How Good Do We Have to Be? continues to simultaneously break and heal my heart with every turn of the page. I find myself realizing how right he is every time he reveals how wrong we've been on how we view each other. Our individuality is both overwhelmingly awe-inspiring and dreadfully lonely, which is why we seek someone to complete and make us whole. Kushner starts the marriage chapter with an interesting twist on the Hebrew word commonly translated as "rib" during Eve's creation in the book of Genesis. The word tsela is more commonly translated as "side" which hints at a creation of an androgynous two-sided human paralleling myths found in Greek and Hindu sources. So when it states in Genesis 1:27 "male and female he created them" the text can be read to say that God originally made a two-sided human which he then split apart making them suitable mates for each other. So when two people come together and feel that restored sense of unity they once again become the androgynous creature they once were at the time of Creation. I found that to be an interesting myth which perfectly describes the wholeness we discover when we find our partners.
The issue then becomes how we interact with our partner as this newly unified creature. We seek out a partner that completes us but this also means we each bring our flaws into this new union.We become so drunk on the experience (love) of being this new beautiful creature that we explain away/ ignore our partner's flaws in the beginning. But as we become accustomed in our new body those new flaws become more prominent. The illusion of the perfect mate begins to melt and we begin to question whether or not we chose the right mate for us. "Which is why", as Kushner beautifully sums up,"the essence of marital love is not romance but forgiveness."
We are immensely fallible creatures who are destined to screw things up. When we join with our partners as this new creature we must open our whole selves to each other, which allows for a tremendous amount of love to flow in both directions. This also leaves us incredibly vulnerable to personal injury which is why trust and forgiveness is foundational to marriage. Kushner boils down our interactions with our mates (as well as neighbors) to two choices: we can choose to seek a life of righteousness or happiness. Kushner defines righteousness as remembering every time someone has hurt or let us down and never letting them forget it. It is the life of the eternal victim living in defense mode from the world. It is an alienating, lonely life trying to live by impossible standards of perfection. However, living a life of happiness embraces our imperfect humanity with a spirit of forgiveness. We come to terms with the fact that nobody is perfect and the foundation to a happy and fulfilling marriage lies in our ability to forgive our partner for simply being human. This spirit of forgiveness does not mean a battered wife must continue to suffer at the hands of an abusive husband, nor that either partner continue to lie to the other about extramarital affairs. I'll leave you with Kushner's definition of this spirit of forgiveness we should embrace when it comes to our most personal relationships.
"Forgiveness as the truest form of love means accepting without bitterness the flaws and imperfections of our partner, and praying that our partner accepts our flaws as well. Romantic love over-looks faults ('love is blind') in an effort to persuade ourselves that we deserve a perfect partner. Mature marital love sees faults clearly and forgives them, understanding that there are no perfect people, that we don't have to pretend perfection, and that an imperfect spouse is all that an imperfect person like us can aspire to."
Part 1: A Story of Emergence
Part 2: Guilt and Shame
Part 3: The Cycle of Guilt
Part 4: The Wholeness We Seek
Part 5: Is There Enough Love for Everyone
Part 6: Final Thoughts