Now you will feel no rain
For each of you will be shelter to the other.
Now you will feel no cold
For each of you will be warmth to the other.
Now there is no more loneliness
For each of you will be companion to the other.
Now you are two bodies
But there is only one life before you.
Go now to your dwelling place
To enter into the days of your togetherness.
And may your days be good and long upon the earth.
Happening upon this popular Apache wedding blessing made me think about our upcoming anniversary, No. 39. Then I learned that the Apaches did not create this blessing; a screenwriter for a Hollywood movie called “Broken Arrow” did. Does that make it any less lovely? I submit it does not. And it offered me an opportunity to revisit those vows we actually did make in the last century.
You know how they go:
For better, for worse: Where to start with this one? This is a column, not a book. Luckily, after almost four decades, we’ve compiled a long list of better and a shorter one of worse. We’ve had our times of turmoil, of sinking in the rut of routine, of finding ourselves at cross-purposes. But the better, the love and the light, has outweighed the worse.
For richer, for poorer: We have definitely been poorer than we are now. For one thing, once you launch all those kids, the grocery bill shrinks. Four daughters plus their friends filled the house with life and joy, but also emptied the fridge. Now, however, the Costco quantities are an overreach. How many pounds of grapes can two people eat? We no longer have to make payments to the orthodontist, or shop for prom dresses, or help with college textbooks, or foot the bill for six cellphones, or keep mass quantities of tampons in each bathroom. We have cut expenses, but does that mean we are richer? Well, moneywise, yes.
In sickness and in health: For our age, we remain fairly healthy. (Knocking on wood.) But we have nursed each other through flus and surgeries, allergic reactions and bad backs. We are better nurses than patients. We have also lived through our children’s crises of pneumonia, chickenpox, strep throat, scarlet fever, ear infections, upset stomachs, cramps, car accidents, broken bones, broken hearts and probably more distress that I have blocked for the sake of my own mental health. We didn’t always know the cure for what ailed our darlings, but we took their temperature and made them tea and listened for what was left unsaid. It was all good practice, as we still do these things for each other.
To love and to cherish: The important part. Always. In spite of our foibles and failings, at the end of each day, we are still each other’s favorite person. We’re still a good fit. Why else would we two aging souls still be together?
Till death do us part: Yikes. Having seen other marriages come to this final fork in the road, it’s nothing we want to dwell on. A friend once observed that when you decide where to retire, you should both like the location, because one of you is likely to live there alone. She was morbid but realistic: Most couples don’t die together. Most couples are indeed parted, and with apologies to Juliet, I imagine that parting is not “such sweet sorrow.” But rather than live with one foot in the grave, we focus on putting one foot in front of the other, and pray for the grace to handle that eventual parting.
When my husband and I spoke our marriage vows in 1980, I thought my parents, along with their marriage, were ancient. We have now been married for longer than my parents had been on our wedding day. I don’t feel ancient, but I suppose my children see me in the same antiquated and irrelevant light as I saw my folks. After my parents died, I inherited the letters they had written each other from 1949-52, while my dad was overseas in the Navy. The letters tell the story, haltingly due to time gaps of weeks between sender and receiver, of their friendship, then courtship, then romance, then wedding when my dad was home on leave, and then their first year of marriage. In the letters, they are achingly young and sweetly unaware of the history they would create. In their final years, my parents were more combative than loving, but their surviving letters have given my siblings and me a glimpse into the glow of our family’s beginning.
I imagine all marriages start out just as fresh and hopeful. If we’re lucky, and I count myself so, we push down roots and sprout green tendrils and bloom like crazy. We fade, we winter over, we grow thicker, thornier stems, and we do it all again, season after season, year after year, until the mature plant barely resembles the seedling, except in photographs, except in our memories. We endure. We become one. Now there is no more loneliness. Now each anniversary reminds us to be grateful for our good and long days of togetherness upon the earth.