digestive juices.
He tried to appease her by bringing back from the servery packets of Bircher Muesli that he knew she liked but she threw them back across the table contemptuously. She wasn’t going to be won over so easily.
“So this is hell. I’d never have believed it. You remember all we were told about the torture-chambers, the fire and brimstone, the “burning marl.” Old wives’ tales! There’s no need for red-hot pokers. Hell is—other people!”
― Jean-Paul Sartre, No Exit
In his 1944 play, “No Exit”, Jean-Paul Sartre has three damned souls brought to the same room in Hell and locked inside. They had all expected to find torture devices to punish them for eternity but instead find a plain room. As they try to understand what might lead them to hell and what their punishment will be, they get on each other’s nerves and each takes pleasure in exploiting the weaknesses of the others. Eventually they realise that they have been placed together to make each other miserable, that they are to be one another’s torturers, which causes one of the characters to exclaim, “Hell is other people”.
At the table next to us, the couple seem to be descending into such a hell. My wife and I exchanged a couple of text messages regarding the situation, afraid to say anything out loud for fear of being dragged into this toxic predicament. Should we move to another table? Should we finish our breakfast quickly and go? No, we decided, we would stay and celebrate that after 30 years we had grown together rather than apart and had developed an understanding and respect for each other’s quirks, differences and needs.
Intimate relationships are the most rewarding and most demanding part of our personal lives. Get it wrong and we start to understand what Sartre meant. Get it right and it’s heaven on earth; to be fully known and unconditionally loved. As Paul put it, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
This is the gospel, and it’s good news.
Brian Spencer, Minister