Monthly Archives: February, 2011

You Owe $36.52 More or Less – originally posted July 29, 2009

February 27th, 2011 Posted by Susan's Musings No Comment yet

My bank and I rarely agree on how much money is in my account. This is a circuitous way of saying that despite the fact that I do know how to add and subtract as well as use a calculator, I can’t seem to reconcile my bank statements accurately.

As long as the bank thinks I have more money than I do, I figure that I’m safe. But recently, there has been a new development in the monthly “by how much am I off?” game.

About a month ago, while checking to see which checks cleared I noticed that the bank paid out fifteen dollars less than the amount on the check I had written. The payment was to a small family business that did some work for me, so I sent them fifteen dollars, explaining that it was to straighten things out. It seemed odd at the time, but easy to fix.

Then this month, I noticed that the bank had, on my behalf, paid my supermarket almost ten dollars more than the cost of my groceries. This time, I visited my bank’s local branch to ask what was going on. While I admit that my handwriting is not the most legible, I could view the check on-line and it just didn’t wash that either the digits or the written out amount looked anything like the amount deducted.

I was a bit taken aback when the bank representative didn’t seem to be at all surprised by what had happened. Instead, he told me that the misreading of checks was an increasing occurrence. This wasn’t as a result of new technology; it was escalating human error.

I know that I am looking only at the experiences of one person among the millions of daily transactions, but it does strike me as odd that as the government is getting more involved in the day to day operations of banks, I’m noticing that the level of reliability, responsibility and attention to detail is plummeting. Just a coincidence – or not?

 

Never Marry Your Grandmother

February 22nd, 2011 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

“My boyfriend is driving me crazy! Does he want to get married or not?”

“My husband and I were both thrilled when I became pregnant. But when I mention the baby, he sometimes gets this terrified look on his face. Is he happy about our baby nor not?”

The answer is…drum roll please…Both! The author of The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, wrote,

The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold

two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time,

and still retain the ability to function.”

People are complicated and since most of the joy in life as well as most of the problems come from dealing with others, it is helpful to gain greater understanding into human relationships, particularly between men and women.

Take a look at Scripture’s list of prohibited sexual relationships. It starts with close relatives and ends with bestiality. (Leviticus 18:6-23)

Pretty straightforward. Except, we are perplexed to discover that one and a half chapters later the entire list is repeated. This time, however, it starts with adultery and ends with close relatives. (Leviticus 20:10-21) Is it repeated to help folks with short memories?

No. The purpose of the Torah is to teach us how the world REALLY works and that includes understanding sexual relationships. Relationships between men and woman are complicated because they are driven by complex and often conflicting forces.

Ancient Jewish wisdom reveals relationship secrets while resolving the problem of the two lists in two almost adjacent Biblical chapters. It turns out that the lists are similar but not identical. They list the prohibited sexual relationships in different sequences, thus hinting at the two chief forces driving sexual attraction.

The first list in Leviticus 18, encapsulates our innate drive for reproduction. It is not just women who experience ‘baby-hunger.’ While women tend to experience it earlier (playing with dolls offers a clue) men also eventually yearn for the immortality that a child can confer. Most men want their children to be like them. The first list starts off with the relationships that would theoretically most appeal when reproduction is at the forefront of men’s minds.

The surest way to conceive children who resemble oneself would be to reproduce with a mate from one’s own family. While this sounds strange to our ears, focus on the concept rather than picturing it. So this list mentions prohibited family members first. It concludes with alternatives less tempting to someone focused on reproduction such as another man’s wife in which case the child would belong to someone else. Finally come homosexuality and bestiality where no offspring can possibly result.

The second list expresses men’s urge for sexual pleasure. It offers its own sequence in descending order of appeal. Most attractive is another man’s wife. Many men perversely find themselves attracted to married women whom they would totally ignore if the same ladies were single.

Forbidden fruit powerfully attracts so it constitutes the first prohibition in Leviticus 20:10. Continuing to look at the world through the eyes of a man who is only interested in a sexual relationship with no other component whatsoever (like reproduction or companionship and growth) we find the powerful sexual attraction of homosexuality and even of bestiality. These prohibitions are next in the list. (Leviticus 20:13-15) Finally, given that most men are not sexually titillated by close relatives, the list ends with those.

