Our Messy, Beautiful Summer Week 3: Marriage
A guest post by Cindy Brandt
This is the story of how our thirteenth anniversary screwed me over.
A week before the actual anniversary, my seven-year-old son got ill with the flu. For six days he burned with a high fever along with a string of severe symptoms: vomiting, violent coughing, both restlessness and lethargy. By the end of the week, my husband and I were both ragged with worry and physical fatigue. We postponed any celebrations until the next weekend.
We made plans for a terrific date: the movie, Captain America, followed by a fancy steak dinner.
On Monday, I woke up with a horrendous sore throat, having caught the bug presumably shared by dear son the week prior.
By Wednesday, I could barely speak as my voice gradually turned into a croak with intermittent missing syllables lost to my infected vocal chords.
Thursday, our childcare plans for the terrific date fell through. Instead of reasonably considering alternative options, J and I decided to spontaneously combust into an all-out rage fight. Issues discussed include:
- Why we don’t understand each other.
- Why we are so selfish.
- Why the political instability in Taiwan shapes the futures of our college students.
None of which really had anything to do with why we started fighting in the first place. And remember, I was croaking my way through this fight – with missing syllables. When marital experts advise clear communication, I’m sure they assume COMPLETE SYLLABLES.
J suggests we postpone our terrific date. Why, I had to know. Well, because we just shouted and stomped and said nasty things to each other and who in their right mind is in the mood to celebrate a wedding anniversary after that? But…but, I argue, if we don’t go on this date, it signals a breach in the foundation of our marital covenant, our children will experience trauma, and the world as we know it will come to an end. Because this is the way my mind works: no Captain America = End of the world.
We’re not going, he says.
Instead of gradually recovering from the common cold which typically lasts 7-10 days, my 8-day cold virus decides to go ahead and creep up into my eyes, giving me a double eye infection. What the what?! Apparently, this is a thing: respiratory viruses don’t just wreak havoc on the respiratory system but can affect vision. Also, now I’m hacking up a lung. Physically, I’m not doing so well. Maritally, things are looking up. We are back to speaking soft, kind words to each other, but it’s still slightly awkward. Emotions are tender; the sting of accusations hurled in the state of anger and confusion are taking time to heal. Our hugs feel a bit manufactured and our routine interactions take on an extra layer of vulnerability, slowly rebuilding trust with every gesture.
J suggests, for a third week in a row, we go out to lunch to celebrate our anniversary. I don’t say no, but I’m tempted to. I am tired of forcing a celebration. I’m tired of pretending to be happy when things are awkward and unsure. Just like the way my infected eyes are glazed over and hidden behind my heavy, prescriptive glasses, I feel shielded and incapable of connecting my true self with this man I am committed to. I feel drained of energy to lift the veil of misunderstanding, mistrust, and mishandled emotions which hang precariously between us.
But I showed up. Like a warrior, I carried on. I didn’t put on a nice dress because I didn’t feel beautiful. I changed out of my sweats and put on black slacks. I briefly combed over the hideous tangles in my hair, checked my infected eyes which were still puffy and red behind my glasses, sighed audibly over the hot mess I was, and just showed up.
The restaurant was beautiful, the meal extravagant, but the date was not magical. There was no grand, romantic gesture, no sparks of rekindled passion. It was just us, two people who have been together for thirteen years, exchanging information regarding our mundane daily lives. At one point, I started getting excited to share something important when a baby in the next booth started high-pitch crying. And kept crying, with varying intensity, for the duration of our lunch.
Somewhere between the entree and the dessert, between bout 4 and 16 of baby crying episodes, it occured to me how much of a metaphor our botched anniversary celebration is for our marriage and for life. We wanted this terrific date in a perfect world where there is no sickness, plans for childcare don’t foil, our emotions are always held in check and our brains are 100% in sync, and where Captain America is the answer to all of our life’s problems. We long for magical experiences where every plan is executed with precision, every category is defined and checked, every emotion neat and contained. But life is not a Hollywood movie, and we are not superheroes. Life is messy and we are oh-so-ordinary – frail to disease, dependent on other imperfect people. We make mistakes and wound those we love.
And just about the time this realization dawns on me, I also began to understand the value of our non-magical date. This is plainly how we keep our marital vows: we make the choice, again and again, to come together despite our imperfections. Despite the puffy eyes, the tired soul, the interruptive baby; despite awkward hugs, tense conversations, missed assumptions, we show up anyway. We make each other laugh a little and roll our eyes at each other’s stupid jokes–with every decision to be present together, we are proclaiming our marriage vows all over again. Each moment we share, no matter how mundane, is a sacred covenant. This is how we live our messy, beautiful life.
It’s not wrong to want or expect magic in marriage and in life. But if every moment is magical then nothing can delight. We must learn to find our joy in the mess and never, ever give up meeting together. When we can find beauty in the margins, then, all of a sudden, life feels full and worth showing up for every day.
Cindy Brandt puts words about faith, culture, social justice, and life together on www.cindywords.com. She serves on the board of One Day’s Wages, an organization working to put justice for the poor in the hands of the ordinary. You can find her on Facebook and see her life on the tropical island of Taiwan on Instagram.
This post is part of Momastery’s Our Messy, Beautiful Summer series.
Author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller LOVE WARRIOR — ORDER HERE
Join the Momastery community on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & Pinterest