Some of you will still remember the song, “American Woman,” that still gets some play on classic rock stations. I like the song fine, though it’s not one of my favorites. (I prefer the version with the acoustic guitar lead in that then breaks into a harder, electric rock.) It’s been running through my head for the last several days. Knowing that we all read into what songs and poems and stories mean from how they connect in our own minds to our own lives, I’ve always heard this as a song about not settling for the standard work hard (at any job that pays well), care for your family and retire well thing that seems to run in American culture. What’s important is being successful and comfortable. Very possibly, that’s just me.
I think, if you’d asked me during my college days what the most important thing in my life was, I might have answered ending the (Vietnam) war. Or I might have answered finding the meaning of life (I was a philosophy major) or figuring out God (I did become an Episcopal priest). Or I might have answered my writing. It would have depended when and in what context you asked me.
Did I want a real relationship with a woman? Sure. You bet! But it might well not have been on my list of most important things. And, in the context of making some woman happy by supporting her living the American dream, it was certainly not on my list of vital things to do with my life. I’m pretty sure that’s still true. Living the consumer version of the American dream (for some woman) is still not on my list of vital things to do with my life.
The words in that song which I keep coming back to are when he tells some American Woman “… I’ve got more important things to do than to spend my life growing old with you.”
And I find myself thinking, even after what I said above, that this is not necessarily true. Maybe it’s because I’m about to retire (though I’m expecting an active retirement, including work, and I don’t think so). I think it’s because I’m becoming more and more convinced that relationships are more important than anything else. What we have with God is a relationship. What I have with my family is a relationship. What i have with the world around me is a relationship. Relationships seem to be what endures.
I’ve become convinced that God (that Christians believe is a single entity with a Trinity of persons – which I think is an explanation of how we experience God more than anything else) is personal and relational as God. When we were created male and female in the image of God I think that means we were created to be in relationship and make choices. I see this life we live as a chance to learn to be in relationship and to make good and meaningful choices. Family life is sacramental because it is relational, and by learning to live with each other we learn about God’s love and how to be in relationship with God, as well as with each other. Heck, if the new science is right, everything in the world only exists in relationship to everything else in the world – there wouldn’t be anything at all apart from the relationships.
So these days, when I think of Anne as my American woman, it’s not primarily about what I can buy and the security my resources can help provide us (though I like having some security — don’t get me wrong). It’s about being in a sustaining and challenging relationship. And, even allowing for God at the center of my life, I’m not sure I have anything better to spend my life on than growing old with Anne. That’s where I learn to be a person. That’s where, concretely, I learn to love and be loved, to give and to take, to care beyond my own ego needs and respond to the needs of everything around me. That’s where I learn to live in relationship.
If I’m right, about God and creation, there really is nothing more important for me to do than to spend my life growing (actively and creatively) old with Anne.