A Happy Anniversary
Forever Is Too Long for True Love
Twenty years ago today, my father, dressed in his clerical robes (he had been an Air Force chaplain), pronounced Sarah and me husband and wife, permitted us to kiss (we didn’t need any urging), and said, “Hang there like fruit, my soul, till the tree die.”
That line is from Shakespeare, of course. Posthumus says it to his wife, Innogen, in Cymbeline when they reunite after each endures a world of trial. Sarah and I started our own Shakespearean romance by chance with Cymbeline and, as that line struck us for its delicately romantic beauty, it became our very own love slogan. We’re not alone. Many critics in the 19th century considered the line one of Shakespeare’s most poetical moments.
That was before the feminists and ironists got ahold of the line and pointed out that Posthumus wants his wife to cling to him, rely on him for her sustenance, and then when he dies, she can just rot for all it matters to him. OK, so this line may be about codependency as much as it is a statement of devoted love (the ironists seem to skip over the “my soul” interjection). I can accept that; just don't assume which of us is the fruit and which the tree.
To mark this 20th wedding anniversary, however, I’m not going to dwell here on romantic sentiments—after all, is there really any romance after 20 years? Well, for Sarah and me, there certainly is, and the wherefore follows hereafter. Because rather than talking about a love that lasts, I’m going to address the fleeting nature of love, how quickly it comes, how suddenly it can pass. I’m actually going to suggest that, for me, 20 years of marriage is not the big deal.
Today, on the other hand, is a huge deal. And, of course, I’m turning to Shakespeare for the applicable wisdom. It comes in As You Like It, and Rosalind speaks it to Orlando. They love each other, but Rosalind is here disguised as the boy Gannymede, and she has prompted Orlando to court her as a game, pretending Gannymede to be Rosalind, and so cure him of his lovesickness. As part of the game, Rosalind stages a fake wedding between the two, and after they exchange vows, Rosalind asks Orlando how long he will have her. “For ever and a day,” he replies most suitably romantic.
But Rosalind shoots back: “Say a day without the ever. No, no, Orlando; men are April when they woo, December when they wed. Maids are May when they are maids, but the sky changes when they are wives.” You could interpret this as advocating for one-night stands (or, at least, one-day stands), but I see a much deeper meaning.
Forever is a mighty long time, but human nature is such that most people live in that time frame. Another prominent aspect of human nature is procrastination. We literally wait until the last minute to do our taxes, renew our driver's license, or write our term papers. In a more generic sense, how often we say "someday I will…." where procrastination and forever twain and result in nothing. We tend to treat relationships that way, including love. Not sex—we get right on that, generally; and romance leading to sex, we devotedly pursue, at least at first. But as for lasting love, "that will come," we so often hear.
As my first marriage was disintegrating, my then-wife threw at me that I had vowed to love her till death do us part. I realized at that moment two things. One, she was right, that I had committed to a lifetime of loving her and I was breaking that commitment. Two, that both of us, she and I, had been leaning on that forever time frame instead of the more urgent time of now, taking for granted that forever love would always be there no matter how we treated each other day-to-day and how we subsequently felt day after day. Forever just couldn’t hold up to the daily chipping away at our feelings.
Say a day without the ever. Though I wasn't thinking Shakespeare right then, the concept formed for me at that moment: Instead of chipping away at forever, we should have built a forever by committing to loving each other day after day. At the time of this epiphany, I was not inclined to love her for any day, and that marriage ended in divorce.
Lesson learned, though. When I fell in love with Sarah and later decided I did want to grow old with her, long before our wedding day I started committing myself to loving her this day; and then this day. And then this day. Every day, I consciously tell myself how much I love her. Every day. Almost every day I then tell her I love her and I determine some special way of showing her how much I love her that day (not necessarily a note or flowers; usually it's just simple things like a treat in her lunch, a shared e-mail, a special something for dinner, an arrangement of the teddy bears to make her smile, or a that-night stand).
I wrote "almost every day" in that last sentence for a reason: Because for a smattering number of days over 20 years, I've been too mad at her to want to show her any such affection. It happens. But even on those days, I accept that fueling my anger is the fact that on that day I still love her. When she hurts me, this day-to-day commitment gets us through those trials (rather quickly, too; nothing festers). When I'm tempted by another woman, this day-to-day commitment keeps me faithful. When my work overtakes my day's allotment of hours, this day-to-day commitment keeps me focused. When her work overtakes her day's allotment of hours, this day-to-day commitment keeps me true. As days turn into months and into years, this day-to-day commitment has given us an ever-unfolding treasure trove of fun, companionship, adventure, and mutual success. More than 22 years on (including a couple of years courtship), our love still overflows, and romance is ever-present.
To some people, our marriage has already lasted forever. For others, we're halfway or more to forever. For me, our marriage is not forever. It's today. On this wedding anniversary, I'm not only reciting Rosalyn's verse in my head, I'm also singing to myself Queen's great song "Who Wants to Live Forever": "Touch my tears with your lips. Touch my world with your fingertips. And we can have forever. And we can love forever. Forever is our today."
So, yes, this is our 20th wedding anniversary. More importantly, it's day 8,351 of loving Sarah.
June 27, 2012