My glazed eyes skimmed an eclectic collection of toys from the Sixties and Seventies as the stinging odor of mold jitterbugged across the dance floor of my nostrils.
It was the fifth antiques store we’d visited that Saturday afternoon. Which, to my way of counting, was about four too many. To twist a coined phrase, one person’s treasure is another person’s trash.
“Are you having a good time?”
I stared cautiously into my wife’s eyes which had drawn and trapped me like a Mastodon thirty-one years ago and have captivated me ever since. Her bright smile was toothy proof that she was thoroughly enjoying this item on our growing list of “the-kids-are-grown-up-so-we-don’t-have-to-stay-home-every-minute-of-every-day” adventures.
Now, as a veteran Married Person, I immediately recognized this as a trick question – much like the classic, “Does this outfit make me look fat?” Its tone and intentions seem harmless enough, yet the implications of the answer are potentially deadly.
A proper response would require every bit of rhetorical skill and relational finesse honed over twenty-seven years of marriage, knowing full well that this woman – though wonderful, charming, smart, fun, talented and loving — could easily smother me in my sleep for less provocation than this answer.
I inhaled. Quickly, silently weighed several options. Decided that, in this case, honesty strategically stirred with a hint of nuanced flirting was my best play. Exhaled. Then replied…
“You know…” I smiled. My hands playfully cupped her hips. “I don’t particularly like antiques, but I love spending time with you. And that’s what is really important.”
Ah! Well played sir! Well done! Success!
Her laugh – the laugh of an adulthood of trial, tribulation, life and love together — rang with understated but clear doubt, softened by understanding, patience and good-humored forgiveness for her partner’s quirks and quibbles.
Her entrancing eyes squinted Clint Eastwood-like, mouth openly grinning ever-so-slightly as she noiselessly nodded for several seconds.
“Uh-huh.” The words hung in the air like exhaust fumes, creating a cloud of uncertainty as she turned toward the door.
I wasn’t sure how to read that reaction…Only a second before I had mentally clapped myself on the back. Now, as we headed to Store Number Six, I wondered if I’d actually succeeded…and if so, at what cost?
In any case, our marriage survived another test. And that is always a cause for celebration.
Marriage has been on my mind a lot recently. Kellie and I will soon mark our twenty-seventh wedding anniversary. Then two weeks later to the day, we will give our oldest daughter, Emma away to the love of her young life in holy matrimony.
Among a lifetime of accumulated experiences and (hopefully) wisdom, this is what I want our daughter and future son-in-law to know, practice and honor:
Like many important parts of life, marriage is complex and sometimes more about what it’s not about, than what it may seem to be about.
For example, youthful passion is a wonderful part of marriage. But marriage is not about physical fireworks, as our oversexed, media-hyped culture would have us believe. Eventually, in a strong, healthy relationship, the fireworks light the sky less often, but ignite a slow and long-burning intimacy which is not doused by age or time.
Likewise, marriage is not about property or possessions. The size and price tag of one’s house is not nearly as important as the home that you build together.
Marriage is not about kids’ names (no matter how much your spouse loved dear old Aunt Gertrude) — or even necessarily kids, for that matter. Children are a wonderful blessing in countless ways – not the least of which is, they can often provide free(ish) labor! But the lack of progeny does not diminish the choice, made repeatedly, expressly and sincerely to honor, witness to and cherish another human being.
Marriage is not about competing with one’s spouse. Compete in the work place, or on the basketball court if you must, but leave it there. Marriage, done right and well, is its own victory to be shared and savored, not a scorecard to be fought over and filled in — unless it’s with the results of a healthy game of Scrabble or Monopoly, in which case all bets are off.
Marriage is not about marking time. Anniversaries are good reminders of how far we’ve come. Goals are a wonderful way to dream about how far we may yet go. Still, marriage is best lived in the Now. Seeing and caring for and celebrating each other for who we are, in each moment. Watching each other change and grow. Marriage is about expanding, not limiting, Time, through each shared laugh, private glance, quiet embrace and spirited conversation. Until Time stops.
Most of all, marriage is not about anyone else, whether foe, family or friend. Very purposely, marriage is a selfish institution. Except, in this case, the “Self” is the one person that two people become when they sacrifice for each other. This, perhaps, is the most vexing aspect of marriage. Most of us learn early in life that we are, both by design and default part of a Clan, and the Clan must protect itself. Survival depends on it. Indeed, marriage usually brings new relationships, alliances and allegiances. These people are now, suddenly and mysteriously, a part of your Clan and therefore a part of the “You” that you and your spouse are building.
Matrimony expands the universe exponentially just by adding 1 plus 1, which is a neat and often-wonderful magic trick.
Still, in the end, marriage is about no one besides the person to whom you have committed your very being, and whose essential spirit you have vowed to nurture. The person you consciously and publicly chose, and who you choose again, every day. Everyone else is, ultimately, sacrificial. Bright, joyous and sparkling ornaments on the tree of your shared and growing life, but not worth keeping if they overburden the branches.
Intuitively, this seems wrong. Yet — in a way made real only through the airy wisps of faith that bind us to God and each other – it makes perfect sense.
True love — the kind that compels us magnetically toward another human being; motivates us to sacrifice part of “Me” for the whole “We”; and captures and reflects another’s beauty in our eyes — is strongest when it is direct. Focused. Undiluted by external forces or internal interests.
Faith writer Anne Lamott, in her wonderful book, “Traveling Mercies,” wrote, “This is the most profound spiritual truth I know: that even when we’re most sure that love can’t conquer all, it seems to anyway.”
Marriage is about that kind of love. Solid, committed, overcoming, resilient. The kind that costs much, yet yields more. The kind that changes entire worlds with two of the smallest words: “I do”.
God is love in our lives. Grace is God speaking to us and through us and within us – sometimes whispering, sometimes shouting, but always chattering away.
Marriage is grace come alive. Like any conversation, for best results there must be a sender and receiver. Two parties, listening, working, sacrificing, creating, always for the greater good. Which is to say, always for the other.
Like that antiquing trip, marriage is not about what’s on the shelf. It’s about the journey. Store to store, up one sidewalk and down another, a step at a time.
Through life, walking.
Left foot, right foot.
Hand holding hand.
Hearts tightly bound.
First two, then one.