February 13th, 2007. He asked me to be his girlfriend that day. He was 20 and I was 22.
I’ve spent 10 years of my life intimately and intricately linked with someone now not by the fate of family but by one sweeping hope-sprung choice. All of our feverish, tumultuous twenties in step with each other. Life could have been a path forged any which way but we turned to each other instead.
I can’t imagine what my college roommates thought at the onset of our relationship: two fools rushing in (and rush we did—engaged after two months). I was no more equipped to be a girlfriend —or a wife all the more— than properly skin a deer. But here I sit in a home we’ve made, three kids’ beds in a room painted blue. It’s all so real, so good, so normal, and yet still a surprise when I remember I was young and tumbled into something that required moment after moment, year after year of—- building, trying, listening, working, serving, forging, forgiving, folding towels, stacking plates, and putting on love once again.
He was a safe harbor first. Fireworks later.
Marriage is a goodness dressed up in ordinary clothes. Hidden in coffee cups and tucked in sheets. The work of two opposites drawing nearer is of endless fascination to me. A wave crashing rapturously on the solid shore, each unapologetically forces their own.
In these ten years, I’ve gained so much. Little things not too little when I think how they could have been things that never were. Not to gossip. How to welcome people in. Saying plainly what I mean. How to fight in a way where nothing and no one walks away broken.
The greatest lesson I’ve learned in our 1st 10 years together is that very little (if anything) is impossible where kindness comes first. I am not in competition with him. I am in communion with him. He does not take from me unless I surrender something by measures of falsehoods.
Kindness means shaking off fear and rebuking manipulation. Kindness means grace. Kindness means generosity, abundance. Kindness means pausing, listening, being comfortable with moments of discomfort. Saying, showing, that is is all okay.
Oh, I’ve gotten this wrong so many times. Thousands of times. But I always come back to this one answer for how to live and lead. Kindness.
For me, I’ve picked up how to be direct and gentle because this is how he is with me. To go to him simply and to say what I need without faltering. Then to go about my day focused on the task in front of me (wiping sticky hands, explaining pronouns, and sweeping up crumbs), trusting he will do his best to meet my needs the best he can and we will keep moving forward. Mostly, remembering that marriage is a radical act of showing up more for the other person than caring how they are showing up for you. In the end, it is our own body we answer for. It is our words, our service, our respect—not our ability to maintain control or strike fear into someone as a means of self-preservation.
Loving someone for 10 years—yet they be simply steady, solid, good—means nothing less than brave vulnerability however much family portraits and daily rituals make us comfortable or, worse, sleepy. It takes one match to start a forest fire, one malformed branch to bring down a tree. Which one of us can reach out our hands without touching someone who has hurt or is hurting from divorce, the affair, abandonment, the insincerity of someone else’s yes?
I speak of these things because I want to stay awake—-fully, happily, brightly awake. To keep in perspective that I am unfairly blessed in that I am still here reaping the fruit of a marriage to a man who is good. I reject the luke warm waters of familiarity, of busy-bodying through our thirties. Instead, I want to keep risking myself to the man who risked it all. I fix my gaze steady, to look at him lingeringly, with a smile tucked up in my eyes. This love, this work, is still the most important thing I will ever do with my life, but it is by my nature and empowerment as a woman that it is not without excitement, warmth, color, complexity, and life.
I look at Paul and I remember him 20. I remember times when I was too harsh, when I didn’t listen, when he took care of me, when he held our babies on their first day, all the times he used self-control as if a faucet pouring out love. I try sometimes to remember to look at him with his mother’s eyes—a boy who played with the stereo system and did what he was told when his parents needed him, a boy who once learned how to kick out his feet to swing.
And when looking at him I know painfully that 20 or even 40 years may not be enough for me to uncover all there is in that man. I may never have enough to time to get the words right or the timing perfect, to let him know adequately what he has meant to me or that, even simpler, that I can see him just as he is.
I still believe, 10 years after that quick yes, in the abandonment of what I know for the knows-no-bounds call of my vocation. That falling into something so much larger than the small of me ( no matter how big I feel I am ) is a work worthy of the whole of my life.