Thank You, Walter and Patty Berglund

So I’ve been sitting in the hospital again all day, waiting while Rachel undergoes the second of her preventative surgeries, this one to remove the expanders and insert the permanent implants in her breasts. I’ve listened to the stories of the people around me, overheard some conversations whose participants were not concerned about others hearing, and I’ve watched the faces come and go like clouds in the summer sky. I’ve passed the majority of the time reading Jonathan Franzen’s newest book, “Freedom”, a most excellent (if somewhat profane) book on a regular American family.

And after reading the profoundly disturbing antics of the Berglund family, I’ve come to the conclusion: I love my wife so much that I cannot live without her. Don’t want to live without her. Won’t live without her.

SPOILER ALERT: If you’ve not yet read “Freedom”, leave this page now. I’m going to touch on the book’s resolution, and I don’t want you screaming at me for ruining the book for you. So, once again, SPOILER ALERT!

If, however, you don’t even know what I’m talking about, have never heard of Jonathan Franzen or his latest little book, then read on. And consider watching Oprah; then you might have at least heard about this guy.

So, back to where I was.

I came to this conclusion about my wife after reading about Walter and Patty Berglund, two seriously flawed people (in that way that all people are flawed, only magnified) who cannot seem to be rid of each other, despite manifest reasons to do exactly that: be rid of the other. In reading Franzen’s marvelous prose, the two main characters of the book come alive with all of the suburban, polemic breath that we’ve come to identify as life these days; in fact, Walter and Patty are so marvelously fleshed out, you almost feel voyeuristic in certain sections of the novel, as if by reading Franzen’s words about imaginary people you’re somehow looking into their fenced in backyard with your high-powered telescope. But this life, this magnificent reality that Franzen creates, is what makes Walter and Patty so tragic.

And spurs realizations of your own.

Reading about the damaging, almost fatal, completely bizarre and hard to understand love that keeps the Berglunds together, I was compelled to consider my own relationship with Rachel. To examine the ways in which I love her. To imagine what my life would be without her. And ultimately to realize that we will be together always.

I’ve always known this, of course, but sometimes you have those moments of “what if”, those fleeting seconds where you wonder what would have happened if life had gone differently, if you had taken the door on the left 0r not made that phone call, you can find doubt setting in. And not the okay kind of doubt, the curious, demonic, hellish bad kind that can rip a person in two. And in those moments, as you realize the darkness that everyone has inside them, you wonder if it’s realistic to believe that a love professed between two people, who are bound to change and grow and become different over the years, can really last. It’s a question so profound, and so in need of answers, that the preeminent literary novelist of our times just wrote a whole book about it.

And in reading about Walter and Patty, in reading about these two colossally screwed up people who damage one another in horrible ways but still end up together because their love, no matter how demented, still conquers all…well, I realized that my love for Rachel, healthy and rooted in our faith in the All-Powerful God, will last just as long.

As they say, “When you know, you know.”

“Freedom” is not a novel that I would recommend for your church’s book club. It’s probably not anything that you would want your grandmother or children or judgmental neighbor reading either. I’m not here to praise it’s content – as I’ve said, everyone in this book is tainted and disturbed and ruined by the disease of more – but rather the questions that it makes you ask and the answers it makes you consider. This is literature doing what literature should do: push us to consider life.

Sitting in the waiting room, as far away as a spouse can possibly be from their mate, separated by walls and wires and anesthesia, I was reminded in the brokenness of two fictional characters how precious my wife is to me. And how much I love even watching her breathe, or laugh, or walk.

I am grateful for the reminder. And the confirmation.

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