In a series on vocations for the month of May, Michael Fitzsimons shares his thoughts on marriage after some 27 years in the institution.
I am a member of the South Wellington Poetry Society. It is a small club, three of us in all, and we regularly enjoy wine and poetry on Wellington’s south coast. Wellington poet Richard Langston, one of our number, recently wrote this poem:
A Note to my Son on Love
The day will come soon
when you will meet the one
who will be the glow, the mark
upon your heart.
And when by chance
you lean into the perfume of her being
it will shake you with wonderment,
drop you to the ground like a stone.
Her face will be pasted upon the air,
and she will burst upon your tender heart.
Her eyes will be seas, skies. There will be
no escape from spasms of joy, despair.
She will be the tempest and angel.
She and she only.
Both hands on the tiller, sailor.
This is the storm.
I have given this poem to my sons to let them know what they might be in for. It captures wonderfully the upheavals of the heart, the unpredictability and wildness that go with love. Love is peaks and troughs. It is a thrilling storm.
But there is another face of love. Last Saturday Rose and I, 27 years married, pottered around in the garden, clearing a plateau of land above our house. We were laying down flagstones beside the new vege patch. Through the autumn trees I could see out to the harbour entrance, where a brisk northerly was running. It was an afternoon of peace and companionable silences. And that is another face of married love, safe haven as well as storm.
We began our marriage, more or less, by pitching our tent around Europe and America for 10 months, feeling the freedom of the universe. After all these years, ‘journey’ still seems the truest metaphor for marriage, even when it transforms into suburban life and its encumbrances. It is always a journey, even when we don’t see it. Each day the tent is pitched, night falls, day breaks, the old falls away, the new is born and we continue this journey of the spirit. Every morning, the world anew.
After the OE, our three kids came in quick succession. They were the breathless years, when babies, toddlers, children and teenagers filled up our lives. As adult children they are still coming and going, more so than we did in our generation. What an unbelievable blessing children are and the best antidote I know for self-absorption.
The vocation of marriage is a mystery, how two people can live at such close quarters for so long, discovering its heart and what it means to be human.
Marriage is an amazing life force, it is endlessly fascinating. Science has rolled back many frontiers but the one thing that is untestable and remains a marvellous mystery is married love. Its chemistry defies armies of counsellors. Generation after generation are energised by it. No two marriages are the same. Unlikely couples stay together and prosper. Marriages made in heaven are ripped asunder. It can be the source of hardship and hurt, as well as undying devotion. It is unfathomable.
It can be all these things, this amazing journey from limerance (intense romantic desire) to enduring love. It is a gymnasium for the soul, a vulnerable place where, with God’s grace, we can slowly and with great difficulty learn to be courageous and kind, forgiving and patient.
My vision of married love is not a domestic one. It is a journey in the forest, a grand adventure of the spirit that makes every day new.