sixty years ago today, on a crisp january sunday, two people i love walked into the plaza hotel at fifth avenue and central park south in new york city, the very hotel where precocious eloise lipsticked the walls, roller-skated the corridors and poured water down the mail chute of the neo-rococo gatsby-esque overnight chateau. the two i love were married there. moved into an old gardener’s cottage nestled between the two rivers of fair haven, new jersey. and two-and-a-half years later, had a baby boy. five years after that, they carried home to the cottage a beautiful baby girl.
and 29 years after that, i married their firstborn. so, going on a mere 24 years this august, my beloved and i are lowly pikers in the marriage department (compared, that is, to the ones clocking their diamond anniversary today). the ones married at the plaza, they’ve long been teaching us how it’s done — this business of loving across the arc of time, of holding each other up in sickness and in health, in heart-wrenching moments and moments so fine they make you think you could reach right out and touch the stars.
this morning, for the first of the 60 anniversary mornings, there will be no shared breakfast at the maple table in the red-walled kitchen. there will be no bagel sliced and barely-buttered. no stack of vitamins tucked by the edge of the red plate, where my mother-in-law always tucked them. there will be no single cup of coffee with a splash of skim milk, one cup shared by two pairs of lips, the way they’ve always sipped their coffees. this afternoon, perhaps, my mother-in-law will help adjust the wheelchair at the dining table in the lovely place they call the atrium, the place where my dear father-in-law now lives.
in a world where only six percent of american marriages make it to the 50th anniversary — and guessing drastically fewer make it to the 60th — there is much to be learned from those that do. and while i’ve not sat down to ask a slew of pesky nosey questions, i have been watching. and since i’ve lived since 1991 with the son of that solid pair, i’ve had lots of mornings, noons and nights to ponder this living, breathing organism, the long-haul marriage.
it’s the unlikeliest of arrangements, for starters. did you ever think you’d want anyone to know that some nights you tumble into bed without washing your face, or that you gobble down a humongous bowl of popcorn at the long day’s end — no matter how late the hour? would you ever want anyone to know how scared you get before you stumble toward a microphone, or how your heart practically pounds through your chest when you raise your hand in class, or — sometimes — speak up at a dinner party? or how, once upon a time, you worried yourself into such a stew convincing yourself that the black space in your unborn baby’s ultrasound was proof that the sweet child was going to be born without a brain? and, further, you convinced yourself that the doctors just couldn’t find the words to let you in on this terrible news. and then, when you found out you’d been a total fool and the brain was fully lodged right where it was meant to be, the dear fellow who’d been gobsmacked all weekend by your worries, he didn’t even dare to toss a chilly “told you so!” in your much-deserved direction.
oh, and that’s just a teeny wedge of the intimacies that long connections bring. i mean, the standing naked — the showing off your pudgy belly, your jiggly thighs — that’s NOTHING compared to the soul-baring that comes with years spent sharing each other’s crowded space.
and there are days — maybe even months or years — when you spend way too much time considering the exit door.
but you never go.
a.) because you’re blessed beyond words that whatever isn’t right is fixable — because, oh, lordy, we all find our lives — our inner, dearest circles — populated with friends and loved ones for whom the fixing was not there — death, disease, inherited pathology, deceit. the reasons are too many and too heartbreaking.
and then, there’s b.) we choose to fix it, to work it through, to strike a peace accord. because deep down in our marrow we’re betting on this marriage thing, this connection bound through love or law, divine or secular. we’ve invested whole hog in this institution that, not unlike a pair of lungs, expands and contracts, fills with oxygen, and sometimes leaves us gasping.
and after you’ve weathered days or weeks or months of second-guessing, and you find the clouds have scuttled off, you remember once again just why it was that something deep down inside you — something that maybe didn’t even have a voice, was no more than life-divining force — you remember why you surrendered to it long ago. why you dared to wrench open your trembling heart, and let in the one best shot you had at being wholly alive.
because this someone to whom you’ve aligned no less than your very soul, this someone has breathed wholeness into you. this someone has seen who you could be, sometimes long before you could even begin to glimpse that possibility.
in my case, the man i married teaches me every single day what patience looks like. what tender loving care is meant to be. i watch him lavishly rub circles on our little guy’s back, there in the hollow between the angel blades, on the nights when sleep won’t come, or ghosts have come to haunt the little guy’s bedroom. i watch the man i love drive eight hours for a regatta in which the glimpse of a passing kid — a kid in a boat being rowed by eight or four muscled pairs of arms — lasts for maybe five seconds. and not a complaint, not a single complaint, is ever lodged.
in my case, the man i married has patiently waited for the three long years i’ve not had a paycheck. and he’s been the biggest believer that if i dared to spread my wings, i just might find the breeze he believes is there. and for a girl who never ever thought she could be good enough, it is the holiest thing in the whole wide world to wake up every morning to a fellow who utterly and absolutely believes that, armed with nothing but my heart and my words, i might infuse a dash of goodness in the world.
the man i love learned all this because he grew up in a house where that’s what love looked like. that’s what marriage meant. thick and thin. sickness and health. richer and poorer.
may the God of goodness, the God of love, shine down today on the ones who, back on january 30, 1955 — when “bad day at black rock” was playing at the picture shows, and the ames brothers’ “the naughty lady of shady lane” was number 1 on the charts — back then, those blessed two began to etch their story in the marbled walls of time.
the lovely black-and-whites above, that’s my papa-in-law, the newspaper man, blowing out his birthday candles (in 1970, i do believe), and the radiant-faced one (which i can’t get to nestle side-by-side, and so is just below), a teacher nestled with her little charges, that’s my beloved mother-in-law, one of the loyalest readers of the chair that ever there was or will be. bless them both. i love them with all my heart.
i don’t often — rarely ever — write about one of the deepest connections of my life, my marriage. this one is stirred by the big anniversary. and i know — too well — that the true intimacies of any marriage don’t belong anywhere near the public square. as well as the truth that so many of the folks i love most dearly have chosen not to be in such a union. or have life-savingly mustered all the courage in the world to step free from one that suffocated or shattered them and the dearest ones they loved. but these days i so often find myself pondering the truth that a marriage, especially a getting-long one, is practically its own living, breathing entity. across the arc of time, it ever shifts, deepens. it’s the deepening that most captivates me, and i can only scratch that surface here. so the question i bring to the table, one for which everyone might have some answer, is this: what is it about the deepening relationships of your life, the ones that last across the years, and survive rocky terrain, dry seasons, and an abundance of struggles, what has that deepening brought you, and why is it so essential? and what invites the deepening?
happy blessed diamonds, dear A and G. xoxox