Tomorrow is our 19th wedding anniversary. Martin and I got engaged in March of 1992 when we were living in Philadelphia. After our engagement, I visited one of my former professors from Villanova and told him I was getting married. He said the only thing that has ever helped me make sense of marriage, especially why people continue to stick with it when it feels like the most barren of deserts. He asked me, “Is it a growth relationship?”
I was 25 years old and no one had ever spoken to me about relationships like that before. Questions like, “Do you really love him? Are you happy together? Aren’t you SO excited??” were and are completely common post-engagement questions; they are basically superficial, leading to superficial answers. They are like sand—soft, comfortable, and not a particularly good growing medium.
My professor’s question took me by surprise; it also made something in me wake up. Yes, this was a growth relationship. Yes, there was room here, richness, a fertile soil, and the firm conviction that by agreeing to marry one another, Martin and I were agreeing to participate in a process of becoming.
This quotation from Dag Hammarskjold was on the front of our wedding invitation: “For all that has been, thanks. For all that will be, yes.” Underneath the poem was a tree, which has become a sort of symbol for our relationship and our family. Aside from seeing this quotation in the office of the priest who did pre-marriage counseling with us and being drawn to it, I don’t really remember what thought process led to our choosing this for our invitations. But I thank God that we did because every time I read it (in its frame on the bathroom counter), it strengthens me. It is a quotation about gratitude and hope, and I can’t think of two more necessary resources for an enduring marriage.
The road to our getting married wasn’t an easy one, nor has the road to staying married been. Is it ever? I have no idea. If asked why some marriages make it and some don’t, I would have the same answer Parker Palmer had to the haunting question of why some people survive depression and some don’t: I don’t know. I do know that I used to have a fairly childish notion of what one should or could be proud of, e.g. things that “turned out well,” like a lovely piece of writing or a beautifully talented child. Something “successful” and “good,” something without flaws. Now I realize how absurd that is, how insulting to the rest of one’s human experiences.
I am deeply and humbly proud of the 19-year commitment I am living out with a man I would choose again over all others to spend my life with. I’m proud of our struggles and our tenacity, of our refusal to walk away from difficulty, and of our willingness to live in the state of becoming that a growth relationship demands. Sometimes I wish we could just get to wherever we are going and relax there, but so far those moments are all the more exquisite and precious for their transience.
I would say that I’m proud of our family, our home, the life we’ve constructed, but in truth, all of those things are gifts. I’m intensely grateful for them, but they were given to us as much as if not more than if we had “worked for them.”
I am learning the compassion that it takes to be proud of the messiness of my marriage, the flaws, the hurt, the struggles, the work. I’m grateful for the joy that sometimes falls over us like a blanket of light, pure, tender, reassuring. But I’m proud that we’ve fought to get to those moments, and that, finally, all it takes is that most sacred, most simple, and most optimistic of answers…Yes.
For all that has been, thanks. For all that will be, yes.
Below is a poem by the gifted American poet Wendell Berry, whose work always speaks to the sacredness of the natural world. It is a poem about lovers who have been together a while, who can offer one another both safety and freedom, both home and wilderness, and the assurance that in the arms of another, we can find our truest selves.
To the love of my life (do you think we’ll get 19 more?), this is for you.
One faith is bondage. Two
are free. In the trust
of old love, cultivation shows
a dark graceful wilderness
at its heart. Wild
in that wilderness, we roam
the distances of our faith,
safe beyond the bounds
of what we know. O love,
open. Show me
my country. Take me home.