Monday, July 16, 2012

Love, marriage and baby carriages

The other day I received another “Save the date” announcement about an upcoming family wedding.  This fall my extended family is looking forward to celebrating two weddings (so far) and three babies. Such news is heart-warming. It tells me that the next generation is willing to try again where I of my generation may possibly have missed the mark.

Each wedding, each baby, is a symbol of hope that something good is going to happen  in each of these five families.

These kindergartners at marriage and family begin with tons more information than I and my generation had when we started out. We had little more than a bed, a stove, a few dishes, and some odds and ends of knowledge about  what it took to make a marriage work. We thought love alone would be enough. Sometimes it was, sometimes it wasn’t. 

After the marriage vows, which today are quite different than what we promised in our day, two very different people agree to love and cherish forever and forever.  Today forever is not forever for many reasons:  death, divorce, separation, desertion and much more. Incompatibility often rises to the top of the list.

Thinking about these upcoming family weddings, I  reflect. I agree with Kathleen Norris in Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life that commitment always costs. “There is a particular burden in loving another person....This is the love demanded of any husband, wife, or parent.”  Marriage keeps testing the vow to stay married. She dealt with her husband’s physical and emotional illnesses, as well as alcoholism and early death.

It is easy to fall in love, in fact, stay in love, when someone else does the cooking and cleaning after a night of dining and  you only have to clean up  after yourself. As Norris writes, it is hard to tolerate, much less love, the person who shares kitchen, bath, and bed.  And maybe hogs more than half it when, as in my case, your spouse is a good foot taller and the bed a good foot shorter than today.

I don’t think marriages are made in heaven.  They’re chiseled out here on earth, day after day, meal by meal, baby by baby,  laundry hamper by laundry hamper.
There will be days when you are taken to the depths of despair and wonder why you ever agreed to this strange arrangement. But also moments when you wish you could do this forever, and forever. As Norris writes, “As love takes us on a harrowing journey, even to hell and back, we may find the path arduous but remain convinced that it is the only one worth taking.”

A newly-wed doesn’t fully grasp that marriage means a brand-new identity as now one of two rather than two separate beings.  You remain  yourself and yet somehow you become part of another while remaining yourself.  Strange. 

Today not all women change their surnames as expected in my day, which added to a bewildering change in identity, both welcomed and confusing.  I ended up at the end of the alphabet in any listing as a Wiebe, rather than near the beginning with my maiden name Funk. But that was a small part of the whole identity thing.

A young person in the heady moments of passion doesn’t reckon on the fact that married life  will become a series of repetitive activities with occasional high moments.  What I remember most about my 15-year marriage are not the times of great physical intimacy but the tender moments together at the end of the day drinking a cup of tea and sharing what life had been.

Norris cites a study that showed that good and stable marriages were produced by embracing one’s spouse at the beginning and end of each day. Even a little peck on the cheek was enough. That small action was the only one that made a consistent difference. 

I also think that is important. My husband always kissed me before he left for the day. We also found that praying together each evening  helped. It is hard to pray when you are angry.  Prayer then becomes a sham. 
Norris’s book is not primarily about marriage. It includes much about her lifelong struggle with acedia (or sloth, the lack of ability to care for life). She found strength  in the monastic tradition and in praying the psalms.  She became an oblate in Minnesota monastery while living in a small community in South Dakota.

One reviewer writes that  Norris, gently, with no fanfare, “preaches the practicality of love—healing, empowering, sustaining. What demon, however insidious, can compete with that?”  None, I say. 

Two weddings, three babies.  I rejoice with each couple.  These are important new beginnings.  Go for it.

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