September 11 was the day I started my graduate training in being a human being. September 11, 1998 that is. You see, that was the day I swore before God and man to love one other human being, come what may, for the rest of my life. It was my wedding day. A day I shall never forget, no matter how hard I try. The wedding cake was ruined. A dog got run over. My uncle caught on fire. Among other highlights. At the end of the night my mother asked me, “was it what you always wanted?” It took a great deal of self-control not to respond, “yes, mother. I’ve always dreamed of not showering on my wedding day.” I suppose some people would look at a wedding like that and see it as a bad omen. I always preferred to think that our ability to come through it without freaking out or turning on each other, still smiling and still having fun proved our metal.
It sounds awful, but really I think we may have gotten the perfect wedding day for us. We have spent so many hours laughing and laughing until our sides hurt talking about everything that went wrong that day. Frankly, I think we’ve gotten more enjoyment out of our wedding day over the years than most people get from their pricey, beautiful, perfectly executed wedding days. There is no way anyone derives as much enjoyment from looking through their wedding albums as we do in telling some horrified person the full story of all that went wrong on our big day.
Within a pretty short time of getting married I called my mom and said, “mom – you can dad never fought. How did you do it?” To which she responded, “you think we didn’t fight because you weren’t there for the first year.” The fact of the matter is that being married really is like graduate training for being a human being. I recently read a quote that said it’s impossible to be a fool and not know it when you’re married. So true. Want to learn the truth of “do not judge lest you be judged”? Get married. That’s exactly how it works.
There’s this truism about marriage which is that you are going to marry someone who is as emotionally mature as you are and who is about as dysfunctional as you are. So right from the start, marriage can be like one of those eagle mating rituals where they hold each other by the talons and careen towards the ground daring the other to let go first. The only way it works is if you can become mature enough to let go of your dysfunctions before you hit the ground and make a big mess everywhere. It’s a rather elegant system for growing us up if we’re willing to let it. We all know that when a marriage is hard, it can be worse than anything else in life. But when a marriage is working, there’s nothing else like it.
In the last year I’ve written some about my marriage falling apart and the aftermath and the husband moving back in this past spring. Those experiences and the events leading up to the whole disaster are things I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Many times along the way I told my husband and thought to myself that I would rather that I had never met him than go through all this crap. Of course life doesn’t work like that. I can imagine that life would have worked great if only I’d done absolutely anything other than get involved with this guy. I can also imagine that I won the lottery. Or grew a tail. Or gave birth to a dolphin. I can imagine all sorts of things that just aren’t so.
Christians like to say that marriage isn’t to make you happy; it’s to make you holy. Because you’re either going to develop virtues of patience, empathy, understanding, forgiveness, long-suffering and all the rest or the length of your marriage will be determined by your tolerance for living in abject misery. And even becoming more virtuous doesn’t guarantee a happy marriage. Life has a way of conspiring to take you to the absolute limits of your ability to cope and then nudge you right over the cliff. So you can do your eagles hurdling through the air routine. But sometimes you’re already in the valley and it’s not a very high cliff so you crash before you can let go of whatever dysfunction has you clinging to the other person to begin with. And then you have a bunch of broken pieces that it’s hard to imagine ever being able to put back together again.
We haven’t celebrated our anniversary the last couple of years because all we’ve had were those broken pieces. Everything between us got broken, it seems. It’s hard to believe that just a couple of years ago we were the cute couple. That Keith used to call me as he walked out the office door and hang up when he walked through the back door of our home. That family dinners could last for over an hour with stories and jokes and lots of laughing going on. That there were times I left my bedroom at night so Keith could go to sleep because it was like a sleep-over where you stay up all night laughing and talking. That we know things about each other that no one else would even believe are true. It was never perfect or easy and there were more than the normal number of complications. But what was good was really good. Then over the last few years, every good thing seemed to just disappear. All that got left behind were the imperfections and baggage and conflicts and anger and blaming.
I can’t speak for my husband, but I know that for me, walking through it has require me to lean on every virtue, every bit of faith and every lesson learned from those years when our marriage was growing rather than breaking us. And I’m still here. God held up. My faith held up. I held up. So maybe – and I do mean maybe – those virtues and this faith and God himself are strong enough for our broken marriage as well. So I’m going to get myself all gussied up now and go meet my husband for Mexican food to celebrate 14 years of this thing we call marriage. Wish us luck!