One of the earliest school games I remember was taking the petals off a daisy and repeating with each one “he loves me, he loves me not.” Of course we were hoping that we would end on “he loves me.” A similar game involved twisting the stem of an apple around in a circle. Each turn counted as a letter in the alphabet. When the stem finally fell off, the letter signified a boy’s name. It helped to long for a boy friend whose name was several letters in such as Fred or Gary. It was hopeless to get the stem to hang on until William!
We certainly found love to be a mystery, and I am not sure it ever became less of one as we grew into adulthood. We loved someone who didn’t love us back. Someone loved us who we didn’t love back. Two of us loved the same person. No one loved us. The angst went on and on it seems. Certainly pop music teems with stories of unrequited love. If all love was straightforward the musicians might have much less to sing about.
What pop music captures though is that sometimes the longing in unrequited love is nearly as satisfying as the desired reciprocity. Sometimes we could indulge in lengthy fantasies about someone without having to go through the actual ups and downs of a real relationship. This turmoil remains in my past. But here’s to the boys I longed for and never got and to the boys I passed over along the way.
Fifty years ago this coming June, I served as a bridesmaid for the marriage of my closest college friend. She and her fiance had met in college so I knew them both very well. The marriage was a time of rejoicing and, on my end, a little envy since I had yet to find a suitable match. They had two daughters two years older and two years younger than my daughter, but lost a son in between when he died in utero. They both had successful teaching careers, dedicating themselves to urban high schools and teacher preparation programs. They bought a lovely home and welcomed me into it many times when I was in their area to visit.
My friend’s mom had early onset Alzheimer’s and my friend and I tended to her one week while her dad took a well earned break. I witnessed a woman I knew losing speech, memory and eventually motor skills. It was sobering and I admired her husband for his devotion to his wife. Neither my friend nor I could imagine such a life for ourselves.
Fifteen years ago the troubling symptoms, mainly personality changes, appearing in my friend led to her diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s, now known to be genetically linked. For a number of years her husband was able to let her stay at home with family caretakers helping him. Eventually he found a safe home for her to live in and moved to the town near by. He visits her daily, loves her intensely, and remains faithful to her in all ways. He lives out the promise made before me and others all those years ago to be her “loving and faithful husband..in sickness and in health.”
We know so very little when we make those promises to each other, especially if we are young and healthy. When we said our vows I think many of us focused on the “plenty,” “joy,” and “health” conditions rather than the “want,” “sorrow,” and “sickness.” May we all have the strength and courage to remain true to our spouse no matter what. I look at my friend’s father and her husband and know it can be done.
Our hands joined above in a classic wedding photograph showing our two wedding bands, just exchanged in our ceremony, symbolize the three verbs above. Each word has a slightly different meaning, but taken together they convey strong commitments. The word “covenant” has a particular meaning in this religious ceremony since it is the same word for the promise that God makes to his people to always be present.
Rings and words are fine things, but living out all the promises takes a level of courage impossible for us without the support of our faith community and our God. In fact our minister stressed that God is the third in our marriage, the one holding it together when neither of the two of us has the ability. There has been something sustaining in this knowledge. Our marriage doesn’t just rely on two fragile, wounded, confused adults. You might say that we always knew and know that God “has our back.”
And we have had many opportunities to learn what happens when we reach the end of our capacity. Bringing children from two previous marriages together, along with the drama of one of the former marriages, put a strain on our relationship from the beginning. Fortunately, not only had we promised to stay faithful to each other, the congregation had also publicly vowed to be there for us. We spent many prayer times with fellow congregants working through the strains which came from our pasts.
I realize that in these posts about my marriage I am stressing the religious aspects. They are the underpinning for us. Perhaps “love never fails” in the abstract, but it certainly can falter in the real. For the many times when the feeling of love was absent, the deep reality of our love came back to us as we prayed with others for our marriage. For us the love of God is the constant we rely upon.
