When I look at my life so far, including being a mom and my professional achievements, and think about what I am most proud of and what brings me the greatest joy, I have to say our 22 year union is definitely at the top of that list. A long, fulfilling marriage doesn’t just happen, much as the fairy tales of youth promised I just needed to find my prince and live happily ever after. I found it is definitely work, tough get in the trenches through disappointments and challenges; take a good hard look at myself and what is most important to me, stuff.
In getting married, I gave up a lot of what I cherished. I am extremely independent and self sufficient. By joining my life with Michael's on an August day two decades prior, I had to take into account another's perspective. I have definite thoughts on the proper “how” of many things – how the house should look, how to raise kids, how to pursue a career, and the list goes on and on. Marriage made those all up for discussion and debate. I treasure solitude as an introvert who lives in an extrovert world. I need time to fill back up what, putting myself out there for so much of the time, takes out. Sharing a domicile with another (and then a few more) means solitude must be planned and sought out; sometimes it is not even possible. I like life steady. I have been described an unnaturally “Zen” person. Not much gets me upset or panicked. I assume things will work out until faced with unconverted evidence to the contrary. My spouse more often takes the first warning sign as an omen of terrible things to come. His family and culture seem to me to revel in huge ups and downs whether for matters of great gravity or those of relative triviality. Now I must work harder to keep an even keel living alongside someone whose natural balance includes wild swings.
Why then do I feel our marriage is one of my proudest achievements and greatest joys? It is because the more I let go, the more I am able to stretch my horizons to evolve and grow as a person.
The very hardest thing for me to surrender was the feeling of maintaining control; which I fiercely guarded for years after we were married. I was fine making decisions together. But I needed to maintain a sense I was still in the driver seat of my life. But one October day, the steering wheel was wrest violently out of my hands. I could either accept a co-pilot or . . . . .
I was diagnosed with cancer at 37. Devastated and terrified, I could see all my emotions perfectly reflected on my love’s face when I shared the news. I then made a request I know now was totally unfair. I asked, “Can you please act like everything is normal or I don't think I can get through this.” I lost control over my life and was trying desperately to get it back. After a lengthy surgery, I wanted to get on my feet and get moving, against the nurse’s instructions. I recall a heated discussion at the hospital. I couldn’t fathom why Michael did not get this was important to me. He didn’t seem to appreciate how helpless I felt and how much I hated that feeling. We had two little boys who needed their mom back. And I wanted to hit the fast forward button and put this nightmare in my rear view mirror, no matter the cost.
For a long time I was confused by Michael’s reaction and frankly a little hurt and disappointed. Life characteristically moved on and we relocated cross country, both got new jobs and had a million different activities to take up the time – so we never really resolved the disconnect. Then I attended ceremony where Michael gave the key note address to graduating high school students as they faced their futures. I knew a bit of what he intended to say about life altering events for him, including the birth of our first son who they feared had a life threatening condition, both his parents health crisis and my run in with the “C” word.
However, I heard more than I expected. Michael's brown eyes filled and his deep voice cracked trying to maintain composure while he shared his experience as the spouse. I found tears welling and then freely rolling down my cheeks as he described sitting for 6 hours, all alone, in the hospital waiting room and praying, praying, praying . . while I was under the surgeon’s scalpel. I realized I didn’t know he was alone. I didn’t know the surgery took 6 hours. And it hit me why he had the reaction he did when I came out of surgery those years ago. I could only imagine what it must have been like for him; his sense of helplessness must have been equal to, if not greater, than mine.
Being married for 22 years provided me many opportunities to learn and come closer to the person I would like to be. Letting go of what appears so critical at the time, often gives me great clarity and insight. My husband’s final words to the graduating class said it best, “What is more important than all the success you seek to achieve, is to find someone you love to share it with, as I have.”
I love you Michael. Happy 22nd anniversary! Looking forward to the next 22!