Monday, June 4, 2007

66 Thoughts on Marriage

“A wedding anniversary is the celebration of love, trust, partnership, tolerance and tenacity. The order varies for any given year.” Paul Sweeney

My dad doesn't seem to want to wake up today. He roused himself at his normal time and got dressed for church, but he didn't make it very far past his napping chair. I worry that there's something wrong physically, but my guess is that his need for sleep is more of an emotional escape. How many times have I just crawled up under a blanket, assumed the fetal position, and prayed for blessed relief from memories or sadness. I think I recognize the signs.

Sixty-six years ago today, on a distant Hawaiian island, surrounded by family, friends, the smell of Pikake blossoms and other tropical flowers, my mom and dad were married. My mom has been gone for four years, but that doesn't make the memories of that day go away; some things remain in clear focus even when you can't remember what happened yesterday. Sometimes it helps to talk about it; sometimes the only remedy for a lost love is sleep.

Between us my sweetie and I have a few failed marriages under our belts. We've been on both ends of a broken heart - breaker and breakee. Still, either out of naiveté or stubbornness, we steadfastly hold on to the romantic ideal of one love and the perfect marriage.

Perfect marriage? Is that an oxymoron? I think not. Perfect, as is beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. What works for me, might not work for you. Even though I used my parents' longstanding marriage as my own barometer for success (or failure), I finally came to realize the measurement of their relationship was really only meant for them. I’ve decided if a marriage meets a modicum your needs, whatever they may be, then you can call it successful by your standards and no one else needs to be the judge.

In honor of the young couple who pledged their lives to one another over six decades ago, my sweetie and I have put together a list of 66 thoughts on marriage and couples whom we have admired over the years.

