There is a poem by Jack Gilbert. The opening line is “Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.” The reference is the Greek story of Icarus whose father made him wings of wax and warned him to not fly too close to the sun or the wings would melt. In his youthful enthusiasm Icarus got too close to the sun, his wings melted and he drowned in the sea.
The rest of the poem is about Gilbert’s marriage – how people thought it would never last, his memories of times with his wife at the beach, in Paris, and that they eventually divorced. The closing lines of the poem are, “Icarus didn’t fail when he fell; he just reached the end of his triumph.”
As Robert Taibb points out, divorce can so easily feel like failure but it is also about triumph – that you both have helped each other to grow and change over the years, to be a different person than when you both started, and now you have merely reached the end. Your roads have divided. It is time for change, a new chapter.
From Different Paths
This post is not meant to encourage those struggling in a weakened marriage to pull the plug. If there are children in the family, personally I would do my best to maintain marriage unless it gets to a state, when divorce is unavoidable. If marriage gets to that state, divorce can not only start a new chapter in life, but can also heal ‘old’ wounds. I have experienced that with my own parents, who got divorced when I was in my teens after almost a decade of constant fights.
My parents always claimed that they stayed together for as long as they possibly could for the sake of us, their children. Too long and too late for us, as their troubled relationship with constant fights brought more damage to us than divorce. Both me and my brother felt a huge relief when it was all over.
To our surprise, our parent’s relationship improved dramatically after their divorce. First of all, they started talking to each other. And I mean talking, without shouting at the top of the lungs or blaming each other for all sorts of things. They started helping each other occasionally too. A few years later mum even dropped a few tears, remembering how wonderful my dad was when they got married. That came as a total surprise to me, as I’ve never heard her saying anything positive about him during their life together.
From The Letters
However don’t perceive divorce as an easy way out of hard-to-manage marriage. As Robert Taibb points out, the most difficult about divorce is the need to do well what was hard to do during the marriage – communicate well, consider the other person’s needs, keep your focus on what is best for the children rather than using them as battle grounds for power struggles or forums for dealing with your own grief and loss. While you may have different styles, you need to agree on the same bottom lines.
Most of all take care of yourself – like it or not you are a model for your children on taking risks, the courage of taking charge of your life, managing life changes while staying positive and well-balanced. If you are okay, so too will be your children.
Keep in mind what Gilbert said: You didn’t fail, you just reached the end of your triumph…
Failing and Flying
by Jack Gilbert
Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It’s the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph…
From Glory of Icarus