Bits and Bites of Everyday Life


For better and for worse on the Rideau

By Geneviève Hone
True North Perspective

Geneviève Hone is a grandmother, family therapist and social worker.  With her husband, Julien Mercure (also a family therapist), she has co-authored three books on couples and family life. Her home on the web is

  Image by Julien Mercure.

“And where are you off to?” inquires my husband as he sees me rummaging in the closet for my hat and binoculars. I haven’t taken long walks along the river since the onset of this heat wave and today is not cooler than yesterday, so why the accoutrements of hiking? “Oh, I’m just going to see if the big birds are in the area.” The “big birds” in question are three swans that have periodically appeared on the river below us in the past few weeks so today I head for the balcony rather than the park. Our balcony offers a superb view of the Rideau River and at a glance I spot the swans gliding along just beyond the curve by the small rapids.

Today I need binoculars because I intend to observe the swans up close. You see, I am trying to figure out if it is always the same three birds that grace our river. Are Ottawa swans assigned a given stretch of the river for the duration of summer or do they follow a duty roster of sorts indicating which ones must be in attendance on a given day? I am also trying to detect if two of the swans are mates. If they are, and if it is true that swans mate for life, have these two promised to forsake all others? And if so, what is the role of the third swan in the group? Has this “extra” swan just come along for a fun cruise down the river on a quiet Saturday afternoon? Or is this fellow a constant presence in the couple’s life: a cygnet that has long attained adulthood but hasn’t yet flown the coop, a parent that has lost its partner and moved in with the couple or just a guest that is overstaying its welcome?
The swans are now just below our building, ever graceful and royal in their demeanor. Three groups of people in red canoes have paddled toward them, gently circling them, yet keeping a respectful distance. All we need here is some blue, I say to myself, and we’ll have a complete flag, remembering that today is the 14th of July, France’s national day. I look up and suddenly I do spot patches of blue! Just across the river, on a thin strip of grass and trees between the bicycle path and the bank, there stands a wedding party, being photographed for posterity. Three bridesmaids are dressed in beautiful teal blue gowns; the bride is wearing white of course except for a large bow of the same blue on the back of her dress. The four men are in formal black, providing a perfect contrast. A portrait of refined elegance!
I put down the binoculars. A wedding may be a semi-public affair, but I haven’t been invited to this one, so the use of field glasses would be inappropriate. However, I allow myself to look from a distance and send best wishes over the water to these young people who this very day have proclaimed their love for each other to the world. They have recited vows, traditional ones, or ones composed by each other for this very special occasion, in which they have made promises that they of course intend to honor till the end of their life. One of these promises is probably along the lines of forsaking all others. Most wedding rituals include something to that effect, I believe.
And what exactly is meant by “forsaking all others”? One could easily answer that it means DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY. Not committing adultery seems generally like a good idea, at least in many cultures and religions. But I suppose, or at least hope, that for the young couple across the river, adultery is not an immediate temptation! But what did these young people really mean when they vowed to forsake all others? If I had been officiating at their wedding, I would probably have wanted to give a few explanations. Mind you, this tendency of mine to provide detailed explanations may explain why I have never been asked to officiate at a wedding, but that is another story.
Had I been the minister or justice of the peace performing the ceremony, here is what I probably would have ended up saying, preaching or teaching. “You, dear couple, are about to promise to ‘forsake all others’. Perhaps omitting adultery will come to you easily. Good for you if it does. That’s one pitfall out of the way. But who are you putting under the heading ‘all others’? Think hard, because in a few moments you will be making a public announcement to that effect to your friends and family. You will be promising to work alongside your spouse for the rest of your time together to stop people from interfering with your relationship with each other. ‘That’s no problem’, you may think. ‘We’re moving to New Zealand’ in a month’s time. Nobody knows us there. Nobody will interfere in our lives.’”
At this point, I would have sighed. Loudly. “Ah, come on”, I would have admonished the couple. “Of course I’m not referring to actual people. I’m talking about the beliefs we’ve formed through our contacts with all the people who influenced us through our life so far. Beliefs about ourselves, about others, about men, about women, about relationships, about the space we may occupy on this earth, about our role in life. In periods of hardship, we tend to hang on for dear life to some of our beliefs whereas we should be opening ourselves to new ways of thinking and loving that are possible for us today. Some beliefs need to be challenged and perhaps discarded. No doubt you’ll get help from your partner in figuring out which ones exactly! On the other hand, honour and cherish the beliefs that nourish you, support you and can sustain you for richer and poorer, in sickness and in health, for better and for worse.”
The wedding party has been photographed from every possible angle and is preparing to leave. I glance down to look at the swans, but they have disappeared from my view. I do hope they will be back soon. I so want to solve the mystery of their relationship!
“How are the birds?” asks my husband as I step back into the apartment. “Oh, they seem to be fine”, I answer. “They are soon flying away on their honeymoon.”
For a moment the dear man seems somewhat perplexed, but he has long ago cast away the belief that he should be able to follow all my trains of thought. So he simply says: “I’m thinking of cooking shrimp for dinner.”
“I firmly believe you should!” I reply. Now here’s a belief that I want to hang on to!

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