Culture: The behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group. (Dictionary.com)
With all of this talk about intercultural relationships and families in this blog, I realized that what I’ve really been writing about is differences in ethnic culture. My husband and I are the products of two very different ethnic traditions, some aspects of which can blend well, some which mix like oil and water. A big issue like a son’s relationship with his parents in Indian culture can be very divisive in a marriage like ours. Indian men traditionally live with and care for their parents all their lives, and bring their brides into that home. Now I can’t speak for all, but most American wives I know would probably rather chew nails than live with their in-laws. So, me live with my in-laws? I think not. However, out of love for my husband, his parents, and lots of years of negotiation, we have tried to work out a way that he can honor and care for his parents, without cohabitation. There are always fundamental differences in ethnic traditions that can to be worked through, with give and take, in intercultural marriages.
But guess what keeps us together, (besides a gaggle of kids that neither one of us could wrangle alone and the fact that I still like the way he looks in his scrubs every morning)? All of the other 90 percent of our lives that we do have in common. Culture is not all how you pray, what languages you speak, or what food you ate growing up. We are so much more than that! Every person belongs to a consumer culture, a work culture, a sports culture, a technology culture, and so on. The beautiful thing about people is that we are multifaceted and that keeps us from being boring (on the most part).
Music culture is a huge part of the glue that seals our marriage. My husband and I spent our formative years in the 1980s and we share a connection with the music of that era, despite the fact that some of it was not any good. On dates, we’d stare into each other’s eyes with Depeche Mode and INXS playing in the background, and after he dropped me off at home, he’d spend hours mixing cassette tapes for me, just so I could listen to the likes Chris DeBurgh sing Lady in Red to me when I was alone. (Teenage love…gag) All of these years later, I have forgotten many details of how we spent our time together. But I do remember vividly the concerts we went to together, the sounds, the sights, the crowds. We stood in our seats together and danced and sang to the sounds of Poison and The Eagles and U2. The two of us belonged to a culture greater than our little twosome, and so much more fun on a Saturday night than our stodgy family traditions.
We attended a Bryan Adams concert in the early 1990s that is an experience neither of us will ever forget, not because of the stellar stage performance that Bryan Adams gave, but because we witnessed a tragedy together that will always be with us. We arrived early to find our seats in the new Memphis Pyramid arena, and chatted while we watched all of the roadies set up and test equipment for the show. As we sipped our drinks with friends, we casually watched a crew member climb up a flexible ladder to the lighting equipment in the center ceiling of the enormous complex. As he approached the last rung of this ladder, he lost his grip and plummeted to the ground, dying on impact. Horrified cannot describe how we felt at that moment, frozen, having watched the last tragic moments of this poor man’s life. I clung to my husband, in need of something, someone, to help me erase that image that had been etched into my brain. Stronger than me and more desensitized to such occurrences than I was, he held me tight in the way that he would have to do so many times over our marriage.
Now, this is not a pleasant memory. It is one that I desperately wish I didn’t share with him. But, we were there at that moment, and share that moment in history. Because of our love of the same music, and because of our mutual membership in the youth culture of the time, we share the bond created by powerful, intense experiences like that one, that have nothing to do with our ethnicities or cultural traditions of our births.
We are no longer youths. I recently had the big 4-0 birthday and just cannot figure out how that happened. I still feel like a twenty year old, though I know I sure don’t look like one. And my husband and I have stuck together through the death of a parent, the birth of five children, and all of the other joys and disappointments of life up to this point. Music of the last couple decades has evolved, for the better in many cases, and the youth of those years have had their own music culture to create their own memories with. Cassette tapes have been replaced with iPods, and Casey Kasem is no longer around to tell us about the top hits of the week. But, on Saturday nights, when the kids are in bed, my husband and I turn on our iHome speaker, hit the 80s playlist on the iPod, and slow dance in the kitchen as INXS’s Michael Hutchence sings Never Tear Us Apart to us, and only us. That is our song.
We still even gaze into each other’s eyes.