I want to congratulate my parents who celebrated 57 years of marriage yesterday. That’s a long time to love and share your life with the same person.
I was reading Have A Little Faith, by Mitch Albom (author of Tuesdays with Morrie), last night. If you aren’t familiar with the book, it includes Mitch’s conversations with his childhood rabbi – referred to as “Reb” – who has asked Mitch to deliver his eulogy. Reb manages to continue living a few more years, and Mitch recounts many of their conversations.
On my parents’ anniversary, I want to share some of what Mitch writes about Reb’s long marriage to his wife, Sarah. They had been married more than 60 years, and Sarah was known to say –
“I’ve had thirty wonderful years with my husband, and I’ll never forget the day we were married, November 3, 1944.”
“Wait…,” someone would say, doing the math, “that’s way more than thirty years ago.”
“Right,” she would say. “On Monday you get twenty minutes, on Tuesday you get a great hour. You put it all together, you get thirty great years.” (p. 142)
Reb had officiated at nearly 1000 weddings, so Mitch asked him: “Can you predict which marriages will survive?”
Reb responds that good communication, a similar belief system, and similar values give them a good chance. “What about love?” Mitch asks. To this, Reb replies that love is necessary, but that love changes. –
“Love- the infatuation kind-‘he’s so handsome, she’s so beautiful’- that can shrivel. As soon as something goes wrong, that kind of love can fly out the window.
“On the other hand, a true love can enrich itself. It gets tested and grows stronger. Like in Fiddler on the Roof. You remember? When Tevye sings ‘Do You Love Me?’?”…
“When she says, ‘How can you ask if I love you? Look at all I’ve done with you. What else would you call it?’
“That kind of love- the kind you realize you already have by the life you’ve created together- that’s the kind that lasts.” (p. 143)
Reb continues –
“I think people expect too much from marriage today. They expect perfection. Every moment should be bliss. That’s TV or movies. But that is not the human experience.
“Like Sarah says, twenty good minutes here, forty good minutes there, it adds up to something beautiful. The trick is when things aren’t so great, you don’t junk the whole thing. It’s okay to have an argument. It’s okay that the other one nudges you a little, bothers you a little. It’s part of being close to someone.
“But the joy you get from that same closeness- when you watch your children, when you wake up and smile at each other- that, as our tradition teaches us, is a blessing. People forget that.” (p. 144)
Mitch asks why they forget and Reb responds that commitment, once a positive term meaning loyal and steady, has now become something to avoid. People don’t want to be tied down. –
“It’s the same with faith, by the way. We don’t want to get stuck having to go to services all the time, or having to follow all the rules. We don’t want to commit to God… That requires staying power- in faith and in marriage.”
And if you don’t commit? asks Mitch.
“Your choice. But you miss what’s on the other side.”
“What’s on the other side?”
“Ah.” He smiled. “A happiness you cannot find alone.” (p. 145)
Now, I know that not all committed relationships are meant to be. But what Reb says rings true to me about my own marriage. Not every moment is bliss, but the good minutes add up. Love changes but cannot be denied when you look at the storms you have weathered and the life you’ve created together. The closeness and the happiness that results from staying committed to the other person through the ups and downs is not something one can achieve alone.
My brothers and sister and I have been lucky to have parents who have “staying power” in faith and marriage. Here’s to you, Mom and Dad. Thank you, not only for the love you have given my siblings and me, but for the example of your commitment to one another.