Marriage—the payoff

In my previous post I mentioned the Amtrak trip Colleen and I took to celebrate our 55th wedding anniversary. Shortly after our return, our son, Clint, posted a picture on Facebook with the caption “What 55 years of marriage looks like.” I’ve inserted it here, so you can see what he posted. We were taking our daily stroll up our lane as Clint was leaving our place, and he took the picture before running us off the road. Whether our anniversary prompted the posting of the picture he didn’t say, but the two events have caused me to do some reflecting and ruminating on the true meaning and significance of “marriage for life.”

It really started with the celebration of our Golden Wedding Anniversary, when I made a video about our fifty years together. Over these past five years a feeling has evolved that our marriage feels “different” now than it used to, and I’ve wondered how, for sure, and why.

A common first reaction to celebrating a 50th wedding anniversary is disbelief. “How can it have been fifty years?” A second common reaction is the growing awareness of the truth of the old aphorism, “Old age ain’t for sissies.” Life becomes all too involved with the consequences of having made it this far. We’ve lost friends to cancer, to heart attacks and just “old age.” When we gather with friends it is all too common to spend our time in an “organ recital” as we discuss our various infirmities. But underlying all that is a growing sense of…what? It’s not just a feeling of accomplishment, although that is certainly a part of it. And it’s not just bragging rights. Looking at that picture above, I began to realize that these are the “payoff” years. It is the difference between “contending” and “contentment.”

Most of the earlier decades of a marriage are years of contending. Contending with supporting a family, with raising your kids, getting them through college, marriages, divorces. Contending with paying bills and fear of the drug culture in our society. If your marriage is a good one, if the bond of love and commitment is strong enough, these years strengthen that bond, deepen that love. But they are not easy years.

Now that is all (well, mostly) behind us. And as the dust settles, our relationship emerges. We get to begin focusing on each other, again, but now with a knowledge and conviction proved in the line of fire. And what emerges is a growing awareness that here beside you is a person who has committed their entire life to you, who stood by you in thick and thin, a person who never has and never will betray you or leave you. It is an humbling feeling, unlike any other I’ve experienced in these five-plus decades. I can’t imagine walking those roads alone.

Our celebrity culture demeans and shuns marriage. Too many are fearful of that commitment, who see no value in it. I can only feel sorry for those who deny themselves the greatest reward they will never get to experience: that of having a person who will walk your roads in life arm in arm with you, and never forsake you. They will never get to have the pay-off years.

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