Now the two lists no longer suggest redundancy but, taken together, they reveal an exhilarating glimpse into reality. It isn’t surprising that relationships between the sexes frequently lead to heartbreak when not only do we not instinctively “get” each other, but we often don’t even “get” ourselves.

What seem to be redundancies or simple stories in Scripture actually lay out deep insights into how God built us. I realize this might sound self-serving but I can think of few more valuable ways for anyone interested in male/female relationships to spend two hours than listening (perhaps with someone you love?) to my Madam, I’m Adam: Decoding the Secrets of Marriage audio CD set. It remains on sale for another 24 hours. You will be amazed at the practical insights which spring off the page of God’s word and out of the Hebrew language.

Blackberry Bamboozlement

February 22nd, 2011 Posted by Susan's Musings 6 comments

When my husband and I were first married, he was the rabbi of a dynamic synagogue. Most of the congregants were young, single and new at developing a relationship with God. They walked out of my husband’s Torah classes with heads full of exciting and thought-provoking ideas. In the years leading up to our marriage, a few of his students had gotten in the habit, which my husband encouraged, of calling him at any time of the day or night when they found themselves grappling with questions sparked by the class or by their fledgling foray into the faith of their fathers.

These calls came in at all hours. During the early months of our marriage (which took place when phones were still attached to walls) my husband used to leap to answer the phone lest one of our congregants might have to wait for his attention. This included mealtime and after we had turned off for the night. As a young bride, my attitude differed from my husband’s. After some calm discussion, which admittedly may have been punctuated with a few tears, my bridegroom came to understand that he was no longer immediately available to his students at all times.

Years later, when we retired from the synagogue rabbinate and moved to the Northwest, the pattern of not leaping to answer the phone with Pavlovian dispatch was well established. Until that is, mobile phones began to accompany my husband wherever he went. Ditto for Blackberries and other electronic devices that seemed to be grafted to his body.  Now the concern was less with congregants and more with one of our children who was away from home. Any suggestion that only seldom did a child far from home need urgent attention placed me in the position of being a heartless mother. Children who were present at our table found themselves ignored as vital concerns from their far-away siblings such as, “I’m writing a thank-you note. What’s the state abbreviation for Missouri?” took precedence. My darling husband caught up with the distant child while those of us at the table remained silent. Discussions take place regularly in our home as to whether modern electronics are devices that serve us or whether we are servants at their beck and call. With a fair number of married years under our belt, there are fewer tears on my part but the exchanges are nonetheless quite passionate.

All of which leads up to a gift my husband recently presented to me. To his intense annoyance, I dislike carrying a cell phone and rarely check messages. His conclusion was that I had an aversion to my specific phone model and so he gave me a Blackberry, confident that I would fall in love. It can do so much! Not only is it a phone, but it can access my email, take videos and I can even leave myself voice messages with it. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that it can bake an apple pie if properly programmed. Accompanying this wondrous machine is a 449 page user’s guide. 449 pages!!!!! Now my husband, like many men, never reads instruction manuals. I do, which is probably why he thought I would appreciate this encyclopedic tome. Quite frankly, if I had time to read 449 pages I would rather re-read Gone With the Wind.

I have always taught my children to express gratitude for gifts whether or not they appreciate the individual item. They were to focus on the thought behind the gift and the relationship with the giver. In keeping with that idea, I am grateful for my new Blackberry while equally convinced that I seek loving relationships with individuals, not machines.

Howgwash – originally posted on Nov. 18, 2009

February 20th, 2011 Posted by Susan's Musings No Comment yet

One of the guidelines at our Shabbat table is the “one conversation” rule. Unlike a dinner party where the polite thing is to converse with the person on one’s left and right ( I confess that my notion of dinner party protocol may be shaped by novels written in the 19th century), we want everyone at the table involved in one discussion. To that end, we try to gather a congenial group and to raise issues of general interest.

Well, every rule has an exception. I can think of more than one occasion when our close friends Liz and Brian were over and the conversation turned to some principle of physics. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Brian is a brilliant physicist. His wife, Liz, might never have studied physics had she not married him, but in order to share more fully in his life, she has become quite a student of physics herself. My husband has a physics background and our son, Ari, majored in that subject in college.

