As of this week, I’ve been married forty years to the same person. Okay. Not the same person. He’s changed. I’ve changed. And it’s not the same marriage. It’s changed and we’ve changed. In many ways, it’s been more like a series of two or three marriages,.
When new friends ask what wisdom we have to share. I ‘m struck dumb. Those of you who know me understand what an unusual occurrence this is. Looking back there’s the same feeling I had when I first set my eyes on the Grand Canyon. It’s just too big to grasp.
Generalities fly through the air. Kindness, rooted commitment. Then specific words come to mind: communication (learning what that means and how to do it better), acceptance, tolerance. But mostly there’s a parade of images, single frames that become a whole, like flipping a book of line drawings that create animation. Viewing my own mental snapshots of these two young strangers and watching how shared joy and grief and pain has changed them together and separately simply boggles my mind.
The fact I chose the right person with which to partner is one of the biggest miracles of my life, and I’ve had some miracles. It was just the kind of risky leap that appeals to twenty-year olds. And it’s just this attitude toward risk and growth that has kept life interesting. Sometimes way more than interesting. Terrifying and yet enlightening.
Huge. Like looking at the Grand Canyon. Awe. Wonder. Humility.
From this perspective, looking back on the Grand Canyon of time, I’m stunned by the panorama. The day we got married forty years ago, our fathers and a grandfather made a roof rack from plywood for our Ford Fairlane to carry our wedding gifts across the country to our new life in Oregon. The rack blew into pieces the first day of the trip in Clarinda, Iowa. We mailed the gifts that survived and kept heading West. This was the beginning of our big shared adventure.
The first marriage was all adventure: moving cross country on our honeymoon to the Pacific Northwest, where we’re deeply rooted to this day. The first marriage was backpacking in Europe, living out of a Volkswagen bus, “manning” lookout towers seasonally.
In the second we each got Serious Jobs, bought a house, we gave birth together . (Okay. One of us did more of the work. ) We confronted hard times in the relationship, experienced the joys and teamwork of raising young children. We stayed put, created family here where we live and maintained close connections with our original families.
The third decade brought teenager parenting, which we experienced in spades. Ask my daughter. Ask my son. In the fourth decade our hearts cracked open as we discovered side by side new understanding of the word Love, from our families, from our community, from our own depths, from the Universe itself.
I’m so tempted to quote a poem or to quote some of the wisdom I’ve shared with wedding couples. After all, this is the domain of poets and ritual.
But the truth is, the longer we’re together the more I learn about how clueless I am about the inner life of this other being. Any time I think I know, I come back again to awe at the mystery. The very mystery that brought us together and continues to teach us as we live side by side. The mystery that we keep getting a closer look at as we experience all the challenges of aging together.
The mystery as big as the Grand Canyon.