Marriages that stand the tests of time don’t get the spotlight
By Fred Niedner January 20, 2012 6:34PM
Updated: January 20, 2012 9:08PM
You can’t drive a car, sell real estate, or even curl a stranger’s hair without passing an examination and acquiring a license that certifies competence. Anyone sober enough to sign one can get a license to marry, however. Little wonder the rate of matrimonial malfeasance runs so high.
In a recent advice column in this newspaper, a young wife, seven months pregnant, asked how she might respond to her husband’s request to seek sexual satisfaction with another partner for the duration of the pregnancy. It seems her swollen belly doesn’t turn him on. Predictably, the advice-giver suggested counseling, although she must have considered a response to that young man’s selfishness that would require a license to practice taxidermy.
Rarely a day passes without our hearing tales of marital malpractice. Most remain confined to the friendly gossip of concerned acquaintances. A few make the news.
I habitually save clippings in this latter category. Sometimes the headlines say it all. “Police: Husband kills wife over loud TV.” “Woman sentenced for ‘frying’ husband.” “Groom leaves wedding reception in handcuffs.” One of the more bizarre reports tells of a fellow who arranged a tryst with a prostitute whom a co-worker highly recommended, only to come face to face with his own wife — housewife by day, call-girl by night. Another describes how a California couple pulled guns and shot each other during a counseling session in their pastor’s office. The spouses survived, the marriage did not.
Recently, within a few days, I witnessed up-close the beginning of one marriage story and the end of another. Neither will make the news, though perhaps they should. The ending came as the inevitable alternative to a courtroom termination, namely, the culmination we tacitly anticipate when we promise faithfulness “’til death do us part.”
For the last dozen of their 40 years together, the wife had suffered the inexorably debilitating effects of Parkinson’s Disease. Only they knew the specters of discouragement or the “Why me?” questions that likely haunted them occasionally. To the rest of us, they modeled courage, faith, faithfulness, and loving, unselfish service. They stuck together in sickness as closely as they had in health.
This week, the newly widowed husband returned the wheelchairs, walkers, and grab-bars that various social services agencies had provided. He did so, he says, in a spirit of celebration. His beloved no longer needs them.
I considered sharing this story at the wedding I solemnized that same week, thinking it might inject a dose of reality into a fairy tale sort of day. That wasn’t necessary, however. For one thing, this twentysomething pair, both mechanical engineers, chose to wed in the sobering dead of winter, not the intoxicating weeks of springtime or the lollygagging days of summer. Moreover, as a reading for their ceremony, they didn’t select the Bible’s R-rated poetry from the Song of Solomon (“You have ravished my heart, my sister, my bride.”), but the practical wisdom of Ecclesiastes: “Two are better than one ... if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? One might prevail against another, but two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.”
How like engineers to recognize the right stuff for building and maintaining something meant to last - backup systems, structural redundancy, and temperature control.
These two will make it, I predict. Their story won’t make headlines, nor even be spoken, perhaps, until one of them tells it someday on the way to returning a wheelchair.