Last Sunday I celebrated by 25th wedding anniversary with my lovely wife Claire. It is unbelievable to realize that I have now been married a quarter of a century! Where has time gone?
Getting married was a mind boggling experience for me as I had given up by the time I met her at age 36. But it was love and magic at first sight…pretty much…as I was immediately captivated by her boundless energy, enthusiasm, intelligence, and beauty. We were soul mates almost immediately and I had longed for one of “them there thangs” all my life!
A college psychology professor of mine once described marriage as an opportunity for a young man to “be redeemed by the love of a good woman.” That redemption started immediately and will continue to the end of my life as redemption is always an ongoing process, a process which is best conveyed by the poet Wendell Berry in the poem I will conclude with shortly. One dimension of this redemptive process is just the simple structure provided by the commitment of marriage, two separate individuals with separate agendas deigning to live together under one roof. “commingling” their lives.
And when a man and woman begin to live together under one roof, that is when the sparks begin to fly! And they have certainly flown and it is a wonder at times that the entire house did not burn down! For marriage is work and if it is done “right” the work will challenge one to the core. Someone once noted that we marry a fantasy and when we get “in the saddle” together, the fantasy begins to dissipate and we discover the reality of the other person. AND, in the process we make a parallel discovery of the “reality” of who we are ourselves.
This “self” discovery is the most important gift that marriage has given me. As the work of marriage unfolded, I began to realize the true meaning of the biblical description of man and woman together as being “one flesh.” I began to see how Claire was truly my complement, embodying so many things that I wanted but also so many things I did not want! And, of course, being a professional…and compulsive…“care giver”, I wanted to “fix her” which I came to discover meant that I wanted, and even demanded, that she be just like me. Well, I soon learned that hell would freeze over before that would happen!
It probably took twenty years for me to learn just exactly what relationship is, to see…and feel…that Claire and I were “one flesh.” I had to learn to make space for her in my life, to make room for her in my heart, and that entailed that I had to understand that I had not been doing so in the first place! And, even more so, it meant that I had not been doing so with anyone! I had known about the notion of “otherness” for a long time but suddenly the experience, or “feeling,” of “otherness” was on the table and that was, and still is, disconcerting to say the least. Suddenly I was face to face with the subtle narcissism that had shrouded my life since early childhood. And slowly, and even shyly, I began to peer out of that shroud and to discover not just Claire but the whole of God’s beautiful creation. I had understood Karl Jung’s notion of “withdrawing our projections” but now I began to “feel” it also.
Here are two poems that so beautifully capture the mysterious work of marriage:
by Wendell Berry
How hard it is for me, who live
in the excitement of women
and have the desire for them
in my mouth like salt. Yet
you have taken me and quieted me.
You have been such light to me
that other women have been
your shadows. You come near me
with the nearness of sleep.
And yet I am not quiet.
It is to be broken. It is to be
torn open. It is not to be
reached and come to rest in
ever. I turn against you,
I break from you, I turn to you.
We hurt, and are hurt,
and have each other for healing.
It is healing. It is never whole.
And the second poem conveys the redemptive dimension of living together within the confines of marital commitment:
BOW DOWN TO STUTTERERS
by Edgar Simmons
The stutterers hesitation
Is a procrastinate crackle,
Redress to hot force,
Flight from ancient flame.
The bow, the handclasp, the sign of the cross
Say, “She-sh-sheathe the savage sword!”
If there is greatness in sacrifice
Lay on me the blue stigmata of saints;
Let me not fly to kill in unthought.
Prufrock has been maligned.
And Hamlet should have waived revenge,
Walked with Ophelia domestic corridors
Absorbing the tick, the bothersome twitch.
Let me stutter with the non-objective painters
Let my stars cool to bare lighted civilities.