My favorite Beatles song is off the Let It Be album, but it’s not the title track, or Long and Winding Road, even though I love both of those. My favorite song is Two of Us. The first time I heard it I was in desperate puppy love with one of my distant cousins, a young man I saw only in the summers when he came “up north” to visit our family. The song spoke to me as a 13-year old getting her first glimpse of what it felt like to be that someone special in a relationship of two.
There is a narrow and twisty cement stairway leading to the basement of the Martha Mary Chapel, the small historic church where my husband and I were married thirty nine years ago today. When the wedding consultant directed me down the dark passageway to the Bride’s Room on that bright spring morning, my stomach did a back flip. I was scared of stairs, scared of the dark, and mostly scared that I would trip over the filmy train on my wedding dress. I carefully wended my way downward, my father ahead of me and my Maid of Honor trailing behind holding the train out of harm’s way, only to realize about half-way down that I’d have to make this torturous journey back UP in about 30 minutes. I could feel my heart beating faster and faster, my knees getting weak. “Hey, you can’t give up now,” my friend said to me. “You can do this."
Yes, I told myself. It’s my wedding day, I’ve been waiting for this day, I CAN do this. And so I did, navigating slowly and gingerly, but successfully down the stairs, and then, back up again for the ceremony that set me on a new course for my life.
Today, almost four decades later, I realize how much of married life resembles that stairway. We enter into a relationship filled with excitement and hope, ready to commit ourselves heart and soul to this other person. We set ourselves on a path hoping for sunshine and flowers, seeking a yellow brick road, never knowing how many times we’ll be forced to detour down a dark, narrow passageway.
In her book, Magical Journey, author Katrina Kenison writes, “What I didn’t know...on the day I donned an ivory wedding dress and became a wife, was that every marriage is a gamble and the stakes are always high. Love, after all, is not synonymous with permanence; we offer our hearts into each other’s safekeeping on faith alone. Our relationship has survived, adapted, deepened, but it is hardly immaculate. In fact, the landscape of our lives together is a muddy criss-cross of mishaps and memories, exultation and grief, hallowed landmarks and forgotten detours made along the way as each learned, one day at a time, what it means to love another person for the long haul.”
Getting down that dark twisted stairway was only the first of many challenges married life would present me. In our many years together we’ve experienced long separations imposed by work, job losses and changes, my parents divorce, illness and death, moving house, giving up on dearly held dreams. So often it is these “muddy criss-cross of mishaps,” the “hallowed landmarks and forgotten detours” along the way that give us opportunities to strengthen our resolve, to look back and say, “we survived that and became stronger, more loving people because of it.”
I was really proud of myself for navigating to the bottom of that staircase, but I was even more proud to make my way back up again, to stand in the tiny vestibule of the church on that bright May morning in 1976, fix my gaze on the young man standing at the altar waiting for me, and take my first steps down the aisle into our future. Today, on yet another glorious spring day, I do the same thing, knowing so much more about what it entails.
“I stepped into my marriage convinced that passion would sustain us,” Kenison writes. “Now, I know better. We will endure by the grace of acquiescence, cooperation, patience, and the small daily rituals that keep us close even as change transforms the landscape of our lives.” Kenison is so right: If I’ve learned anything in all these years gone by, it is that those are surely the keys to getting back up from every dark stairway life puts in your way.
So here’s to anniversaries, because they compel us to look back as well as forward, to see the long history of stairways successfully navigated, bridges painstakingly crossed, hurdles courageously cleared. And to know that with “the grace of acquiescence, cooperation and patience” we can continue on the journey together.
Not my surprise at how many people had packed into the white wooden pews of the historic chapel. Not the moment of panic when my about-to-be husband dropped the wedding ring onto the floor in the middle of the ceremony. Not even the annoying wedding photographer who kept insisting we smear wedding cake over each other's faces.
No, the memory that stands out most clearly from that day, the one I return to when I want/need to recall the butterflies in my stomach that accompany young love, is a moment later that evening as we drove to our honeymoon in Toronto. We stopped at a small convenience store, a tiny, cramped little place, the ceiling-high shelves jam packed with everything from soup to shaving cream. I don't remember why we stopped, what "convenience" we needed. But I was alone at the front counter after making my purchase, peering around the overflowing shelves to see where Jim might have wandered off to.
"Is there something else you need?" the clerk asked me.
"No," I replied, "I'm just looking for my husband."
And with the utterance of that word - husband - a shiver I can still feel ran through my body. What a momentous word, heavy with portent and responsibility. Saying it for the first time plucked me from girlhood and instantly, ready or not, plopped me down into womanhood. It was a word that meant I was grown up, with a grown up relationship and responsibilities.
Thirty seven years later, having now said the word thousands of times, I'll admit it isn't always accompanied by a flurry of girlish excitement. When you live with someone your entire adult life, you learn more about them then is probably good for any two people to know about each other. But familiarity doesn't have to breed contempt. My husband's oh-so-familiar habits and attitudes are usually more comforting than contemptuous. Sure, like most wives I complain about the snoring, the TV, the long showers and short conversations. And he still wanders off when we're shopping and I have to look around for him after I'm done.
But mostly I'm thankful that we've turned out to be as compatible as we thought we would be when we took joined our lives together 37 years ago today. Like that little convenience store on the 401 in Windsor, we've stocked the shelves of our relationship with everything imaginable until they're filled to overflowing.
I picked a really good husband. I hope I get to call him that for another 37 years at least.