Friday, May 13, 2011

marriage





Marriage!


The word itself brings a flood of connotations.  My early memories of marriage are all in the color of a sunset, a burnt orange hue, probably because the one I grew up with belonged to my parents.  It was the 70's, and burnt orange was "in and trendy".  I used to wish for my own marriage to be surrounded in all of the burnt orange romance that my parents was.


The memories are all like a series of snapshots, each one on  photo paper with a matte finish.  My earliest impressions were as romantic as they were staunch:  a noble institution that my Catholic parents believed in as deeply as Jesus, Mary and Joseph.


Kisses.  Housecoats and slippers.  Newspapers.  Coffee.  Tears.  Kisses.  Children.  Beer. Family gatherings. Church.  Books.  Music.  Opera.  Kisses.  Grandma and Grandpa. Church.  Nuns.  Family.  Station wagons.  Singing.  Kisses.  Anger.  Bills.  Tears.  Kisses.  Nana.    Kisses.  Dogs.  Patio furniture.  Swimming pool.  Station Wagon. Movies.  Tears.  Funerals.  Family gatherings.


Like each snapshot, the stories these memories tell about marriage are only bits and pieces.  Put them all together and I believed, as a young adult, I could tell you how to be married and make it work, just by watching my parents.


There was one problem:  marriage isn't exactly learned by osmosis.  It helped a lot, having the model of this marriage right in front of me, but I was remarkably clueless, a passenger on a cruise ship.  Nevertheless, I had made up my mind at a young age I was going to have a marriage just like my parents.  I was determined, also, to marry the man of my dreams: Hector Rodriguez.  In the fourth grade, he was the most handsome, most athletic in the whole classroom and I was determined to make him fall madly in love with me.  Poor Hector.  He didn't really care much for needy, anxious, clumsy girls.  He seemed perfectly happy with kickball.


That needy, anxious, romantic fourth-grader later grew up to be a beautiful, needy and anxious 25 year old girl who married Mario Rodriguez (no relation to Hector) in 1987.  Mario  surpassed the "man of my dreams" and was the kind of handsome that made me weak in the knees.  It  became my life's ambition to make him outrageously happy.  I got to it quickly, and I must say, I was very good at being a wife.


Strangely enough, within seven years, I was finished.  After so long (seven years) doing the best I could, I was growing weary of failing, and also growing more depressed from feeling unloved.   One afternoon, standing in the kitchen of my new home, loading my built-in dishwasher, I found myself dreading  him coming home from work.  We had spent three days not talking, being civil enough for the kids, but icily filled with blame for each other for the same, draining conflicts sucking the life out of both of our hearts.


I looked at the clock and thought, "He's going to come home and ask for a divorce or  he'll say we're getting counseling."  Mario did come home in a similar mood.  He stopped at the counter, glared at me, exhaled, and said what I'll never forget:  "I've signed us up for counseling in a month.  You're going, and that's it, that's final."  He threw a piece of paper on the counter, and turned away, for upstairs.


I looked at the booking he had printed from his work computer and thought, "Well, at least we're not getting a divorce."


The booking was for a place called Elijah House, and signified to me, more than anything, that Mario was committed to staying with me.  The counseling, it turned out, was a good idea, but not at all what I had expected.  No one on our counseling team cared who was wrong or right.  It didn't matter if Mario was the good guy and I was the bitch.  It didn't matter to them that sometimes Mario was the bastard and I was the saint.  At first I felt invalidated, but then I realized that we kind of took turns filling the roles, but the players were always the same.   As much as it is championed as the thing that matters most in a relationship, the counseling didn't even address love.  I always loved Mario, and in my heart, I knew that he always loved me.


What it turns out mattered the most in that pivotal place in our marriage was: where do we go from here?  Are you staying, or are you leaving?  Once we made up our minds to stay with each other and not cut and run, we focused.  What were our habits, our genuine beliefs, our memories...and finally, who were we, down in the secret place, at our most insecure core?  What was it that made us who we are?  What was it that made us scared, terrified or sad?  How were we different from the way we were at eight?  Finally, does our faith in God really mean anything?  Are we ready to reprogram our thinking, our habits, our expectations?


As pieces of harm and hurt and disappointment began to chip away, there was a point when I realized our marriage was not all about me and him.  It was more - a covenant with God that we were given grace to make and live for in Him.  I realized I was living with a man who was a miracle.  Beyond the exoskeleton of who I thought Mario was, I realized he was a masterpiece of God's work ... in progress.


