Friday, June 25, 2021

“Mahwidge is What Bwings Us Together...”

Okay, the "Princess-Bride-reference" is the closest I will go in terms of "clickbait"(😉). 

As you all know, Eileen and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary this week. Of course, we have been (and will be) stretching out our Silver Jubilee all through this memorable year. It has been a special time for us, with a renewed awareness of the preciousness of our life together and all we have shared, as well as a renewed commitment to what lies ahead. We are moving forward with hope to the joys, trials, twists and turns, new challenges, surprises, failures, achievements, and growing in love that remain ahead of us as we continue together our journey through this world, following our common vocation.

Marriage is indeed what "brings us together" - it is the unique lifelong bond of love that bears fruit by bringing forth into the world and fostering the personal growth of the next generation, thus insuring the continuation and development of human history. No form of artificially constructed material, technological power can ever begin to replace the original "organic" reality of the human family as the foundation of interpersonal communion, the authentic love that brings genuine flourishing to human persons and human society.

Well..that statement is true and important, but too general for this post. These days I'm meditating very much on a particular marriage that has brought two very particular people together, and kept them together for a quarter of a century. Perhaps I could share a few of those reflections.

There are a lot of small practical moments in a life together, and some big moments (wonderful moments and difficult moments). And while marriage will always be about a man and a woman loving each other and being faithful to each other (the mutual "I-Thou" dimension), it is also about their unique solidarity, their being-together as a unity-of-two who engage the world together (the "We" dimension). The fruitful openness of mutual love unfolds along this common path. Recall that the wedding vows make much reference to the various conditions of our mutual life: "for better and for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health."

Eileen and I have learned the importance of these promises. Our marriage has involved a lot of facing circumstances together, including problems that life has given us that were not the fault of either of us: my illnesses and early 'retirement,' the financial crash of 2008 and the burdens it placed on us, the needs of our aging parents, the dementia and loss of my Dad, the now-failing health of my Mom... and many ongoing challenges. It’s always messy, and we learn and grow by going through things, by struggling and enduring, by not giving up, and by forgiving each other every day. 

Eileen and I have been greatly blessed. We still love each other and trust each other, and we have had lots of support from others in difficult times. Certainly, people hope to find deep affection for each other in marriage, but (as is to some extent the case with all human relationships) the unique spousal-interpersonal affection in married life is more complicated (and sometimes more arduous) than initial experiences might suggest. 

Affection goes through many phases over time, and it's all too easy for married couples to give up and grow distant when the early and initial stages of affection and intimacy (with their particular type of intensity) seem to fade. It's true that "people change" over the years and decades, but this underscores the importance of humility, fidelity, and the realization that spouses are not meant to be the ultimate fulfillment of each other. Marriage is a sign - a great sign - of the ultimate destiny for which the spouses have been made, toward which they journey together, and which their being-together helps them to remember. This doesn't diminish spousal love and affection, but actually renews and deepens them. Even as many forms of feelings ebb and flow, affection can grow and be rediscovered, and even open up in new and more beautiful ways. This has certainly been our experience. 

When feelings of estrangement begin to creep in, don't give up! Be patient, forgive one another, and "begin again" each day. A marriage can do more than just survive; of itself it has great resilience and remarkable resevoirs of vitality. Don't give up. 

One thing Eileen and I have been grateful for is that we have always been genuinely good friends. We love to do things together, but we have our own interests too. It’s not an identical “match,” which is just fine. We can appreciate one another’s interests and learn from one another, but also share the things we love together. Real intimacy includes “space” because it’s not absorption. It's a union of two persons. At the same time, the "space" I'm talking about here is not meant to imply a merely “partial union,” but rather a union of persons precisely with their distinct personalities: a union of persons who grow together and challenge one another (or, often, frustrate one another — but here again there is forgiveness). 

And of course, there are the kids. What a mystery it is to be parents. It “fills” our relationship (because, after all, God created them and gave each of them their unique personal identity through us!) - but here too, parenthood doesn’t “negate” our own personalities. It enriches us and our spousal relationship further. Once again, we find that family is a unity of persons; with all the particular responsibilities it places on parents at the beginning, it nevertheless must always include freedom. We have loved our kids like crazy, like I can’t describe, but we know that they were entrusted to us (as parents) for a truly personal education, an education of their freedom, of their hearts, of their own personal capacity to love and to be loved and to find fulfillment in the Mystery to whom we all belong. 

I’m grateful that Eileen and I have worked together with the kids, and faced their problems together. Of course, we're not finished with the initial (and most directly educative) stage of parenthood. We still have two teenagers in the house, and I think they are both more challenging (in different ways) than the other three who are grown up. (Or maybe we're just older and less energetic than we used to be.) But we have more experience, and have become wiser and more realistic about our efforts and limitations. We still make many mistakes, and still need their forgiveness. 

The wonder is that I am a unique person, but at the same time relationships with other persons are intrinsic to “who I am.” I become more truly myself by engaging these persons who have been entrusted to me with love, which means giving of self (and receptivity to the gift of the other). Love is a sacrifice, but we don’t give ourselves away into a void. Love is not nihilism. It is self-giving and even “losing one’s self” but with a promise of finding one’s self, of renewal, of freedom in love.

After 25 years with my beloved wife, I see the truth of this in so many ways. Even our mistakes and failures toward each other are turned toward something greater (again, with forgiveness). Forgiveness is at the heart of the mystery of marriage, and this has to do with the fact that it is a special living sign of God's compassionate love for the human beings He has created. For Christians, it is a Sacrament wherein Jesus Christ's forgiving, crucified love for His bride, the Church, takes concrete shape and efficacy through the relationship of spouses, and becomes radically present and directive of marital fruitfulness in families, which are the continuation of history, and the "school" for the ongoing experience and expansion of His love from generation to generation. 

We are confident that God continues to carry out His mysterious plan for us to grow in love. God is always good. Sometimes it can take awhile to “see” this goodness (or even a glimpse of it) in our lives. But we know He has accomplished all things in Jesus Christ. He will never fail us. There have been times, and there will be times, when He seems distant or we are stretched beyond anything we ever imagined. But His strength prevails in our weakness. We have to trust Him. We have to hold onto Him, together.

We still have a lot to learn. 25 years is hardly a lifetime. In any case, in marriage there are always surprises. Within a week or two (or even sooner) we will see the face of our granddaughter for the first time. GRANDPARENTS!!? A brand new adventure begins! We can’t imagine it. We’re so excited!!