Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Politness and courtesy: Your call is important to us...

There has always been a curious courtesy between us, me and the Scorpio.

Not politeness – which is a practiced routine reserved for strangers I do not need to know or for people I do know, who have stung me. Politeness as noncommittal oil to grease daily transactions or used to withdraw when my personal boundaries are breached.

Courtesy, on the other hand, is a deeper thing.

The Scorpio and me are far from courteous the rare times when we disagree. We are unfair to each other. We assign blame and sulk. He has a good sting in that Scorpion's tail of his, and I’m no slouch in the hurtful words department either. Only the small wisdom afforded by age and experience keep us from spewing out everything we think – until later, when cooler heads prevail.

Most of the time, though, we are courteous. The first time we made love, afterwards, I thanked him. I had been celibate for nearly seven years, so you can imagine the gratitude under normal circumstances – imagine how it would be if the first person you slept with after all that time was utterly, flawlessly compatible with you.

Still, at a younger age, I’d have eaten my own tongue before I thanked a man for sex. It was their good fortune, I figured. That was how the game went. Men wanted sex. Woman gave it out. Even if you happened to like sex and were female, you never thought of it as a gift someone brought you. Well, I didn’t. But I doubt I was alone in my generation.

The other night, the two of us were laying face to face, talking. I couldn’t stop smiling. “I’m happy,” I told him. We’d both had weary days. The kind of day when the same thing happens at the same time, for the millionth time and you start wondering how in hell you ever got locked into this eternally grinding moment. No big crisis. No big what-happened. Just a slow, water-drip wearing down of the spirit.

“I’m happy,” I said, and then I added, “thank you for teaching me how to do that.”

For teaching me how to let go of the weight. For showing me how to open the door when you arrive and let the rest of the tired day leave as you come in. For doing that yourself each time you see me. For showing me that hauling emotional baggage into a relationship does not have to be one of the defining characteristics of a “serious” relationship.

He smiles and accepts my thanks. He looks pleased and happy too.

It occurs to me that courtesy springs from humility and gratitude. Courtesy isn't from the ego.

And I’m thinking about how genuine courtesy is the hallmark of every friendship that matters to me. That my friends and I thank each other for the things that matter most – the life lessons, the truth when no one else will tell it to you, the examples we provide for each other, the forgiven mistakes, the compassion, loyalty and humor we extend when life feels too damn long, scary or cramped.

It's kind of an old-fashioned thing. Like grace.