What is it that makes marriage work? What makes love last?
There are probably a million different answers to these questions. Depending on the marriage, depending on the love. But the only marriage I know is mine, the only love my husband’s. So in the weeks leading up to this day, our sixth anniversary, the day two other people we love walk down the aisle with our older daughter preceding them as a flower girl, I pondered these questions. What is it that binds us, when love and life can feel equal parts ordinary and deeply meaningful. When our connection is often overlooked in the busyness of the days, or overburdened by the weight of life’s demands; what keeps us tethered, anchored, committed?
These questions simmered in my mind as our feet carried us together over miles of rocky terrain on the Appalachian trail. They sang in my ears like crickets as we slept under the stars. It was a lingering curiosity that sometimes came up in conversation but just as often merely drifted in the silent space between us. It wasn’t a problem I was trying to solve, for this last year together has brought us the fulfillment of dreams and the security of finding a home. It was more of a riddle I was trying to tease out – how can this thing we hold and create, marriage, be both strong and tender, undemanding and connected, simple and complex? How do we hold this fragile space and grace in the palm of our hands and protect it, when our hands, our lives, already feel so full?
I didn’t have the answers. I still don’t have all of them of course, which is kind of the magic of marriage. The hope and the work, the unknown and the familiar warmth. But yesterday, as I held my daughter’s hand and we made some last minute preparations for her big flower girl debut, I saw a sign. It read:
All this time
The sun never says to the Earth,
“You owe me.”
With a love like that,
It lights up the whole sky.
That, I thought suddenly. That is a key, an answer, to what makes us work. I’ve probably never read a more stunning, simple, and true description of the unspoken thing we strive for in our marriage. It’s a beautiful realization of what exactly my husband brings to our relationship – the constant rising without asking for anything in return – and what I aim to bring as well. Despite the endless list of things he does for me, does for us, he has never uttered the words, “you owe me.”
It’s a huge thing, the grace of giving oneself and the trust of silent reciprocity. It’s an easily forgotten thing, the daily givens that we take for granted. It’s everything,the light without which none of us could live.
So many of the moments that led up to our wedding day are a blur, but I remember one piece of relationship advice from our pre-marital counselor. She described marriage like planets in orbit, neither stuck together with glue nor drifting alone in the great darkness of space. She noted how planets orbiting around the sun can confidently move together and apart, their connection always held strong by the unseen forces of gravity, this unspoken trust and reliance. At the time, I remember nodding along in agreement, though in my heart I still thought we should be tethered, in sync at every moment.
Six years in, though, I see the truth of her words. We flow through seasons and cycles together. There are times where the light of summer falls upon our faces and the sky of our lives glows with the rich cotton-candy hues of a sunset. There are times when we feel distant, when the cold dark shadow of winter falls upon us and the only thing holding us together are the thin threads of gravity. There are times when he’s the sun, rising with constancy to the challenging demands of life. There are times when I’m the sun, bringing light to the dark corners of our little world.
He doesn’t owe me for the times I rise and shine for our family. I don’t owe him for the light he keeps burning in our lives. But we each appreciate in our own quiet ways. Maybe for us that’s the secret to success, if there is such a thing when it comes to love. The steady, daily ways we show up for one another to build a life. The gentle pull of gratitude that becomes our gravity. The soft, beautiful glow of a sky alight with grace and love freely given.
Thank you, dear husband, for lighting up the whole sky.