Charlie and I married June 18, 1988 in a Friends (Quaker) Church. The ceremony was very simple with Scripture readings, a period of silence, and our vows. We had been through nearly a year of once weekly meetings with our minister in marriage preparation. Since each of us had a failed marriage behind us, the preparation for this one was intensive. No stone was left unturned as we discussed finances, children, childhood experiences and previous marriages. The theory was that when a conflict arose in our marriage we would have already talked about the topic with another person. This proved true and I credit that time with the success of our marriage. Although we had yet to live together, we had anticipated much of the adjustment to come.
Our vows were set, alleviating us of the responsibility of coming up with some. The first portion was a question directed by the minister to each of us in turn:”___wilt thou have this woman/man to be thy wife/husband, and wilt thou pledge thy faith to him/her, in all love and honor, in all duty and service, in all faith and tenderness, to live with her/him, and cherish her/him, according to the ordinance of God, in the holy bond of marriage?” To which we each replied “I will.” The second we addressed to each other, a phrase at a time: ” I___take you, ___, to be my wedded wife/husband, and I do promise and covenant, before God and these witnesses, to be your loving and faithful husband/wife, in plenty and want, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live.”
A daunting litany of promises spoken before one hundred friends and family. In the Quaker tradition the community actually affirms the marriage with a certificate signed by all in attendance. So a large paper was signed by us and many others and we went downstairs for cake and punch.
What would all those commitments look like over the next 31 years? I will be writing about it in the next posts.
The old school yard taunt used to go “first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes____with the baby carriage.” When we thought a girl liked a boy we would tease her with this rhyme. But the sequence was one we all accepted as the norm. People were in love; they got married; they had children. When the sequence was out of order, producing a baby before a marriage, two possibilities were available when I was growing up. Either the marriage was hurried and the child was born “prematurely,” or the girl was sent off to a home for unwed mothers. The child was then adopted by a couple who were married.
My maternal grandmother posed for her wedding portrait in 1917 before she married my grandfather. The ceremony was simple, followed a set prayer sequence from a prayer book, and the young couple went off on their honeymoon. When my grandmother was eighty she confided in me:”Your grandfather and I knew nothing about anything, but we figured it out all right.” Eventually they had my mother in 1922!
Things have changed enormously during my lifetime. Many couples I know of have lived together, bought a house, had a child or two and then married. In their case, the wedding seems to be a gigantic party costing an arm and a leg. The party seems to be the focus, rather than the marriage itself. My grandparents would have been astounded. In fact, when I was in my twenties I would have been astounded. It not only wasn’t done, we wouldn’t have been able to imagine it. Stigma still clung to “living together” into the 1970’s, and babies were still supposed to enter the scene after the parents were married.
In the next few days, I will be talking through the vows my husband and I made on our wedding day. The emphasis will be on the marriage we were embarking upon, not the wedding itself. Stay tuned.
My first Valentine’s project when I was 2 and 1/2. It appears to have involved pasting. I must have been very proud of my art work because it ended up in my mother’s scrapbook. My collage skills actually never grew much past this level, but in today’s art world perhaps this would shine as “post-modern art.”
May you all have a lovely day.
My maternal grandmother gave me this doll in 1958 when I was eleven and she was sixty-eight. It had been a Christmas gift to her when she was a little girl, one of four little girls in her family, each of whom received one. The doll has a porcelain head, feet and hands and a kidskin body stuffed with sawdust. Remarkably well preserved, she sits on my bedroom dresser, greeting me each morning as I brush my hair. She now belongs to my eleven year old granddaughter who lets me keep it until she is certain she can keep it safe.
We treasure such gifts because we know that they were given with love. Without saying it in words, my grandmother was gifting me with something precious to her. I felt honored and recognized by her. She knew that I would treasure it. Now that she has been gone for forty years, I remember her and her love when I see that doll. Objects can connect us in that way. We can demean the attachment by calling it “sentimental,” but we can choose instead to enjoy the link they can form between us and the gift giver.
Looking around my house, I see many things that I have been given by those dear to me. A little blue glass bird came from an old neighbor who knew I needed cheering up. I am wearing sea otter socks, given me by my husband who knows I adore those animals. Look around your own place and think about the people who know you or knew you and gifted you with a little something to show their love for you. May you have joy in the remembering.