I watched the nubile yoga instructor demonstrate. “This is an awesome stretch,” she crooned, lying down on her back on the mat. “Just put your hands like this over your head, flat on the mat. Now, spread your feet like this to anchor your energy,” she continued, bending like a jointed Barbie. “Now, push up!” she chirped as she lifted her belly button toward the ceiling, and her spine arched into a curvy, backward “C.” Her head dangled easily between her elbows and she made a toothy smile that was, in fact, upside down and frightening.
My head started aching and I yelped, “You want us to do that?” I glanced furtively for the nearest exit.
“Oh, you can do this Marjorie,” the young woman urged with an unleashed cosmic enthusiasm. “You are so flexible!”
“Flexible,” I mumbled to myself. “Like hell I am.” Silently, I dropped into a “child’s pose” — a face-to-the-mat, modified fetal position assumed by yoga enthusiasts everywhere to say, “Sorry, I am resting. Go away.”
I blocked out the groans of the women around me struggling to back bend and nestled deeply into a tight, determined shell of solitude. “What am I doing here?” I quizzed myself in my routine litany of wonder about attending yoga classes.
“For that matter,” I puzzled, “what am I doing married?” (This is a frequent side effect of yoga — where you start thinking about something that has nothing at all to do with yoga, and all that “mind clearing” leaves your brain room to wander.)
Clutched unto myself, alone, my marital misgivings took off. I got married against all odds, I knew. My parents had given up. They introduced me as their “lawyer daughter” to summarily dispatch their friends’ unasked questions about maiden names and no rings. I was ferociously single by determined choice well into my 30s.
But God in His Great Humor had plans for me and my 40-year-old, determined bachelor husband, Bill, through years and tears wearing us down to His point of view. When I relented of my single determination, I found myself married to an unadulterated Alpha person whom I adored — and committed to a set of terrifying in-laws worse than any yoga exercise ever conceived. He, I know, felt the same.
“How did this happen?” I groaned quietly, now sticking to the grey mat in what was fast-becoming a permanent position. I disguised my moan, making it sound like blissful yoga breathing, that the other women stuck in back-breaking pain might envy my calm.
They need not know my bewilderment over how I had gotten here, how Bill and I had made it this far. Within the first three years of my marriage, I felt like Marilyn in the in-law Munster family. But I had no point of reference for relating their truly bewildering behavior.
Like the story about the time they checked into a motel on a car trip. Reportedly, my father-in-law had proceeded to the bathroom, when suddenly my mother-in-law heard him roar in outrage.
“The water level in the toilet is much too high,” she later complained to management. “His family treasures got wet in freezing cold water!” My in-laws proudly boasted at the dinner table of the healthy discount they received for this indignity.
“A discount?” I yelped. “You got a discount for that?” Every Campbell head turned toward me and stared in silence, as if I were the Munster at the table. The silence ended when they all broke into raucous laughter — at me.
“How do we survive this torture?” I mused, realizing that my legs were now completely numb tucked up under my body. Of course, called to conscience by discomfort, I admitted that my husband had his own moments with his in-laws — my family.
Like the time my parents passed by our house on the way home from a vacation, but decided not to stop for a visit. “They’re in a hurry,” I explained sheepishly.
“A hurry?” he shouted. “They are retired, for goodness sakes. They haven’t seen you or me, not to mention their three grandchildren, for a year, and they can’t detour three miles to stop by and say hello for an hour?”
I knew it was not part of my parents’ plan that trip to stop, and that seemed oh-so-normal to me. But I belonged to my own Munster family. How do you explain this sort of thing?
In the far away distance, I heard my yoga instructor announce that class was ending and we should lie quietly on our backs, breathe, and connect with the space above us. “You, too, Marjorie,” she added with a note of disappointment.
As I managed to turn, unfurl my limbs, and collapse onto my back for the best part of yoga class, I thought about the stretch required in this marriage we had not sought, but had nonetheless been given.
But from the beginning of creation he made them male and female. This is why a man leaves his father and mother, and the two become one flesh. They are no longer two, therefore, but one flesh. So then, what God has united, human beings must not divide (Mk 6-9).
“Human beings,” I realized, relaxing onto my back, “include in-laws.” This marriage, I knew, demanded major, even painful, stretching if I — if Bill — were to be flexible, flexible enough to remain the one flesh we never wanted with this spouse we could not live without. “Next time,” I mused, “maybe I will bring Bill — and we can try this ridiculous back bend together.”