My marriage, 18 years strong, has not been all sunshine and roses. Both Joe and I had our fair share of failures before we met (in an AA meeting), but those prior failures proved to be our greatest asset when we were courting.
"I don't know how to have a healthy relationship," Joe told me. "Maybe if I do everything the opposite of how I've done it in the past, I'll do the right thing for a change."
We made an agreement: We will not run, stuff our feelings, or lie to each other. In the early days of dating, that agreement kept us going when old behaviors and old patterns of thinking threatened to do us in.
Our 12-step program gave us a good model to follow, and our agreement gave us compelling reasons to stay and tell the truth, as well as to be responsible for our own thoughts and feelings as we inched through the minefield of courtship and then marriage.
When my lifelong battle with depression struck again, and I went through a bout of drinking after 14 years together, Joe stayed and asked the most loving question: "What can I do to help?"
We survived, and I got sober again. Our agreement stood us in good stead through the perils of step-parenting, the death of Joe's parents, the normal disagreements of two married people. We have grown together and independently. Joe has said that the real secret of a happy marriage are four little words: "Honey, I was wrong." We have learned to practice forgiveness, of ourselves and of each other.
One of my meditation books this week used a sailing metaphor for the ups and downs of life. In sailing, one of the worst enemies is the dead calm, which leaves you dead in the water. Every bit of "turmoil" in the air is the sailor's friend. Our faith, said the meditation, is always at its greatest point when we are in the middle of the trial--the tumultuous wind that sends the boat scooting along to its destination.
Joe and I enjoy our periods of becalmed waters, when life is utterly serene. Then the wind of a trial stirs the air, and our sailing skills go to work. These trials make us better sailors and carry us further along on our journey. The storms exercise our faith in each other and in our Higher Power.
I remember that as I cope with my demented mom, with clinical depression, with an eating disorder, and with the other trials and turmoils that beset me.
Here is a poem composed when I was beset by problems caused by living life on life's capricious terms, and when my marriage and my faith were my sources of strength:
oh your smiling face
zzzts like a spear
into my chest
strikes my heart
wide as a smile
I feel it
in my toes
Chris Alba (c) 2009
For him who flew the nest
22 hours ago