I can think of a few times that I, along with some of the other guests, were totally befuddled by the conversation this group started. While we all have perfectly respectable I.Q.’s and can speak intelligently on many subjects, when the physics talk began it left us behind. Despite that fact that we couldn’t all participate in, let alone understand, the topic under discussion, it was fascinating to listen to the exchange of ideas.

In contrast to this, I remember one meal when we had three visitors whose words made absolutely no sense to me. Since they were all bright individuals, my first thought was that the conversation was over my head. After listening for a while longer I concluded that it wasn’t a lack of understanding on my part, but rather that our guests were spouting nonsense, influenced by a seminar they had just attended.

I felt the same way when I read a recent interview with the actor Woody Harrelson. He was asked how he felt working on a film that had army support, considering the fact that he was against the Iraq war. His response included these words,

“It was a good experience for me because it’s one thing to consider yourself pro-peace, like I consider myself…”

Excuse me. What exactly does it mean to be “pro-peace”? There are valid and cogent reasons to either support or oppose specific military actions. Good people who articulate arguments on both sides are “pro-peace;” they differ on how best to achieve it.

One of the steps on my road to homeschooling was listening to my daughter’s third grade teacher expound on how SSR would be a vital part of the classroom experience. SSR? I found out that stood for “sustained silent reading,” or in simple language – reading quietly to oneself. Considering that my daughter and her classmates would happily read from morning till night and turning reading into a time-limited, mandated school subject could only diminish the pleasure they got from books, I decided that in this case labeling reading SSR was an attempt to make an everyday activity sound complicated and in need of professional supervision.

Similarly, depending on my mood, I either laugh or cringe when I see an area labeled a “gun free zone.” It would be more honest to label the location a “law abiding citizen gun free zone”. Fantasy play may be valuable for toddlers, but it is dangerous for adults.

I love having Brian and Liz over and I am perfectly happy to be exposed to differing points of view. Unfortunately, our public discourse is filled less with people explaining cogent views to others and more with senseless babble designed to squash intelligent discourse. Words are too often used for propaganda purposes rather than enlightenment, to obfuscate rather than illuminate. In our years of homeschooling we provided our children with many hours of SSR. We also devoted many hours to twaddle detection, hopefully ensuring that they will be able to evaluate what they read and hear.

 

 

The Husband Always Rings Once

February 15th, 2011 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

A couple we know was showing my wife and me around their newly built house. I always feel a little awkward when proud homeowners display their master bedroom. Because the bedroom is the special place for intimacy and privacy in a marriage, being there makes me feel like I’m trespassing. I don’t want to be in the sanctuary of someone else’s marriage. I usually can’t wait to escape the forced tour and get out to some other part of the house.

However, in this case, I stood in their master bedroom gawking. I could not believe my eyes. There was no wall between the master bathroom and the bedroom. This wasn’t an en suite bathroom, this was an in bedroom bathroom. No wall, no curtain, no fancy electro-chromic glass (yes, Agatha, that is glass that becomes opaque when you flick a switch turning off an electric current). No door, no nothing. No privacy. I gulped and fled. Too much information. TMI, as my kids say.

The public library was my next destination. I perused some architectural and home design magazines. It didn’t take long for me to discover that there was indeed an entire avant-garde movement for open plan bathroom bedrooms. One particularly lurid example showed photos of a Hollywood couple (obviously) who placed the porcelain privy, tub, and sinks on a circular raised platform in the middle of their bedroom. “We have a very close marriage,” they smirked to the journalist. I’ll say. But I fear the duration of that marriage might be inversely proportional to its privacy quotient.

Getting married does not mean each spouse forfeiting all privacy. Maintaining mystery and protecting privacy is vital to a durable and happy marriage. Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that no matter how close the relationship, boundaries still exist. For instance, if their wives are home, husbands should announce their arrival by knocking or ringing the doorbell. This little courtesy is a gesture of respect to wives and reminds husbands to give their wives necessary space.

Consider this section of Scripture describing the special vestments and garments made for Aaron, the high priest.

