This I Believe

Christopher - medford, Massachusetts
Entered on May 5, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
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Marriages and other things that never die

A month best known for weddings can be depressing for the eternally single among us. Happy couples stroll through city streets and department stores, blissfully unaware how drastically they affect the happiness curve in their immediate area. Like an innocuous pair of ecstasy-intoxicated Waldos hiding in a motley collection of real people with profound problems, happy couples can drag all of us down. There they are, picking out silverware patterns. Quick, there’s another couple sharing an umbrella as they glide down rain-drenched streets. Happiness makes them lightweight and carefree, unencumbered by anything but the limitless potential of their dreams together.

My parents would have been married fifty years this month, and it is a milestone worth noting. You probably did not know them. They were an unassuming couple with St. Louis in their hearts who came up north in the mid-fifties to start a family. He was an engineer, and she was a homemaker with a love for learning and an awareness that the world in which she was raising her children was dangerous and difficult. Theirs was the first marriage I knew and it formed the basis of everything I hoped to know about relationships.

The seriousness of a marriage means that it never really ends, especially with children involved. Take sanctity out of the equation, and what remains is the tangible certainty of a legal arrangement. We sign contracts, share names, bank accounts, and raise children with equal parts of our genetic lineage running through their veins. We may physically go our separate ways, dissolve the contract, and hope to re-build a new identity somewhere else. No matter what we do to erase the bond of a first mistake, the connection remains, albeit tenuous and slippery, but it is strong.

My father died on June 20, 1997, in the home where he raised his children, in the arms of the woman he’d married forty-one years earlier. One person may have been gone, but the marriage remained deep in my mother’s heart for the rest of her life. She was not forever in black, or ever visibly lonely, but she grieved in her own subtle way. Where many widows might have picked up with somebody else shortly into their new life, my mother put her own affairs in order during the time she had remaining. When she died on October 29th, 2005, the union was even stronger in the hearts of her children.

Nothing and nobody cherished ever really dies. The power of our memories and the willingness of our hearts to make room for happiness makes sure of that. Congratulations to all the young happy couples, intoxicated by the first wave of infatuation and the undeniable attraction of first love. We can all easily surrender to it and sometimes turn off our brains in the process, and sometimes the risk of taking that plunge is worth every price. Cherish the strength and power found in marriage, however it takes shape for you. When it works, nothing is better.