They met at a family reunion, but neither belonged to the family. She came with her best friend, who’d begged her to come along and be a buffer between her and her mom. He came with his racquetball buddy, who was hoping to persuade his little brother to go to their mutual business school instead of backpack around South America. They found each other around the grill, each hoping for the first properly incinerated hot dog. It was a match made in heaven.
They started dating and found their bond deepening. She began to long for each phone call, each chance to spend time together. He felt like the only days that counted were the ones spent with her. They felt like they only breathed properly when they were together.
Colors were brighter, music sweeter, the weather gentler. The world felt like a different place. It surprised exactly no one when they announced their wedding plans.
Even the wedding planning was loving, although it wasn’t particularly elaborate. Each detail was considered for how it made the other partner feel. The wedding wasn’t formal, but it felt sacred. They’d written their own vows, which affirmed their love and pledged eternity to one another. They looked deeply into each other’s eyes as they exchanged rings. The kiss sent a shiver down everyone’s spines, as if it vibrated through the years yet to come. Couples who’d been married for years took each other’s hands and exchanged looks that reaffirmed their own vows. Everybody agreed afterward that it had been a uniquely spiritual event.
Their first year had as many ups and downs as anyone’s. They were sentimental about every silly anniversary, like the two-month anniversary of their first big appliance purchase, or the one-month anniversary of the first time they had pizza as husband and wife. They quarreled over his persistent lateness and over her bathroom messiness. They had to deal with her migraines and his bad back. It was no more a perfect year than anybody else’s.
But people noticed that throughout the year and through all of its challenges, they seemed to become closer and more committed to each other. Even when she was irritated with him, she seemed to be able to find her way toward him with kindness. Even when he was annoyed with her, he seemed to reach beyond it with gentleness toward her. It wasn’t clear that they had fewer fights than other couples, but the fights seemed to end more quickly and with less wounding. They seemed to find their way back to each other as if with a compass.
There were some years that were easy and some that were hard. They weren’t happy with each other every single minute; and sometimes they were angry or disappointed. But they seemed to be grounded in a kind of general rule – they tried to be aware always of each other’s deepest feelings, of what would cause hurt or fear. Always the awareness of the other’s pain or anxiety would serve as a beacon to lead them back to kindness and gentleness.
As is common during a 50th Wedding Anniversary party, someone asked the secret of their successful marriage. She smiled at her husband of 50 years and said, “I always believed that I nurtured my spirit when I tended to his.”
He smiled warmly at her and said, “I always felt that our union was sacred. My spirit was injured anytime that I reached out with anger or harshness toward her, since I knew that her spirit would be hurt.”
Each action was understood to have both a direct effect on the other and a rebound effect on the self. Kindness given was balm to the self. Gentleness extended was food for the soul of the giver. It turns out that doing unto others, especially a loved one, is doing unto oneself.