You shall make on the hem (of the robe) pomegranates of turquoise, purple,

and scarlet wool on its hem all around and gold bells between them all around.

(Exodus 28:33)

It must be on Aaron in order to minister, its sound shall be heard

when he enters the sanctuary before God…

(Exodus 28:35)

Now wait a moment. Only Aaron is to enter God’s holy sanctuary, so who needs to hear the sounds of the gold bells tinkling? Ancient Jewish wisdom’s explanation is that they are for God to hear. Aaron needs some method of announcing himself so as not to walk in unexpectedly, and the sanctuary was not equipped with a doorbell.

Does this make sense? God would know what Aaron was doing and when he was entering.

Like so many other details in Scripture, the idea here isn’t to give dressmaking design minutiae; it is a message to human beings for all time. If Aaron is forbidden from walking in unannounced upon an all-knowing God, how much more should all of us avoid marching in unannounced upon a human being? It is for this reason that knocking on a door before entering has always been standard procedure in the western, Bible-based cultures although it was unknown in many other early cultures around the world.

New military recruits are denied privacy precisely to diminish the individual personalities and weld them all into a single unit. A marriage is not a military unit made up of people who have willingly renounced their individuality. A marriage is a holy unit made up of precious individualism and separate but complimentary identities.

Knowing when togetherness results in the unity of a couple and when privacy and individuality are necessary are among the many crucial marriage sculpting techniques that the Bible reveals. I explore more ideas in my audio CD program Madam I’m Adam: Decoding the Marriage Secrets of Eden. I invite you to save money this week while putting yourself or someone you love on the path towards a more fulfilling marriage.

Knowing when togetherness results in the unity of a couple and when privacy and individuality are necessary are among the many crucial marriage sculpting techniques that the Bible reveals. I explore more ideas in my audio CD program Madam I’m Adam: Decoding the Marriage Secrets of Eden. I invite you to save money this week while putting yourself or someone you love on the path towards a more fulfilling marriage.

One Husband is Enough

February 15th, 2011 Posted by Susan's Musings 2 comments

Language matters. That is why politicians persist in saying ‘investment’ rather than ‘tax’, and disguise their votes as opposing ‘budget cuts’ rather than promoting ‘a smaller than desired budget increase’. It’s why people talk of pro-choice rather than pro-abortion. A rose by any other name might smell as sweet but call it a ‘putrid bloom’ and no one will buy and smell it in the first place.

New words and phrases that enter our personal, family or community vocabulary often lead to ramifications unimagined at the time they are first used. As Valentine’s Day approached, I was completely taken aback reading an article entitled Does Your Work Wife Get a Valentine?  in the Wall Street Journal. Work wife? Work husband? Office spouse? Have I been in such isolation that I missed an entire trend?

Not exactly.  The story and its accompanying pictures featured male and female co-workers who are good buddies as well as office mates and whose real spouse or romantic interests accept this fact with equanimity. Sure, there is a warning about office friendships which cross the line and marriages ruined by office affairs, but in general the tone of the article is “How cool and sophisticated are we?” The article quoted a study claiming that, “nearly two-thirds of workers have or have had a work spouse…”

The entire article sounded so weird that I looked up the study mentioned. Are you shocked to hear that the findings weren’t quite as depicted? It’s not clear to me if the researchers made up the term “work spouse” but they define it as “someone…whom they communicate with and confide in at the workplace.” 55% of those surveyed said their work spouse was of the same gender as they. Are you shocked to hear that a high percentage of married women said they have had a same-sex work spouse while only half as many married men say the same? That makes it sound suspiciously like what women used to call a friend, specifically that type of friend which women previously called a girlfriend. There is nothing new and cutting-edge about women making friends with the women they see at the office every day.

Marriage is under constant assault these days. Couples who don’t recognize that the ease with which genders mix in the business world poses a serious threat to marital stability are out of touch. When marriages fall apart the individuals involved, the children, extended families, communities and our nation are impacted, overwhelmingly in a negative way. We would all benefit from clear-eyed discussions about handling the challenges of mixed-gender offices rather than applying the language of marriage in a casual and misleading way. Unless a married couple is in business together, spouses have no place in the office. 

