Last night, in the deep midnight quiet, I leaned against the wall of our room and, sliding down to the floor, clutched to my chest the broad, heavy album of wedding pictures, memories of the day Steve and I began our life together.
My Love is gone, a few hours away, working, sweating, struggling to withstand the miseries of a failing body while attending to business and helping his parents on the family farm. And, while we juggle work, children and family responsibilities apart from one another, I am intensely aware of how much I wish he were here to hold me, to hear me speak to him the words,
Happy Anniversary. Thank you for choosing me.
Beside where I sit, there is an old dusty bookshelf and on it is a copy of Sheldon Vanauken's book, A Severe Mercy (one of the few books I can credit for breaking wide open my vision of love and commitment). I reach up for it and flip reminiscently through highlighted pages that had once been dog-eared for times such as these, I suppose.
On one page, circled in faded pencil, I read again:
"What is beauty but something that is responded to with emotion? Courage, at least, is partly emotional. All the splendour of life. But if the best of life is, in fact, emotional, then one wanted the highest, the purest emotions: and that meant joy. Joy was the highest. How did one find joy? In books it was found in love– a great love… So if he wanted the heights of joy, he must have it, if he could find it, in great love. But in the books again, great joy through love always seemed go hand in hand with frightful pain. Still, he thought, looking out across the meadow, still, the joy would be worth the pain– if indeed, they went together. If there were a choice– and he suspected there was– a choice between, on the one hand, the heights and the depths and, on the other hand, some sort of safe, cautious middle way, he, for one, here and now chose the heights and the depths. Since then, the years have gone by and he– had he not had what he chose that day in the meadow? He had had the love. And the joy– what joy it had been! And the sorrow. He had had– was having– all the sorrow there was. And yet, the joy was worth the pain. Even now he re-affirmed that long-past choice.”
Setting the book down, I reach back for the photos. The first page I see is one that holds a large photo of Steve and I, hand in hand, reciting our vows. The vows. For a short while they are simply words. Expressions. Promises. Then there is the first day of a new life together, then another, and another and slowly the vows, when honored, when truly honored, despite feelings, despite circumstances, despite the crumbling of every ideal you had fashioned in your imagination of marriage to be, they become like tightly-woven threads. Layers upon layers of threads that, one day you wake up and realize, are holding your love together with the most incredible security despite feeling sick instead of healthy, poor instead of rich, worse instead of better....but, despite the pains, you are together and you are in love, and it is the highest of joys.
If I may, I would like to speak to you, who perhaps are engaged, or single, or married and struggling to stay in the dance. The (real) reality of marriage is that it is not a self-fulfilling fairy tale, but a slowly written story of self-gift, the constant and consistent letting go of self for the good of another. Marriage is the highs and lows, it is not the safe, cautious, middle ground of self-centeredness.
It is the poverty and illness and infidelities and anger and loneliness and children and longing for children and everything in between that, at times, makes the idea of the safe middle ground so attractive, so tempting. I know. I've been there.
And, yet it is the very hideous and hurtful pains that make the joys all the more astonishingly beautiful, especially, after wrestling through the struggles, when we find ourselves all the more tightly bound to the one we've given our lives to through it all.
With all my heart, I encourage you! Do not be afraid to do the hard thing, to forsake the safe middle ground, a life that you've planned for yourself, and to choose a life that is lived for another, to choose the pain so that you may know the joy, the real, endearing joy of a love of heights and depths.
Honey, if you're reading this, which I know you aren't because you're fixing a broken down tractor, Happy Anniversary. Thank you for choosing me. I love you. I can't wait for you to come home.