Thirty years ago today, Sherod and I got married. When I think that out loud, I feel the knot gathering in my throat, feel the sting in my eyes. I’m a little surprised, though not really. By this time in a marriage, when you look back, or at least when I look back, there are equal parts joy and devastation, heart break and exulation and quiet amazement for what has been endured, found, accomplished.
It’s like this: just a few days ago, I stumbled out of bed one morning and headed into the kitchen to make my coffee. There’s an unspoken understanding between us that if one of us gets inspired with the cooking and uses lots of pots, pans and stuff to prepare a meal, that person will clean up after him or herself. I looked around the kitchen and nothing had been washed or put up. There was stuff all over the counters and 2 cast iron skillets that had been used for some fairly serious frying and were still on the stove.
My first thought was, “if I had done this, he’d have been mad as all get out.” My second one was, “I’ll be d^%$#d if I am going to clean up this mess.” I stopped in my tracks. Heard myself—the sharpness of tone in that interior voice that goes on the offensive/defensive so quickly. The impatience. The unwillingness to see him and me as “us”. Shame drenched me. Sherod was still asleep in our room and as quietly as I could, I went to work on the kitchen. I was just hanging the last clean skillet when he came in to get his first cup of coffee. I must have reread the thank you text Sherod sent me later that morning at least ten times in the days that followed. So little. So much.
One thing thirty years together has done is disprove the optimistic assurances I gave myself that by Sherod’s side, I’d be able to be the bewitching, well-nigh perfect person he thought I was when we fell in wild love. When you’ve been together this long, everything is so close-up and personal—from his penchant for having a radio or TV on 24-7 to the way I forget to tighten lids and caps, causing unnecessary spills and mishaps. There’s very little we have not seen and heard about each other by now; we are at our most unvarnished selves in marriage and sometimes I wonder how either of us can stand it. And yet we have.
Last night, we sat together late into the night, he on the leather couch that’s too deep for my legs to reach the floor, me in the recliner that held him after each of his hip replacement surgeries. Sherod watched a BBC program about the ocean, I worked on a cross-stitch project I started and then put down a couple of years ago. If you looked at us from one angle, we were the personification of the couple in Simon and Garfunkle’s Dangling Conversation. If you looked at us from another, we have been fulfilling and continue to fulfill, however imperfectly, the prayer that was said over us on the day of our wedding:
Grant that their wills may be so knit together in your will, and their spirits in your Spirit, that they may grow in love and peace with you and one another all the days of their life. Give them grace, when they hurt each other, to recognize and acknowledge their fault, and to seek each other’s forgiveness and yours. Make their life together a sign of Christ’s love to this sinful and broken world, that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair. Amen.
Sometimes the paradox of marriage is so painful, I know I am not the only person who has asked herself if she should have get the heck out of Dodge, who has drawn a rough sketch in her mind of what that might look like and thought, “I actually think I could make that work and anything would be better than this.” In a deep conversation that caught us both by surprise earlier this weekend, I realized something else, though. In those times, I have not acted on that urgent desire to run, not because I couldn’t build another life for myself, but because even if there was nothing else left at that moment between us, there was still a promise I had made to this man. Keeping my promise was the one way I could show him and myself that love has not stopped growing between us.
I am 58 years old and Sherod is 72. The probability of us getting to mark another decade together is quite low and it is that knowledge that brings the sting of tears to my eyes and the sense that if I allowed myself to start crying, I would have a hard time stopping. The unvarnished truth of marriage is complicated.
And. And. It has been grand beyond grand. Today we will clean windows, tend to dogs, cats, a sick chicken girl who may not make it through the day, a stray feral kitten, vegetables, roses and dahlias. We’ll drive over to Selma early enough in the afternoon to be able to pick up some medicines from the vet for my dad’s dogs and then for an early dinner at the Tally Ho. We will get to stay married for another day.
With all that I am, and all that I have, I honor you, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit