mardi, mars 28, 2006

Marital Mysteries

In a previous life I had frequent occasion to visit an older couple in their lovely house on a quiet cul-de-sac at the end of the Main Line. When I got to know the two of them, he was almost housebound, a large man with a quick smile and an agile intellect. She was, and is a warm, and gracious woman of an optimistic cast of mind and profound faith. A professional designated to bring spiritual nourishment and comfort, I came with something I thought I could offer. But as I left at visit's end, I wondered if I had received more . Perched on the edge of a wing chair in the spotless living room, I would feel like a ticketholder to a play who arrives in the middle of the second act to find the characters established and the story almost told. Although they were affectionate and polite, the bond between them was so strong that it almost didn't matter whether I was in the room or not. Almost inevitably, in the course of our conversation, one or the other of them would retail an anecdote from their rich store of memories. Do you remember that vacation on Bailey Island? How we met? What your mother thought of me? Then they would be off to the races. Like a chain of antique pearls, memories would be brought to the surface, dusted off and lifted to the sunlight. Fascinated, I would observe their banter, respect and mutual tenderness, knowing that if I had not been in the room the conversation would have gone down these roads without me. He is gone now. When he died, she grieved deeply. But she has not stayed at home, pining away. Instead, each new adventure, whether it be a trip to the British Isles or to visit the grandchildren is infused with the confidence and mutual joy they shared. I have been privileged to observe other couples as they strove to forge a life together. Some marriages seem built on shared 'sacred moments', some on choices made in moments of crisis. Some couples seem to do better in second marriages because they've made big mistakes in previous relationships. Other couples enter into new relationships with the guiless faith of high school kids high on the drugs of lust and romance. Against all odds, some of these couplings survive. I've also seen plenty of bad pairings: marriages built on indifference, marriages where couples disliked and sabotaged each other, marriages where profound sacrifices went unappreciated. But those unhappy pairs and their sufferings are not the subject of this post. What is the secret of a happy marriage? If you know, and would like to share it, I'm sure I'm not the only one who would be grateful. Maybe you will be able to add something to a topic that continues to engage even those of us who profess to be jaded and cynical about true love. Of course, we might have to come to terms with the possibility that there is no secret. It may be that each union is as unique, as mysterious as that of my two friends, smiling and sighing and staring enraptured at one another as the afternoon light faded and evening crept in. For as much as we would deny it, evening always comes. It is what we do with the daylight available to us that makes a lasting impression on others.

3 commentaires:

Anonyme a dit…

What a great question, and beautifully put. I wish I had a clue. Did you read Calvin Trillin's tribute to his wife in the latest New Yorker? His admiration for her, in fact the sense that she was better than he, suffuses the piece.

A question for you: does a marriage have to last "till death do you part" to rate as a happy marriage? What about a marriage that "worked" for many years, and included happiness.

Offcenter a dit…

That's a wonderful question. I am probably going to sound like I'm hedging. With that caveat, here goes.As a person of faith, I do believe that we make promises before God, and that divorce, because it involves breaking those promises, has a tragic dimension. I am also concerned about people who enter marriages looking for a satisfying answer to the questions that haunt them. Marriage raises as many questions as it answers.

I guess I would ask the poster a question in return: what do you mean by "worked"?

Are there other folks out there who have had happy marriages but either 'outgrown them' or found that they did not survive for other reasons? Can the two parties in such a union part amicably? In such a case, how do we reconcile "collateral damage" to children, or self-esteem?

Anyone out there who HAS read the Calvin Trillin piece, aside from our literate poster? Chime in.

Anonyme a dit…

I know the couple you are writing about, and it was always amazing to watch them together. Do I think they had rough times over the 50+ years they were married? Yes... they lost a daughter to cancer, and struggled with the astrangement of a son for a while. But I would be shocked if they ever considered divorce, regardless of how tough the road got... both of them took every aspect of their wedding vows seriously... from richer to poorer, in sickness and in health... until death do us part. And 50+ years later, it was like watching newlyweds together.

I think many times people go into a marriage looking for love and intimacy that only God can offer... no spouse, no parent, no child, no friend can fill that hole. When we try to fill that "God" hole with other things, it may work for a while, but in the end it won't satisfy.