Marriage and change
This is the wonder that’s keeping
the stars apart
I carry your heart (I carry it in
my heart). — E.E. Cummings
Given the fact that we all enter the world as helpless infants, we depend on the ability to grow and mature.
As people evolve, their relationships are likewise affected. High school friends go to separate colleges, where their interests change. Over the years siblings find their worldviews don’t line up anymore.
Yet, while friends can drift apart and family members are able to give each other space until the next holiday, married folks are stuck.
We’re told at our weddings that marriage isn’t easy. References to the toilet seat and receding hairlines always get a good laugh.
Maybe the pastor will reflect that even though Rick and Rhonda fell in love hiking the Appalachian Trail, it is entirely possible that 10 years in the future Rick will be spending weekends checking his fantasy football team stats while Rhonda scrapbooks.
Even more stunning would be the revelation that John, who loves Jane’s determination to defy society’s traditional gender roles, will someday find her homeschooling their four children and wearing an apron while cooking supper.
But these are the superficial surprises. They can be navigated with some willful ignorance, humor and a desire to love the essentials. Rick’s attention to details and Jane’s formidable energy are applied differently, but he’s still Rick and she’s still Jane.
There is a children’s song that says, “Cause it don’t matter to me, whatever you happen to be. A beagle, a grunion, fig or an ape, as long as you’re you, I will love ya.”
I’m well aware of the song’s simple intent to affirm unconditional love no matter the external trappings, but after several listens the lyrics struck me in a different way.
What happens if you are no longer you? Is the love still there if I not only look like a fig but have become the fig?
There are many beautiful moments in our days, but life is not forever kind.
We will lose a job or be diagnosed with a terminal disease. We’ll care for a disabled parent or child. We’ll fall into the darkness of mental illness, suffer betrayal or disappoint others.
The story doesn’t usually end there. God be praised, there is recovery and hope returns. But our pains burn deep. In the words of a woman whose child died, “I have been through a long, dark valley, and I am not the same.”
And so a man’s dry sardonic wit turns bitter and cruel. The woman who used to act recklessly now favors caution. A gregarious woman with a full social calendar spends more and more time alone. The man who once thought you were perfection now mostly criticizes.
The wisest of us know that beyond the lovey-dovey stuff, marriage is a life shared with someone we recognize and understand. We hope to enjoy them. It is immensely unfair that despite our best efforts we will someday look for that life and find it gone.
What I should have said to my 23-year-old groom all those years ago is, “I choose you as my husband. And when you aren’t the same guy I chose, I’ll find a way to choose you again. I promise to just keep choosing you as long as we both shall live.”
Sarah Kehrberg lives in Swannanoa, N.C., and attends Asheville Mennonite Church.
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