I remember the moment it clicked: and I remember how he looked at me when he saw newness in my eyes.


That was 1995.


What came after was wonderful.  A gift from God.  To keep the newness of our vision for each other, we now inherited the marriage we had always wanted and dreamed about.  To keep focused would be a battle.  By "battle", I mean a full-on fist fight with the devil, the world and my own selfishness, to keep my relationship with this man healthy.  All the while, Mario was in the same battle for the same goal.  On the other side of the battle was a new life with each other, our hearts, our trust and love, our family, our deep need for being worth fighting for.


It sounds cliche, but this kind of marriage is worth fighting for.  Everything in this world is built for single-ness, selfishness and self-promotion - marriage is a union of two people to become ONE.  The greatest dream of people: to be absorbed, with love into each other, where you can't tell where one begins and one ends.  It is also our greatest fear.  We scream and shout anytime our individuality is threatened, and yet want to become one with another.  How is it done?


While we have, as a world, become obsessed with advancement, we have regressed in this one area: marriage.   We have, as people of the world, become faster, smarter, brighter than any generation before us.   We are, however, as a world, becoming failures at keeping promises - specifically marriage vows.


Today I started thinking of all of these things during research.  Do you know that you can prove most things that you want to prove with statistics?  Mario and I have been compiling statistics for our marriage class we are hoping to do in June, and I was amazed to see varying statistics in the area of South African divorce rates.  While the American divorce rate is easier to keep track of (it is a country that keeps fastidious records and regards a marriage as a legal status) the country of South Africa had been all over the map with marriage and divorce rates.  For instance, during the Apartheid regime, marriages between colours weren't recognized, with the occasional coloured-black unions. Because of this, we have had to rely on "world divorce rates", which have (in the most conservative estimates) tripled in one generation.


One generation: A lifetime that includes a child being born and growing up while the world changes around them.  They become adults, and live though most of their adult life, usually seeing their children having children.


In 1954 (Mario was just born) Roger Bannister became the first man to run a mile in less than four minutes.  Most experts of the human body said it couldn't be done. Bannister, an athlete and med-student, was part of a group of friends who were out to prove otherwise.  He ran the mile with a time of  3 minutes 59.4 seconds.  In 1954, many Americans were happy that the war was over, and busy celebrating, making a large number of babies.  We call this delightful little increase to the population "The Baby Boom".  In 1954 most Americans could own a home with one person working.  At the time, divorce rates world-wide were at 2 per cent of the world's population.  Only 9% of Americans were divorced.



In 1999 (Mario and I were considering our first trip to Africa) Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco set the new record for the mile with a time of  3 minutes, 43.13 seconds.  Amazing.  Absolutely Amazing.  In 1999 the USA actually won the world cup for Women's soccer and Brandi Chastain stopped the whole celebration by stripping off her jersey and whooping it up in her sports bra.  In 1999 the world-wide divorce rate was at 24%.   In the USA, half of the marriages that were being performed were ending in divorce.  50%.


We have become wealthy in technology, communication, and understanding.  We have even made our bodies, supposedly compromised from pollutants and carcinogens, disciplined enough to be machines that can obey us to break astounding records, beyond the pain and resistance we feel.  We have become fitter, faster, stronger, smarter.  It's our relationships (or our honor for them) that have become out of shape.  Why?


I type in 2011, after a day of compiling statistics for our upcoming marriage class: Relationship Fitness.  We have been busy in the preparation of this for our whole lives, and the minute we step out and do it I know, without a doubt, that our marriage will face a trial that will seem new and alarming.  I'm not as young as I used to be... but I have a cache of weapons that are chipped and rusted and full of the blood of any demon that will get between me and the man I have vowed to walk with forever.  I have conviction to protect this sacred covenant, and not become a statistic myself.


Our  marriage has not been so pretty to watch being made.  If you were hiding out in the corners through the years you would accuse me of truth: I'm really not fit to teach any marriage class.  The snapshots you'd have been able to get through the years may be unflattering of us.  So, today as I remember my own memories of my parents' marriage, I am wondering about my kids' memories of mine...and I sigh.


Burnt oranges from the 70's  faded into beiges, then turned into jewel tones, and finally gave way to a monochromatic  black and white that became the 90's color palette.  Maybe our kids' memories of our marriage will black and white...?

With a little red mixed in.