I have always thought of marriage as a boat. You leave the individual boats that were your single lives to join together in a new boat of your mutual making. You decide which of the things in the individual boats should be brought to the new boat, and which things no longer apply and can/should be jettisoned.
You then each grab an oar and, settling down, pull together in the same direction. Perhaps you take turns at the tiller but – in order to move forward – you always need to be in agreement as to the direction you are headed.
If the tide turns you address it together. If a storm hits, it hits you both. If the boat is becalmed, you’re both stuck. If there is a fair wind, you both delight in it. And so on. The crucial thing is that you’re in it together, and you’re committed to pulling in the same direction together. If you speak against each other, no matter that it’s under your seat that you’re drilling a hole — you’re both going to sink. And if you turn on the only other person in the boat and attack them, or make a course correction without referring to them, your boat together is going to go nowhere whatsoever.
The problems with choosing not to see the boat as mutual are so obvious as to be not worth mentioning.
When I think of marriage I think of my parents, who recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. After an engagement of high drama and intrigue, they made it to the altar and on October 1, 1954 embarked on their voyage.
I think my parents have a good marriage. By which I do not mean an easy marriage, or a marriage that has not had (perhaps more than) their fair share of hardship and tragedy. I mean a marriage where – no matter what – they have journeyed side by side and pulled in the same direction. Shoulder to shoulder.
Attacks from without? They have met them head on sitting back to back, and discussed what they thought of each other later. Strife within? They have kept it within the boat and, although not necessarily “sorted”, it has been negotiated and made to work. In rough seas, they have kept a sense of perspective and (as far as possible) retained a lifesaving sense of humor.
The children and I wanted to make them a special present to celebrate their diamond anniversary, so we built a banner to celebrate their 60 years.
As we worked, I thought of each canvas as another season of their journey. Things that are common knowledge or that I remember, and things only the two of them know about themselves and each other.
I attached three ribbons to the back for hanging and now, as I write, even that seems representative of the three cords running through all the years of their married life: faith, hope, love.
They have modeled for me what the union of marriage means. They committed to pull forward together, and they are still pulling.
May my children be so blessed as to find a partnership similar to the one reflected in the love of their grandparents.
A voyage together in all weather, with only one map and one North Star.