In a post called "Put Asunder," Camassia has some thoughts about the impact of divorce on its adult children (she is one), and on all of us collectively:
[W]hat I didn’t see, in my myopic adolescent way, was that even the corpse of the marriage was holding together something bigger and yet subtler. It was that family homestead, that center of gravity around which the rest of the world seems to arrange itself, and to which one naturally returns at certain times. The house was, I think, the image of us as a unit, the sum greater than the parts, which we never really lived up to but was nonetheless there. Now that it’s gone, one place seems much like another to me.
I don’t want to overdramatize my situation. I doubt that all this really harmed me. But I can see how, if this is repeated millions of times across the country, it can eat away at something important, something fundamentally human.
"That family homestead, that center of gravity" is so much what our parents, "Herm and Rengo" to their grandchildren (I'd like to do a post sometime on the weird names given to grandparents by their grandkids -- Boo and Bah and Bop-pop) are to our whole extended clan. You can see it here in this post of Sara's about the house on Fort Myers Beach, which is also about the magnetic center that the parents who have stayed together for 63 years are for all the rest of us, and to which we keep returning:
I fear that the house, the beach, H & R, are leaving somehow. . . . I love them (all of them) like nothing else. Like family, squared. I cant imagine my children (not yet born, obviously) not knowing them and loving them as passionately as I do. They (especially H & R) have taught me so much about life, consequence, chance, love, and conscientious thinking/dealings in life. And that house has breathed them in and out for all of these years, while the other houses have been sold, rented, etc. It feels like, for our family, letting go of the house is symbolic of letting go of a whole era of time for the Gottliebs, and one where H & R are the central characters. I guess I never want to let that go, I never want it to end.
Sara is the child of not one, but two divorces. So it's not to her own parents' generation, us restless, shapeshifting Baby Boomers, but to her grandparents that she looks for that anchor in the world. Maybe her generation will decide that creating that kind of rock is more important than always moving on in pursuit of "my authentic self." They are certainly hard to reconcile.
Jacques and I don't have kids, but the longer we have stayed together, the more I've had this weird sense of responsibility to keep on staying together for the sake of the other people in our lives who somehow count on us as a unit, a phenomenon. Friends we've been out of touch with for a few years have sighed with wonder and peace to find that we're still together. A lasting relationship between two people becomes like a feature of the landscape in the lives of their friends and family. Starting out as a promising sapling, it thickens like a tree, becoming ever more solid and stout and trustworthy. People can rest in its shade. Eventually, it comes to seem as permanent and mythic as a local mountain's silhouette against the sky. At times when the going got rough and I've fantasized about some other direction for "my life," I've realized that my life is not only my own any more. The need would have to be imperative for me to destroy what has become a landmark for others.
And I know that I am almost always disappointed when I hear about a breakup or a divorce -- even a celebrity tabloid divorce: Tom and Nicole, Brad and Jennifer. The only exception is pairings that are blatant mistakes from the get-go. Otherwise, I always want couples to last.
Humans long for something relatively unchanging -- or at least slowly changing -- in a world in constant, accelerating change. I wonder sometimes whether part of the appeal of Buddhism to so many contemporary Americans is their need to reconcile themselves to the new flux of marriages and relationships, as well as to rampant "development" (not to mention war and terrorism) and its destruction of places. How many of those sitting in zazen or Vipassana are children of divorce who, instead of feeling the divorce was wrong, try to believe that divorce is just one manifestation of the truth of impermanence and that they are wrong to want to hold on to their parents' marriage, or their own?
After 9/11, I wrote to my 35th college reunion report, "The darkness of the world now rushes in where the twinkling twin towers once stood. As if they were tall, indulgent parents standing guard who have died, we feel exposed." A friend whose mother just died wrote me that she was trying to learn how to live "without that rampart between me and death." One way or another, change will come; as the Buddha said, everything you love will change, be taken from you and destroyed. But do we have to rush into it, slashing our moorings as if to beat Death to it?
UPDATE: A day or so after writing this, it struck me: wait a minute, why would our hypothetical American Buddhist (admittedly a straw man or woman) meditate on the impermanence of the relationship, and not on the impermanence of dissatisfaction with the relationship? In fact, that's what you do when you commit yourself to stay with someone: you meditate on the impermanence of your dissatisfaction with the relationship. (Or as my mother once memorably put it in earthier parlance: "You sell yourself a bill of goods.")