A. and I are coming up on 18 years of marriage.
I knew her 6 years before we married. We met in an Outdoor Rec. class at BYU–outdoor survival skills to be precise. The class met once a week and practiced lighting fires, lashing logs together, and tying knots. Then we put our theoretical skills into action in the sands dunes of Utah’s west desert for a weekend. Seasoned former boy scouts and upper-middle class girls camp graduates began to fall apart–physically and emotionally–within hours of being dropped off. The weather dampened spirits, the hunger dulled personalities, the cold stifled conversations. Of all the people I met that weekend, one stood out: a beautiful girl from Seattle who adjusted her personality to the conditions at hand, and made everyone around her feel happier, warmer, and more capable. I didn’t get her name on the trip and didn’t say more than 2 words to her over the next 4 years. But that was A.–and she is now my wife.
In the words of Antoine de Saint Exupery: “Experience has taught that love does not consist of staring deep into each other’s eyes, but in standing side by side, looking out at the world together.” Our love for each other exists in large part because we know that the world always has plenty of challenges coming our way–so there is no reason to turn on each other. “Same team!” we tell each other when one of us gets a little short or critical. We find it easier to light fires, lash logs, and tye knots together, since it turns out that knowing and using survival skills is a lifetime curriculum.
Still, we are individuals too. I have my own interests, and so does A. But we also genuinely love each other’s company, and have learned to be open to new discoveries made by the other. A. is not the same woman I married so long ago–she is stronger, smarter, more beautiful, more spiritual. I hope and pray that I am more than I was, and will continually become more than I am now.
Way back when we were celebrating our 5th anniversary, I was tempted to think that our happiness was due to some repeatable formula that I could pass along to anyone interested. Now, I just feel lucky. That doesn’t mean that love is capricious or a game of chance. In the end it is about two people, a man and a woman, who are strong independently, but learn that they can be stronger together. Both have to realize that they could live without the other just fine, but that they choose to join together to be greater than the sum of their parts. Each child that joins the family, if so blessed, can make that love even greater. Each year, each experience, each anniversary does the same.
We have a favorite painting that we bought when we had no money to buy art, it’s called “Lovers, with dog.” It has a couple in a loving embrace, with a yellow lab looking out at the viewer. The dog has an expanding aura around its head, and so do the couple. The love is expanding right out of the frame. That is what I mean about love. It sparks, it grows, it sometimes flickers, it grows again. It warms, it cooks, it burns a little. It illuminates, it reveals. It rewards.
If I make it sound too rosy, that’s only because there is love in its perfect form, and then there is the love that we are learning to handle and use. We are all apprentices. Even after 18 years, A. and I are still learning, but that’s the nice thing about love: it expands the understanding and fires the souls of beginners, intermediates, and experts alike!
18 years is not much in relation to eternity, but it’s not a bad start either. There are times when A. and I just look at each other, and smile, and know that whatever love is, we’re in it. Wonderful.