Trial by Mouth – originally published Jan. 28, 2009

February 13th, 2011 Posted by Susan's Musings No Comment yet

   
Celebrity endorsements can mean a great deal to a company. So we thought it a tremendous coup when Illinois Governor (though probably not for long) Blagojevich give an unsolicited plug for our audio CD, Perils of Profanity: You Are What You Speak.

After all, while the governor is not being impeached for his vulgar language, I have to think that it impedes his attempt to portray himself as an innocent, wronged victim when the tapes that (allegedly) implicate him in criminal activity have every second word bleeped out. Fair or not, I know that I am less likely to give the benefit of the doubt to someone whose mouth needs a good scrubbing.

 While neglecting to mention the name of the product – you get what you pay for, as Governor Blagojevich well knows- he made a very strong case for our teaching. In interviews this week, he acknowledged that his foul language harmed his wife as well as noting how difficult it is to control such a loathsome habit.

So, some companies employ athletes like Michael Phelps to represent them while others prefer Hollywood stars like Jennifer Anniston. As for Rabbi Daniel Lapin productions, we think that Governor Blagojevich is an outstanding case study of why everyone needs to hear Perils of Profanity, and proof of the good you can do by giving it to any young adult you care about.
Rather than paying a celebrity endorsement fee, we’d like to offer the governor some advice. In one interview he said:

“Had I known somebody was listening, I wouldn’t have used language like that.”

Well governor, in the future you would do well knowing that somebody is hearing each word you utter, for He is always listening.

 

It’s the Genes, Stupid – originally posted Feb. 2007

February 8th, 2011 Posted by Susan's Musings 2 comments

    
February. An often bleak, cold and dark month. This may be the reason why, aside from the obvious commercial implications, cheerful, bright, pink and red valentines endlessly bombard us as soon as February approaches. For women’s magazines the theme of the month’s issue is pre-ordained – romance. Generally this means that even more clap trap than usual will be disseminated. Hollywood couples who have made it past the five week mark will be lauded as proof that enduring love still exists and “experts” will step forward to explain the new, advanced methods for attracting and holding on to a mate.

Right on track, in a statement so absurd that one knows without checking that the author is an academician, comes a quote from Melvin Konner, MD, professor of anthropology and behavioral biology at Emory University. Commenting on a study of rodents which suggested that injecting male meadow voles with the chemical vasopressin increased their likelihood of linking up with female meadow voles, the doctor states,

“There’s something at work with a couple that stays together for 50 years, bad years included. It’s hard to imagine that it’s just a question of compatible personalities or strict beliefs.”

Imagine. If we only had universal health insurance we could have a nation of young couples streaming to the nearest chapel and we could assure them that divorce is no longer a threat. A regimen of injections would turn us into a nation of long term, happily married couples.

I don’t mean to pick on Dr. Konner, who after all sounds like he was simply wondering out loud rather than recommending a policy. Later on, in the same magazine that featured his quote, is an article highlighting committed couples, including one who has passed the fifty year mark. It is clear that indeed they were initially attracted by compatibility but weathered and continue to weather difficult times through shared beliefs and views.

But in today’s cynical and bruising world thousands of young people are reaching marriageable age as products of broken homes; probably just as many as products of unfulfilled ones. It is easy for them to believe various academics who proclaim that marriages were never meant to last for fifty years. It seems sensible to them that as the expected life span increases it is only normal for couples to divorce and pair up with new spouses, or that marriage itself is obsolete and meaningless.

Studies such as the one that made the cover of news weeklies a number of years ago suggesting that there is an “adultery gene” or ones that suggest that commitment is biologically driven advance the argument that people are helpless beings who can only act as we are programmed. As such we are not responsible for or capable of controlling our behavior.

What a dismal message to send. And how different it is from the message that God gave to Adam and Eve in Eden (when life spans were even longer than they are today). As my husband and I have been preparing the newest volume in our Genesis Journeys  series, focusing precisely on what that message is, I can’t help recalling a February event that I was privileged to attend two years ago. Hosted by then Governor and Mrs. Huckabee of Arkansas, the focus was on promoting commitment in marriage and it had nothing to do with a magic pill or monthly injection.

