“The first thing your father says to anything is ‘No’,” my sister in law said to me one visit home.
“Really?” I asked.
I hadn’t noticed.
Perhaps I had Stockholm syndrome, a common disease in our age, causing us to adopt the point of view of our captors.
So I started to listen for the “No.”
I had been out of the house for years at that point and was living in a city where everything was possible.
But sure enough, on trips home I began to hear the “No’s” that came up in large and small details where no outside opinion was even required.
They caused tension.
It is a hard and brittle little word.
My Father heard “No” for the most personal and joyful occasion of his life.
He met my Mother, in Cambridge, through friends, and they decided to get married a week later.
My Father’s family is Jewish although they were not religious.
But it is a tight community especially considering how World War 2 is seared into our history.
My Mother’s family was English, Scottish and Swiss and her Mother’s family descended directly from the Mayflower.
My Father’s family said “No” when he announced his intent to marry my Mother.
That one word changed lives and cut off contact beyond a superficial level for many years.
Things were never the same after that bad dose of “No.”
At the end of Ulysses, the Joyce version, not Homer’s, there is the famous speech of Molly Bloom:
“And I said, Yes…”
Some people take this as an orgasm, a ‘Harry met Sally in the diner moment’, but it is also an affirmation of the rule of comedic improvisation.
The comedic improv rule is, that you have to say yes to everything that comes up.
Otherwise the action stops.
My ancestor, John Alden, is known for his proposal of marriage to Pricilla, on behalf of the Captain of the Mayflower.
She heard him out and then famously replied:
“Speak for yourself John.”
Many generations later, I sit with my co-mingled blood, typing in a foggy New England morning.
Pricilla’s words have a lesson for me.
If you speak for yourself, then you will think for yourself.
If you think for yourself then you will understand when to say Yes or No.
Those two words are the salt and pepper of love.