This past Monday after I called my husband Gordon at work in Atlanta telling him that my flight had been delayed indefinitely at Midway Airport in Chicago, I got to wondering about modern marriages. Here we were miles apart and who knew when we’d ever have a chance for quality time together. I wondered what it takes to stay close to your spouse these days when there’s so much else to do during the day and you spend so much time apart.
Monday was a very bad day to be flying into Atlanta. Maybe you heard about the torrential rain we had that caused major flooding on a scale we haven’t seen in decades, if ever. Hartsfield-Jackson airport in Atlanta was completely closed down, meaning a whole planeload of us strangers were waylaid for hours at the gate at Midway wondering when we’d ever get home.
Sitting there I had a long time to observe the strangers around me. One young couple didn’t realize that the way they were snuggled up next to each other proclaimed, “We can’t get enough of each other.” The young man had his arm around the dark-haired girl’s shoulders. He pulled her close to him. He rested his cheek on her hair. She rested her head on his shoulder. He smiled. She looked up and smiled back. They didn’t seem to mind the delay because they were together.
Then I studied another couple with a ten year old girl sitting between them. This couple was equally totally unaware that their body language was saying, “We’re not sure what we have in common any more.” The man was absorbed in reading a book. The woman was staring at an I-phone screen. Occasionally the woman got up to wander off somewhere. The man didn’t look up or notice. The woman didn’t lean over to tell him where she was going. They seemed like two planets in very different orbits. Neither smiled. They seemed disengaged from each other. Distant. Did that eventually happen to all married couples?
We finally boarded the plane at sunset. As the plane gained altitude a man one row up on the aisle held a crossword puzzle up in his small individual spotlight. Suddenly a simple memory of my own parent’s marriage flooded over me. Crossword puzzles. My parents weren’t really much alike in any way. Dad was from a Midwestern city, Mom was a rural farm girl from South Carolina. Mom had an artistic bent and could sketch with delicate sympathy the tiniest wildflower. Dad worked as a budget analyst for the government and actually liked it.
My parents were two totally different people who could have been on individual orbits if it hadn’t been for the crossword puzzle in the daily paper. Every night after dinner Dad would fold the paper until the crossword puzzle was a small square. Mom found a pencil. Then they would sit down on the sofa together and put on reading glasses and begin putting their heads together. “What’s a four letter word for great lake?” “How about Erie?” Mom would write it down and they’d continue to collaborate on clues. After they’d spent half an hour or an hour together on the sofa, the puzzle would be mostly completed, but of course, looking back, I now see that wasn’t the point.
I read somewhere that solving crossword puzzles is a good way to keep your brain sharp as you age. But on Monday night I uncovered another benefit of crossword puzzles, or at least small shared things like them, for keeping husbands and wives close in a marriage. Those puzzles created a little hallowed spot of time for my parents to be together every day, collaborating together on something that didn’t have to do with household chores or raising children.
When I got home, I found out that Gordon had recorded Dancing with the Stars. So we sat down and watched it together, commenting to each other on every dance. (Even though neither of us can actually dance ourselves!) So what’s a four letter word that’s the secret to closeness in a marriage? T-I-M-E.