My husband and I went to marriage counseling this morning. Between us, we have four children, his daughter, my two daughters, and the mischievous little minx we have together. We’re a modern blended family, with all the complications that brings, in addition to the usual stresses of married life: finding time for romance, communication, finances, dealing with teenagers. As we shared our stories, the counselor prompted us to turn our statements into questions. “Inquire of the other,” he said. “The more you define the other person, the farther you get from actually knowing them.”
My husband is selling some plaster copies of his bronze sculptures on eBay. He came home last night dressed in his usual grungy, clay-spattered jeans and ragged tee-shirt with red iron-oxide patina stains. He trudged into the kitchen where I was cooking dinner for our little one, kissed me on the crown of my head, and tread back out. I followed him to see why his hands were so dark. Sitting on our dining room table was PERSISTENCE.
I gaped: this is a powerful, stunning piece of art. His muscles bulge under the compression of gravity, his mighty thews heave with will and determination, his veins strain and pop-out. It’s anatomically plu-perfect, hyper-real in accordance with modern taste, but classically designed and conceived in its male nudeness. It is sensory exaltation. It is an experience of revealed truth.
It’s easy for me to forget, in the dailyness of our life together, that my husband Sabin Howard is a singularly talented artist. Grumbling about his messiness, his clothes left out for me to put away, and his penchant for over-peppering every plate of food he cooks, I lose sight of his extraordinary ability. No one else can sculpt like him. No other working figurative sculptor sculpts at Sabin’s level. No one has sculpted as well as Sabin since, who, Carpeaux? And there is an argument to made that, historical place aside, Sabin is a better sculptor than Carpeaux, who tended to a saccharine quality. Don’t get me wrong, I love the sweetness in Carpeaux’s figures. But for sheer mastery, Sabin’s got him beat. Michelangelo, Bernini, Cellini, Howard: these are the great master sculptors.
Even if I do have to wash out the sink after Sabin shaves.
It’s a point well taken. I think back to all the times my former husband told me who I was: “You’re crazy!” was probably his favorite definition of me. And every time he made like Webster’s this way, I would look at him and wonder if we inhabited the same planet, and what mirror he was trying to look through to see me. Of course, I did, and do, the same thing. I’ve been known to tell my current husband that he lacks the compassion gene.
“But turn that into a question,” said the counselor.
“So are you feeling cold and uncaring in that moment?” I managed to ask, with only a little bit of squirming. It really didn’t kill me to ask.
“I’m feeling scared,” my husband admitted, “that I don’t know how to fix this for you, and you’ll get angry with me. I’m trying to protect myself.”
Inquiry has broader implications than promoting understanding between wife and husband. At the end of the session, the counselor shared an observation. “I travel a lot. I’m in the Muslim world for a few weeks every year. I listen to them talk about Americans. They don’t know diddly about Americans. They think they do, but they don’t. Then I come home and listen to Americans talk about Muslims. They don’t now diddly about Muslims. I keep wondering, when will we all sit down and inquire of each other? Inquire and discover?
“But we won’t do that. And so we’ll go to war. A hundred years war, devastating, all because we won’t inquire.”