Borrowing Bette

Every metaphor you can think of is deficient in some respect and, regrettably,  that includes the metaphor I am going to use today.  I am going to treat the opportunity I have of living my life with Bette by the analogy that she is a book I have checked out of the library.  This is what she looked like when I met her.  Why would I not have wantedBette Pensive to check her out?

There.  That’s the worst of it.  Now you are in for a little exculpatory throat-clearing, after which I will work with the metaphor a little.  One: there really isn’t any Library in this metaphor, out of which I could have checked Bette.[1]  Also no Librarian, no cosmic Yenta who makes matches and therefore also makes mistakes.  Bette is a person, not an object.  She is not like a “book,” that can be owned, borrowed, and returned; and if she were, she would be the kind of book the librarian consulted with before loaning her to anyone.[2]

Here’s why I’m using this metaphor anyway.  It distinguishes sharply between “reading a book” and “having a book.”  That’s worth doing.[3]  Besides, Bette was a librarian when I met her, so I am benefitting from both ends of whatever humor there is in this metaphor.[4]

Bette had a headache earlier this week.  Bette doesn’t get headaches.  So this was a potentially disturbing event.  What did this headache mean?  The question had a little more pop for me than it would have had for a guy who has not already lost a wife to a disease that first presented itself as a series of inconsequential medical anomalies.  Being that guy, I press a little harder on just what “inconsequential” might mean, even if it is just an unexpected headache.

So I had a bad night that night and the next day the headache went away and Bette is back to normal.  But during that bad night, it occurred to me that living intimately with someone is like reading a really good book from the library.  Even if you have to let go of it—you can get it renewed sometimes, but eventually you have to give it back—you still got to read the story.  Bette’s story–in this metaphor, the story that is Bette–is a rich and complicated story; it has subplots and sub-subplots; it has heroes and villains; it has engaging sidekicks and comic relief.  It means something wonderful.

And you always get to keep the story, even if you have to return the book.  That’s how far I got during that bad night.  It’s a metaphor with some problems, as noted above, but it brings a wonderful clarity to the central meaning of the metaphor, which is that no matter what happens, you always get to keep the story.

I have books, and I’ll bet you do too, that I have not really given myself to.  I’ve enjoyed them.  I know there is more in them than I have yet found, but I also know that I have them, there on my shelf, and that I can always go back and read them again.  If I knew that I could not go back and read them again, I imagine that I would invest myself more intensively, getting everything the book had to give me.  What this metaphor does is to remind me that the partner you married really is not like the book you have.  She is more like the story you need to give yourself to so that you will always have it when you have to give the book back.

So to conclude, I have offered a metaphor that has recently meant a lot to me.  It is truly terrible theology and I don’t mean it as theology.  They say sometimes that youth is “wasted” on the young because they don’t know how wonderful it is.  They might also say that marriage is wasted on the married, because they don’t know how wonderful it is.  But I really do know how wonderful it is and I don’t want it to be wasted on me and so far it has not been.


[1] This is not to say that I did not check her out when we first met, back in January of 2005.

[2] That was, in fact, the experience of the mutual friend who undertook the task of persuading Bette to loan herself to me for a brief coffee date.  He pleaded; she resisted.  “It’s a fourteen day loan,” he said, “and he is really good about returning the people he borrows.”  Bette said, “That’s not good enough, I’m afraid.  I have things I want to do in the next fourteen days and none of them involves getting back into the Slough of Dating.”  The above story is true, more or less, in principle.  The dialogue is entirely invented.

[3] People who know my life will understand that I have also lost a book.  You have to pay a fee for that.  It is a quite substantial fee.  I did return my next book when it was due, and I understand that I may be called on to return Bette as well.  I hope not.  It is about my turn to be returned.

[4] I went so far as to say, at our wedding, that I was proud to have taken her out of circulation, a joke only her librarian friends really appreciated.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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