The highlight of the evening (aside from my husband’s speech) was a moving video of the president of a respected Bible college announcing his resignation in order to stay at his wife’s side while she dealt with the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease. Like the thousands of other women in the room, my eyes were overflowing as he explained how his wife had supported him in all his endeavors and now she was in need of his company. Although she didn’t seem to recognize him, his presence calmed her down and gave her peace, and so he was choosing to free himself of other obligations to be with her. Not because he thought it was “only fair” or as a “payback” but because it filled him with joy to ease her distress.

I imagine that this man and his wife probably felt they were compatible when they embarked on their marriage many years earlier. But I doubt if it was hormones that led them to stay together. My guess is that there was a constant recognition that communication, hard work and common goals were needed to keep them compatible and, indeed, that strict beliefs laid the foundation for and built the protective fence around their relationship.

I don’t think there was anyone in the Altel Arena in Arkansas, male or female, who didn’t say a silent prayer asking for a marriage as blessed as that one. And I also don’t think there was anyone there who thought that achieving that kind of marriage was a function of winning a genetic lottery or having access to new drugs rather than of making a constant and sustained effort, through good times and bad, to attain it.

 

One in a Million

February 8th, 2011 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

A neighbor of mine is passionate about sports and the father of four young boys. Even though I’m only a casual acquaintance, I can see how different each of his sons is. Though the third boy clearly has the soul of an artist and just wants to be left alone to draw and paint, he is herded into the backyard for touch football games along with his brothers. I watch this young boy’s spirit being crushed when his ineptitude with a football costs him his father’s esteem. All too easily we mistakenly assume that just because people share one feature such as, “they’re all my sons,” they are therefore identical.

Similarly in business, we segment customers by clever marketing criteria. Then, because they live in the same zip code or read the same magazines, we mistakenly assume they all share identical desires and priorities. Likewise, we share many characteristics, ideas, and actions with our friends, relatives, and colleagues but we can trip up when we forget that notwithstanding the similarities, each of us is unique.

Scripture teaches this vital lesson in human interaction. When the Tabernacle is completed, God directs Moses to allow the heads of each tribe to bring a gift, one leader after another on successive day. (Numbers 7:11)

In six long verses, the Torah then relates that on the first day Nachshon, of the tribe of Judah, brought a silver bowl and a silver basin containing flour and oil, accompanied by a gold ladle filled with incense. Rounding up the gift were twenty-one different animals. (Numbers 7:12-17)

The next six verses inform us that on the second day Netaneil, of the tribe of Issachar, brought his offering. Would you believe that he brought exactly the same items, even with identical dimensions? (Numbers 7: 18-23) The following six verses tell of the third day, the only difference being the name of the leader and tribe. (Numbers 7: 24-29)

So it goes for seventy-two interminable, repetitive verses. Twelve heads of twelve tribes on twelve successive days brought exactly the same gift. (Numbers 7:12-83).

Don’t you agree that it would have been more concise for the Torah to have said, “And these are the names of the heads of the tribes each of whom brought the following gift.” The next six verses could then detail the gift. Doing so would have saved us reading over sixty repetitive verses.

Well, had the Torah been written by humans and edited by humans, that is probably what they would have done. But instead it is God’s message to mankind and each passage is written in the best way to convey vital information about how the world REALLY works. Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches us how to decode it.

The message here is that while it is true that each tribal leader brought the same items, each gift was still distinct. The spiritual symbolism of the different items was understood differently by each man. God, who created and cherishes every human being separate from all others does not lump them all together. What a lesson for us! Just because people are superficially similar or seem to do similar things, it is wrong to assume they are identical.

This is a powerful message for us as parents, as friends and as business professionals. Whether in personal interaction, by phone or by email, it is good to let each person in our lives know that he or she is not being treated in a standardized, bureaucratic way.

Of course, because your income depends on how usefully you serve as many people as possible, you frequently can’t relate to customers individually. However, everyone wins when you seize opportunities as they present themselves to acknowledge a customer as a cherished, unique person. I know that many of you benefit from using the principles from one of our best-selling audio CDs, Boost Your Income: 3 Spiritual Strategies for Success, to increase your own communication and collaboration with others. Those principles make a difference in my life and remind me that while Thought Tools currently goes out to over 30,000 subscribers, each and every one of you relates to it in your own inimitable fashion.

