What happens when your relationship becomes a crucible within which you burn away the shallow self, the insistent ego of the naked ape that still lives within, capering and gibbering in the depths of our psyches; urging us toward hate and violence and mindless coupling?
My wife Jennifer came into the recovery room in the cardiac ICU with my kindle and a small Kitkat bar. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to see her face.
Just the day before, the cardiologist who’d been treating me for minor chest pains, told her I had dual blockages in my heart. One of them was in the Left Anterior Descending Artery, also called the widow-maker; named for the fact that most men who had heart attacks originating there would die.
“He’ll need two stents.” The doctor said.
Jenny had been waiting in the little room right next to the cath lab. I was supposed to have a simple diagnostic procedure -an angiogram.
Mid procedure, as I lay there on a cold narrow table in an even colder air conditioned room, with three nurses milling about, their faces masked and eyes unreadable; my doctor told me I had severely blocked arteries. That’s why I was having chest pains. My heart immediately sank. I felt lightheaded, and I could barely breathe. I’ve never felt more frightened and alone in all of my fifty years.
I was suddenly fragile, broken in places I could not see and the only connection to my life sat outside just around the corner, unaware she too was about to hear that I was closer to straight up death than both of us realized.
I had 100% blockage in one artery and an 80% blockage in the widow-maker.
But that was yesterday, today I lay drugged up and nauseated in the cardiac ICU. They’d given me heavy doses of blood thinners and they didn’t want the puncture in my groin (where they threaded the catheter) to bleed.
I couldn’t move for eight hours. But that wasn’t my problem, my greatest worry, other than there were no curtains around my bed, was the fact that there was no visible bathroom in the room. And I reallllllly had to go.
When I saw her tired familiar face, my wife of 30 years, I can’t explain it, but I knew then, everything would be all right. I never felt more relief. She hadn’t slept in two days, didn’t look like she’d combed her hair. She told me she’d spent the night in the waiting room down the corridor. But her relieved smile at seeing my broken body was like sunlight breaking through a thunderstorm.
Rewind 20 years. Both of us are still in our twenties. We’re not getting along. Married too soon, barely out of our teens. Inexperienced, hopeful, foolish, angry, hotheaded. I wanted out, she had a lawyer already giving advice. And right in the middle of the two of us, we had a one year old oblivious to her parents’ upheavals.
I admit, I relented first. We had lawyers and marriage counselors lined up and ready. All that was left was to set a court date. Instead, I asked her to come over to my apartment.
“Let’s stay together…” I began. I had a speech planned out. We’d stay together for the child. She didn’t let me finish. She kissed me and held on to my neck.
My family moved in with me that night. We’re together to this day.
There’s a clear arc to our relationship, did you see it?
Young love faded into dissatisfaction and then a decision to divorce. It took both of us to decide to make a sacrifice for something bigger, something more valuable than our individual happiness.
And out of that sacrifice, we both found our life partner, one willing to stick around for the hard times. We eventually became better friends and better companions. The better we became, the less bitter we felt. And the strangest thing, the most unexpected thing happened. Happiness came to both of us in spite of ourselves.
A higher purpose lay at the core of our continued marriage. Initially it was for the innocent child who bound us together with chains of duty and responsibility. But it didn’t stay that way.
As I sit here, now, trying to make sense of all the things we have gone through, I can see there’s still one more thing to marriage, perhaps the most important thing; and we’ve all missed it entirely.
Our commitment to a higher purpose gradually evolved. It had to, because for it to work, for us to work, we had to find a way to get along. To accept each other, warts and all.
We each had to accept another despite their weaknesses, despite their pettiness and perceived foolishness. To accept them simply because they are part of the human experience, deserving of at least respect for the indwelling divine.
What happens when two people make a commitment to stay together despite themselves? In sickness, health, richer or poorer. To stay bound together and deliberately embed themselves in the other?
What happens when your relationship becomes a crucible within which you burn away the shallow self, the insistent ego, the naked ape that still lives within us, capering and gibbering in the depths of our psyches, urging us toward hate and violence and mindless coupling?
What happens when we enter an unbreakable relationship within which we perform the ultimate human service - to love another as we love ourselves? Because that’s what we are doing in a marriage.
That’s what marriage is really about friend. It puts us on the highest path souls can walk, when one isn’t strong enough to walk alone. It’s about lifting each other towards selflessness, abandoning our lower selves along the way.
If marriage is about your happiness alone; if it’s about your needs, your wants, your desires, eventually you discover no one can fill those holes in yourself. It actually is unfair to ask someone to shoulder the entire weight of your unhappiness isn’t it? To expect another soul to forsake their own path in subjugation to your own.
But the moment marriage becomes about service to those you choose to love, it transforms into a vehicle for enlightenment. It becomes your living meditation.
You become a conduit for love at the end of it, a channel for the divine to flow into this world and it completely transforms you in the process. You cannot contain love without becoming love.
But first, both partners have to commit to the process. Both have to want to be more; to leave the ego behind, to let light into the dark places and let it change you together.
You both have to be prepared to stay the course, welcome the hard times and work to fix them within the confines of an unbreakable relationship. Your own soul evolves in the process.
That’s what we have missed when we marry. It’s not about you alone. It never was.