July 19: 1980 and 2012 (On Marriage)

1980:

It was a scorcher. I remember it being so hot that, as I stood in line, I could feel sweat trickle from my scalp down my back between my shoulder blades. My yellow dress and matching pumps clung to me uncomfortably – especially the shoes, as they tightly crossed an itchy patch of poison ivy on the arch of my foot.

While we waited for the ceremony to start, I laughed to myself about the fact that it had taken a village to help my sister into her pantyhose AFTER she had already donned her wedding dress. My younger sisters, in their matching yellow dresses, were also in line, each of us paired with a groomsman we didn’t know. When it was my turn to walk up the aisle, all I was thinking about was not making a fool of myself. I didn’t look at the people, friends and family I loved, turning in the pews to watch. I’m pretty sure I forgot to smile, I was so self-conscious.

I enjoyed all the events before and after the wedding. The rehearsal dinner ended in a gathering at the groom’s home. Guitars came out and we had a sing-along with the “old gang” from Loveland (where we used to live in Ohio) and the wedding party and guests who were already in town. Dave (the groom) and his best friend Randy, sang Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son”, among other crowd pleasers. The punch and cake reception, in the church, had a “shadow reception” in the parking lot, with beer dispensed out of the back of a station wagon for those old enough. Later that night all the college/graduate students headed downtown Cincinnati and the riverfront for a good time.

I was still 18, and full of whatever notions fill the mind of an 18 year old: friends, laughter, romance. I’m sure I listened to the sermon during the wedding – after all, it was Pastor Ross, our dear friend and sometimes youth group leader and I always listened to him. But my head was already full of fluff and what he said didn’t have a place to take hold. The people were lovely, the music was beautiful, and there was a particular boy there that I thought was incredibly special – that’s what I do remember.

It never occurred to me, that day, to wonder “What makes a marriage?” or “What makes a marriage last?” or “What does it truly mean to be committed to another person?” I thought I knew (because at 18 you always think you know stuff), and I didn’t think a wedding was the time for serious or thoughtful reflection.

2012:

Today, 32 years after my sister’s wedding, is another scorcher. Under 100 degrees finally, but still hot.   As I write (thankfully NOT dressed head-to-toe in buttercup yellow), I realize I know both more and less about marriage than I did that day in 1980. On the more side, I know that a wedding is exactly the time for thoughtful reflection because it is a fun but very serious occasion. What is taking place is a sacred event, not merely a whimsically romantic one. Also, on the more side, I know that the concept of “for better or worse” often contains more worse than the bride and groom have foreseen.That this worse can include things like illness, and boredom, and selfishness, and financial crisis. I’ve watched as couples I know have either found a way to absorb these blows and come through with a stronger bond, or have found themselves blasted apart. Another item on the more list: marriage is not a spectator sport. If you are married, you have to play hard, and play to win. Your head has to be in the game.

Strangely enough, the “less” I know now as compared with my 18 year old self is so much greater than the “more”. I thought I knew that love spontaneously erupts in our hearts and leads to marriage – and if the love is strong enough the marriage is too. I now know that’s not quite how it works, that love is only one factor in a complex equation that I understand about as much as I do calculus. I thought I knew that there were particular hurts or violations (sexual infidelity chief among them) that, when committed by a spouse, were marriage deal-breakers. No questions, its over. Conversely, I thought that a marriage was safe as long as these particular issues never occured. Clearly, I suck at marriage math because both assumptions have proven false as I’ve watched the marriages of my family and friends ebb and flow, strengthen and (sadly) fail due to issues and behaviors nearly impossible to comprehend from outside the relationship.

Which is likely one reason I’m fascinated by this topic today – marriage is something I’ve only had the opportunity to study from the outside. As I think on it today, on my sister’s 32nd anniversary, I stand in awe of my parents and siblings who have, apparently, figured out how to do it so well. I also stand in awe of my friends: those whose marriages are anywhere on the continuum from happy to struggling to falling apart. I am in awe of their determination, hard work, joy and sorrow and the fact that they continue to function in (reasonably) normal ways.

There is a lot said these days about people not taking marriage seriously, about couples entering into the fun of a wedding without thought to the actual work of a marriage. The Brittney Spears and Kim Kardashians, whose weddings are barely over before the marriage is, are given as examples. However, in real life (as opposed to celebrity life) I haven’t seen that. In real life, I’ve seen people struggle to make it work. I’ve seen people sacrifice, try all sorts of creative endeavors and creative thinking to keep their marriages viable. And I’ve watched as people I love try to put their lives back together after their marriage has broken, and broken their lives to pieces.