P.S. Only 24 hours left for The Gathering Storm sale.

It’s the Genes, Stupid

February 8th, 2011 Posted by Susan's Musings 2 comments

                                   

I wrote this in Feb. 2007, but I do think that it deserves a reprise this time of year.

February. An often bleak, cold and dark month. This may be the reason why, aside from the obvious commercial implications, cheerful, bright, pink and red valentines endlessly bombard us as soon as February approaches. For women’s magazines the theme of the month’s issue is pre-ordained – romance. Generally this means that even more clap trap than usual will be disseminated. Hollywood couples who have made it past the five week mark will be lauded as proof that enduring love still exists and “experts” will step forward to explain the new, advanced methods for attracting and holding on to a mate.

Right on track, in a statement so absurd that one knows without checking that the author is an academician,  comes a quote from Melvin Konner, MD, professor of anthropology and behavioral biology at Emory University. Commenting on a study of rodents which suggested that injecting male meadow voles with the chemical vasopressin increased their likelihood of linking up with female meadow voles, the doctor states,

“There’s something at work with a couple that stays together for 50 years, bad years included. It’s hard to imagine that it’s just a question of compatible personalities or strict beliefs.”

 Imagine. If we only had universal health insurance we could have a nation of young couples streaming to the nearest chapel and we could assure them that divorce is no longer a threat. A regimen of injections would turn us into a nation of long term, happily married couples.

 I don’t mean to pick on Dr. Konner, who after all sounds like he was simply wondering out loud rather than recommending a policy. Later on, in the same magazine that featured his quote, is an article highlighting committed couples, including one who has passed the fifty year mark. It is clear that indeed they were initially attracted by compatibility but weathered and continue to weather difficult times through shared beliefs and views.

But in today’s cynical and bruising world thousands of young people are reaching marriageable age as products of broken homes; probably just as many as products of unfulfilled ones. It is easy for them to believe various academics who proclaim that marriages were never meant to last for fifty years. It seems sensible to them that as the expected life span increases it is only normal for couples to divorce and pair up with new spouses, or that marriage itself is obsolete and meaningless.

Studies such as the one that made the cover of news weeklies a number of years ago suggesting that there is an “adultery gene” or ones that suggest that commitment is biologically driven advance the argument that people are helpless beings who can only act as we are programmed. As such we are not responsible for or capable of controlling our behavior.

What a dismal message to send. And how different it is from the message that God gave to Adam and Eve in Eden (when life spans were even longer than they are today). As my husband and I have been preparing the newest volume in our Genesis Journeys series, (Madam, I’m Adam: Decoding the Marriage Secrets of Eden) focusing precisely on what that message is, I can’t help recalling a February event that I was privileged to attend two years ago. Hosted by then Governor and Mrs. Huckabee of Arkansas, the focus was on promoting commitment in marriage and it had nothing to do with a magic pill or monthly injection.

The highlight of the evening (aside from my husband’s speech) was a moving video of the president of a respected Bible college announcing his resignation in order to stay at his wife’s side while she dealt with the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease. Like the thousands of other women in the room, my eyes were overflowing as he explained how his wife had supported him in all his endeavors and now she was in need of his company. Although she didn’t seem to recognize him, his presence calmed her down and gave her peace, and so he was choosing to free himself of other obligations to be with her. Not because he thought it was “only fair” or as a “payback” but because it filled him with joy to ease her distress.

I imagine that this man and his wife probably felt they were compatible when they embarked on their marriage many years earlier. But I doubt if it was hormones that led them to stay together. My guess is that there was a constant recognition that communication, hard work and common goals were needed to keep them compatible and, indeed, that strict belief laid the foundation for and built the protective fence around their relationship.

I don’t think there was anyone in the Altel Arena in Arkansas, male or female, who didn’t say a silent prayer asking for a marriage as blessed as that one. And I also don’t think there was anyone there who thought that achieving that kind of marriage was a function of winning a genetic lottery or having access to new drugs rather than of making a constant and sustained effort, through good times and bad, to attain it.