1. Know what you require in a life partner (your standards for) – Do not compromise.
2. Companionship: This will develop over the years, but you should have a sense of its possibility soon after you meet your “soul mate.”
3. Know what needs you expect a life partner to fulfill – be willing to negotiate.
4. Don’t forget to laugh. Laughter is the music of the soul and can soothe a hurting heart.
5. Gilda Radner and Gene Wilder: There is a Jewish saying that goes something like this, “Joy shared is doubled; sadness when it is shared is cut in half.”
6. Know what you want to do with a life partner to have fun.
7. Home is where the heart is. Make wherever you call home a comfortable/sacred place to be.
8. Bill and Cheryl Roop: Navy couples know what it means to live in a place just long enough to feel settled then get marching orders to move onto another duty station. In my mind Cheryl was about as agreeable in this regard as a saint. At times, she even seemed eager to set up housekeeping in a new or distant land. I always admired her ability to do so without the boohooing and complaining that accompanied my moves.
9. Longevity: “Til death do us part” is the tricky part of the marriage vows. None of us knows when we will experience the forever goodbye, so when you make that pledge, live every day together as if it might be the last.
10. Army Ranger James J. Regan and Mary McCue: A picture of Mary lying across her fiancée’s grave was on the front page of the Memorial Day issue of the NY Times. Like the shot heard round the world, in 1774, the picture brought home to many the ultimate sacrifice faced by this country’s soldiers and the people they love and leave behind. Three months after his death, her love for him lives on in a way we cannot only see but feel.
11. Talking to one another is fun, learning to communicate is essential.
12. Communication is not always about words.
13, Mike and Julia Bruner: When I was in their company I was very aware of how they communicated with their eyes, their hands, their smiles.
14. Expect the best from your partner - give your best to your partner.
15. Norman Rockwell families, like Santa Clause and the Tooth Fairy, don’t really exist but are something to believe in.
16. Dave and Ann Aldrich: “I didn’t know what a family was ‘til I married Ann.”
17. Know how to be in your space - learn how to allow your partner to be in theirs.
18. Clarence and Gertrude Aldrich: My grandparent’s marriage is not one that looked good on the outside. He played around; she drank too much. But when she died, Clarence gave my aunt a rolled up scrap of paper that he’d rescued many times from the trash. It was a silhouette of his young bride. “She was beautiful,” exclaimed Aunt Letty remembering not the young girl my grandfather married but the weathered woman her mom had become. “Yes, I know,” Clarence replied, “she always was.”
19. Hug often, kiss for any reason, hold hands - even in bed before you fall asleep.
20. Show respect - give respect.
21. George and Ethel Cook: As the story goes, George proposed to Ethel by showing her his bank book balance. In an era when actions often spoke louder than words, Ethel was given the promise that George would provide for her.
22. Set boundaries early - maintain your standards.
23.Listen more than you speak, learn more than you teach, know when and how to do both.
24. Scratch an itch, rub a back, massage shoulders, get ice, locate the heating pad.
25. Be quiet, speak softly, hold a hand, laugh and shed tears together - be real.
26. General Colin and Alma Powell: There is a story about how General Powell handled a particular reporter who was looking for a bit of tabloid sensationalism by asking an impertinent question about the mental status of the general’s wife, Alma. Without missing a beat, the answer came loud and clear, causing a hush in the crowded room. “Sir,” said the general, “when someone you love is in hell you do anything you can to get them out.”
27. Take care of yourself so you can care take when needed.
28. Zubin and Wendy Mehta: Without knowing what was in store for them, W&Z opted to get married in the small chapel of a Seattle hospital. From there they flew to Arizona and Zubin was operated on to remove a large mass from his brain. He didn’t move his body after that, yet they learned how to care for each other in ways not many of us will ever master.
29. Watch an old movie together - even one you've seen umpteen times before.
30. Harry and Sally: Romance doesn’t get much better than that!
31. Share the covers (and the pillows). Don’t forget to say, “good night.”
32. George Burns and Gracie Allen: I love that George Burns always closed his performances by saying “Good night, Gracie.” It’s as if he was saying keep my side of the bed warm, I’ll be there soon.
33. Go where asked, do what you can, be fair, agreeable, and strong.
34. Jim and Barbara Drager: This couple personifies for me the concept of “partnership.” Throughout his naval career and beyond, their marriage was a team effort. He knew he could leave for months at a time and, not only would his immediate family would be well cared for, so would the families of his shipmates and colleagues. They shared in life’s challenges and windfalls. 35. Give a card, for no reason. Give a gift for no reason. Accept either with grace and thanksgiving.
36. Look for joy; find it - share it - hold it in your heart as a memory.
37. Take pictures, in your mind, and on film - one or the other may fade.
38. Jack and Edith Ellington: Fun-packed summer vacations were paramount to this couple’s definition of family.
39. Be pleasant to your in-laws.
40. Earl and Dorothy Keifer: Two big hearts, one happy family.
41. Accept differences. Applaud similarities. Appreciate both.
42. King Edward and Wallace Simpson: In the face of unpopular opinion, Edward listened to his heart; not easily done but often worth the price.
43. Pick it up, even if it isn't yours. Close it, even if you didn't leave it open.
44. Albert and Florence Cook: A family of yours, mine and ours. Ever happy, ever faithful.
45. Put things where they came from, even if you think they should go somewhere else.
46. Jessie and Florence Elsenheimer: Always room for one more.
47. Relinquish the remote in football season, and when it's over. Share.
48. Ross and Nettie Cook: Loved, missed, remembered with respect.
49. Speak for yourself; defer when you can't.
50. Know what's true before you share a story with someone else.
51. Turn gossip into a prayer for healing.
52. John and Abigail Adams: In a time when history was being made every single day, this couple remained close by writing letters. Sadly, written correspondence is a forgotten art that has been replaced by cell phones and instant messaging. R U OK is not quite the same as "how do I love you let me count the ways."
53. Be grateful when a prayer is answered.
54. Aaron and Kellie Cook have lived through botched surgeries, cancer scares, and go-in-through-your-nose-to-remove-a-benign-brain-tumor-operation. Oh sure, they get scared, but they never forget to pray or to laugh.
55. Do for yourself what you would have someone else do because you are afraid.
56. Earl and Liz Stewart: The parties, the laughter, the love. Remarkable.
57. “Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads which sew people together through the years.” Simone Signoret
58. Carmine and Angela Torreiri: He is so big, she is so small. Loved each other through it all. Never said quit.
59. Wade and Ruby Tapp: He made it, she spent it. They loved and laughed, always.
60. Find strength in your partner; give strength to your partner.
61. Luther and Patty Reynolds: My parents had a pretty typical “he brings home the bacon, she fries it up in a pan” marriage. When my mother was felled by a stroke, my Dad learned how to do just enough of the things she couldn’t do that she still felt useful and productive. They learned to balance the marriage teeter-totter in more creative ways than the tried and true.
62. Perseverence: “Love at first sight is easy to understand; it’s when two people have been looking at each other for a lifetime that it becomes a miracle.” Amy Bloom
63. Ed and Letty Warner: My Aunt Letty said recently, as if just realizing that so many years had gone by, “Ed and I are about to have our 50th anniversary.” I think she was both surprised and pleased.
64. Commitment: “More marriages might survive if the partners realized that sometimes the better comes after the worse.” Doug Larson
65. Sam and Helen Howard: Towards the end of their long married life, they lived in separate rooms in a nursing home. Although Helen's body was ravaged by age and her mind by dementia, Sam never failed to have someone roll his wheelchair to his wife’s side so they could share meals together.
66. “Love seems the swiftest but it is the slowest of all growths. No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century.”Mark Twain

Feel free to add your own thoughts. Merry ME and Jack Cook

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