So, what’s my point? Simply this: at 18, a wedding appears to be the most important part of a marriage.  At 50, even those of us who’ve never been married know the wedding, though a serious event, is a jumping-off point. No matter what one thinks they know, the marriage will be an epic journey through the unknown. My role as family member or friend is to witness and support and uplift, regardless of my opinion – because if marriage is not a spectator sport, it is also not one where anyone needs or welcomes Monday morning quarterbacking from me. In closing: Happy Anniversary, Chris and Dave! And to the rest of you brave souls (married, divorced or someplace in between) – bon voyage! I’ll be here  if you need me!

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3 Beliefs, 3 Wishes

Hard to believe that another Thanksgiving has dawned! Another whole year has flown past at dizzying speed. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write about today, and inspiration eluded me. To give you an idea where my head and heart were last night when I sat down to write, I began a post titled “Thanksgiving, Bah-Humbug” in which I intended to share 5 things I wasn’t thankful for about myself, and 5 I wasn’t thankful for about other people. At a certain point, I realized it wasn’t actually very funny – in fact, it was mostly snarky – so I gave up and went to bed.

Upon waking this morning, I had the thought that looking back at last year’s “Happy Anniversary” piece which I posted on Thanksgiving might help. I read the first paragraphs, then stopped just before the list of 12 things I had learned. I wanted to think about the past year and share what I feel are insights I’ve gained since that last Thanksgiving entry. Then I re-read the list of 12 insights. Its a good list, and I am happy to say I wouldn’t change the items on it – in fact, I should probably have read it a few times over the past months when I was feeling at low ebb.

My list this year is shorter. Three beliefs that I hope will hold as steady as the 12 thoughts I shared last year. Then, for good measure, three wishes for the coming year. After all, I have said more than once that voicing what you want is one of the most essential steps to making it a reality.

Three Beliefs

1.  I believe it is important to keep challenging myself to move forward. The key words here: challenge and forward. I’ve learned that without that challenge to myself, I won’t try new things, won’t step outside my comfort zone. And there’s no such thing as stasis. If I’m not moving forward, it isn’t that I am just treading water and staying in the same place. I start to move backward – in the fitness realm I lose muscle and tone, in the diet area I start to regain weight, in my spiritual life I stumble back into self-defeating beliefs. It is hard and time consuming work to change habits and behaviors, yet it is surprisingly easy and quick to undo that hard work.

2. If I continue to challenge myself, I believe that growth and forward momentum are occurring even when, to all outward appearances, nothing is changing. This one is tough, because outward appearances are such a nice, easy way of measuring things. We all want to be able to point to measurable outcomes – it’s supposed to be part of the reward for hard work. This year I’ve learned a lot about perseverance: “continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition”, (according to Webster’s). Learning to maintain the effort, to put in the work every day, despite the lack of desired results has been hard. I say desired results (i.e. significant weight loss) because there have been positive results of this perseverance. But they’re less tangible, less definable. For one, the fact that an inveterate quitter, like me, has not quit is pretty amazing.

3. I believe you cannot connect the dots going forward. This is something Steve Jobs said in his now famous and oft-quoted commencement address at Stanford. He said we can only connect the dots in our life path when we look backwards. So, that means that we have to take a step to whatever dot calls to us next – and we take that step with trust that in the big picture of our lives, that dot will lead to the right next dot. An example from my year is the whole RAGBRAI experience. The desire, almost the need, to successfully prepare for and complete that 75-mile ride came from out of the blue. It became a compulsion. Did it connect easily with what I had been doing? Or lead directly to someplace I was headed? Not really. Looking backwards, I can see some of the dots leading up to it, but I don’t know yet how/whether it connects to my future – still, I gave it most of my focus for the best part of this year. Commit to the next dot, and worry about how they all connect later. I looked for the definition of commitment, just as I did (above) for perseverance, and found this amazing, and fitting, piece from the Urban Dictionary:

Commitment is what 
Transforms the promise into reality. 
It is the words that speak 
Boldly of your intentions. 
And the actions which speak 
Louder than the words. 
It is making the time 
When there is none. 
Coming through time 
After time after time, 
Year after year after year. 
Commitment is the stuff 
Character is made of; 
The power to change 
The face of things. 
It is the daily triumph 
Of integrity over skepticism.

Once of the best definitions ever written, in my estimation! Challenge, perseverance, commitment – these are big words, and they tell the tale of a year which posed many difficulties for me, but which also forced me to stretch further than I knew I was capable of doing. Another great year to be alive.

And now, for my three wishes.

1. I wish for myself: wisdom. It is the same wish I have made since I first learned, in high school bible study, of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Wisdom to choose well, to love deeply, to act rightly. Wisdom to live from my heart and soul, not from capriciousness or whim. Wisdom to, as I said last week, live with abandon.

2. I wish for you: joy. Both the joy of experiencing fully the moment you are in, and the deep joy of living the life you are meant to live. Whatever form that takes. I will help in any way I can – you have a friend in me!

3. I wish for the world “An environmentally sustainable, socially just, and spiritually fulfilling human presence on the planet”. A really big wish – but the idealist in me feels its possible.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!