Tuesday, October 07, 2008


Belief in Marriage

Every now and then I hear someone say something along the lines of "I believe in marriage," or even, "I don't believe in marriage." I've never really understood what this means. Can you believe or disbelieve in marriage the same way that you do Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny? It doesn't make sense to me. How can marriage be some thing that is "out there"? How can our belief in it impact our experience? What makes much more sense is the idea that marriage is a mystery; it is something that happens to you over which you have far less control than you think.

I had a conversation with one of my cousins over the summer. We were talking about those moments when we look at the men we have married and marvel that we were smart enough to make a choice that is still paying us in riches so many years after we chose our partners. I think this happens in many marriages--many of the good ones I have seen, anyway. It's as though a part of your psyche chooses a person not just for who they are today, but for who you know unconsciously they will be tomorrow. It's a fascinating thing. I consider myself terribly lucky to have found who I did.

The ability of our minds to "know" what we need and that we will need a particular person for a very long time in our lives strikes me as a very peculiar kind of wisdom. In another conversation about marriage I had with a friend recently, I recalled the lyrics to this song from "The Sound of Music." Maria and Captain Von Trapp finally realize they are in love, and sing the following to each other:

Perhaps I had a wicked childhood
Perhaps I had a miserable youth
But somwhere in my wicked, miserable past
There must have been a moment of truth

For here you are, standing there, loving me
Whether or not you should
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good

Nothing comes from nothing
Nothing ever could
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good

And there it is, in song form; the sense that who we love and who we will love comes from something we have done when we were still forming. If we love and we love well, it must have come from something good and deep within, some capacity we developed when we were younger.

There is a man I know, around my father's age, whom we watched struggle mightily through a number of failed romances and strained relationships with his children. My mother was terribly uncomfortable around this very unsettled person, and yet my father believed in him--in some essential goodness in this man. Once he said to my father: "I will never have what you have with your wife," and my father, ever the optimist, said, "I hope that you will." And, without getting too specific, one day this man did fall in love and the change in him was a truly beautiful thing to watch. He was in love with one person, and suddenly able to be loving to himself and to others. I was quite young when the transformation happened, but I understood it on some level, and ever since then, I've never been able to give up the idea that the right person can unlock some essential goodness in most of us.

i can hear maria singing that in my head. i've never been able to sit through the whole movie (unlike the r.m. who knows every word, literally), but somehow i know that song.
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