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Sunday, October 16, 2005

What's Shame Got to Do with It?

Jim Clarke, a divorced man, doesn't find anything funny about divorce. "I find the whole experience rather tragic," he says. He is responding to a growing trend, the divorce party. Celebrants play games like "Pin the Blame on the Ex," and drink a cocktail called "Marriage on the Rocks."

I'm with Jim. The whole idea of a divorce party with fun and games trivializes both divorce and marriage. Even where divorce is sometimes necessary, though, it is not fun. It hurts, and hurts bad. Anyone who says otherwise is either hard-hearted or in denial. Because every divorce, every divorce, is rather like the removal of a limb.

When a married couple splits because one or both of them acted frivolously, and the divorce wasn't necessary, it is like the removal of a healthy limb; but even when there is no other answer but divorce, it is still like the removal of an injured limb, beyond recovery. It still hurts. A certain emptiness will remain forever.

I've been through it. I wasn't always fortunate enough to be with someone so well-suited to me as my Charming and Patient Husband. There was a time, when I was younger and not so close to God, that I made some serious mistakes with my life. One of them was marrying someone not available for marriage. I knew I was sinning, but like many immature people, I figured it would somehow work itself out eventually.

It did. Eventually, I came to terms with my sin, and set out to make things right. In the end, it involved divorce, homelessness, the loss of all possessions, and an extremely intense reevaluation of my priorities. It was a healing process, a purgative, penitential process. And the pain was like nothing I've ever experienced before or since.

That pain wasn't because I'd done the wrong thing, and it wasn't because of the hardships I went through. No, it was because I'd lost the person I'd given ten years of myself to. The person who had been the other half of my life for so long, who had given me children and shared a home with me. And I don't care how much two people might grow to resent each other, losing someone who is that much a part of you is a widowhood of sorts. Mourning is a necessary part of coming to terms with the new reality. It is a requirement for healing.

Some people would rather say they don't need to heal. "Why do I have to heal? I am not the one who was wrong!" The irony is that the other spouse is thinking that he or she is not the one who was wrong. The truth is that both are wrong. I have never once seen a completely blameless divorce. I have known divorced people who were the wronged party, but I have never known one who didn't share any blame at all.

If we can't find our own blame, instead of the other person's, how can we avoid making the same mistakes again? Is it really supposed to hurt less if we serially say "it was the other person's fault"?

If we took divorce more seriously, maybe we would take marriage more seriously. Anyone playing "Pin the blame on the ex" should stop to remember this: "I am an ex, too."

The article says: "With nearly half of all marriages ending before 'til death do is part, divorce has gone from a private shame to a peculiar rite of passage."

A rite of passage? I think that way of looking at it is a real shame.