Our second wedding anniversary was December 30.
Somehow I never pictured a December wedding for myself. I was all for autumn weddings, warmish days with that crisp tang to the air, the gorgeous golds and oranges of the leaves. Or summer weddings– bright colorful flowers and bridesmaids in sundresses. Or spring weddings (crab-apple blossoms, anyone?) I didn't particularly care about being a June bride, but it never occurred to me that I would be a December bride.
I suppose I thought that a December wedding had to be a Christmas wedding– bridesmaids in red, groomsmen with dark green ties or vests, decorate with poinsettias, etcetera. That a December wedding could be dark blue and silvery, with royal purple overtones and snowflake accents had not occurred to me. Nor did I ever imagine that my future Maid of Honor might loathe poinsettias and half jokingly threaten to boycott my wedding by streaking outside the chapel if poinsettias were in any way involved.
I am female and a romantic at that, and I enjoy a wedding as much as anybody, but I’ve come to consider marriage as far more interesting. Even though weddings are generally the finale or epilogue of most romantic comedy films, in real life, a wedding is just the introduction or prologue. Marriage, that grit and grunge of living in the daily ordinary with another person (“in the bonds of holy matrimony” as the old service says), that is the story.
I think that is why almost no one makes movies about marriages (real marriages, I mean, not caricatured marriages). The fusing of two lives into one is simply too complex and intricate. There is no safe formula, and movies thrive on formula. Romantic comedies are safe– they are almost invariably about love happening to two people, sometimes willingly, sometimes in spite of one or the other or both. The wedding comes, everyone smiles, the credits roll. It's a safe formula and it has proved, a hundred times over, to be lucrative. But a movie about real marriage would not be lucrative, because the filmmaker would have to show what it looks like when love stops happening to a husband and wife on its own and they have to learn how to make love–I don’t mean just physical union, but how spouses have to actually make love real in the day-to-day grunge, how we have to fight for love when it stops coming by itself, how we must hunt for it when it seems hidden or even lost. The problem about movies is that most people want to be entertained by watching extraordinary things on film, but in marriage you can't love extraordinarily until you have learned how to love ordinarily, and nobody makes movies about the ordinary.
The ordinary is exactly what marriage vows are all about–not just I do, in this moment now when we are both the most beautiful we will ever be and loving you is easier than anything else, but also I will all those future days– days of work and play, companionship and loneliness, overwhelming joy and overwhelming sorrow. I will when neither of us are beautiful, when we have seen each other's inside-and-out ugly, when we have wounded each other more deeply and terribly than we could have dreamed possible, when it seems we can't stop arguing and our souls snap at each other, when our relationship seems best personified as the irritated, grumpy old lady next door in permanent curlers and ratty bathrobe. Even then, I still will.
Here’s the thing– if you are in it for what you can get, then the marriage will fail. That's why I like the words of the old service, calling it the “bonds” of holy matrimony. If you marry, you are bound, no matter how enlightened or progressive you consider yourself or your marriage to be. At some point or other, those bonds will assert themselves– a loss of autonomy, of certain freedoms, even of what you might consider to be certain personal rights. If you grasp after these things hard enough, marriage chokes, withers– dies. Here is the paradox, the secret pattern which God has woven into all of life– to find your life you must lose it. The first shall be last, the last shall be first. Only he who lays down his life will truly live.
These past two years have been seven hundred and thirty days of revelation of just how unwilling I am to lay down my life. One hundred four weeks and not one passes in which I do not try to grasp and clutch and cling to what I want– and in that clutching joy withers and I bring death to the one man to whom I’ve promised most. The joy of intimacy with another human soul walks hand-in-hand with the ugliness of sin in the human heart. Two years have shown me how daily I need transforming grace in the very heart of me. You need look no further than your daily thoughts and attitudes, or even words and actions, towards the person you claim to love the most, to see that you are nowhere near as good as you pretend to be.
Marriage is the beautiful, fiery crucible that lays us open and lays us bare. Regardless of how we try to do it, marriage will always bring us to the end of ourselves– which is the best possible place to begin depending on Someone Else.