So I found this concept of co-laboring in marriage. And I found these pages: people writing to their partners about how they co-labor. I found, on one particular couple’s blog, a list of links to these letters, all of which are examples of couples who want to “stake a claim in their marriages over and over again.” And it’s our fifth wedding anniversary. And we co-labor, my wife and I. And when I’m at my best, or even anything close to my best, or even halfway decent, I think marriage is powerfully important. Old-fashioned. Backbreaking. Humbling. Not right for everyone. But I am made small and large in just the right ways because of the submission and vulnerability and bewildering struggle that marriage requires. And so, though these co-laboring letters all seem to be about heterosexual unions, and though some people in this movement might not even honor my marriage, I’m taking hold of it anyway. Because: co-laboring. Yeah.
Five years ago today at four in the afternoon, we sat in a silent room and tried to meditate on what our marriage vows might mean. I say “tried,” of course because in that silent room there were almost all of the people who mattered most to us, and there were nerves, and my arms were cold, and sometimes our parents were crying. And people spoke up, saying what was in their hearts to say about us, about marriage, about the mysteries of living. Laura read Li-Young Lee. Christine read the marriage certificate, the language of which I had agonized over. Silence or not, I’m not sure I gave much thought to our marriage vows during that hour. I never have triumphed in the big moments.
You looked so handsome at our wedding. That’s a thing about you really: even when you’ve nursed all night long, even with bed-head and an unwashed face heading late to work. Even when I’ve been mad enough to want to scream – and unable to scream because: oh these children whose needs trump my impulses – I’ve been unable to see you as anything other than beautiful.
I wonder sometimes, in that way we do, what it would be like not to have one another. I think that’s when I can see what you’ve done for me most clearly because when I get past thinking that your house would be a mess, I realize that you’d probably be more safe. I wonder if it crossed your mind, sitting in silence that day: how much risk you were assuming in marrying me. We joke about it sometimes, but one would be hard-pressed to find a less pragmatic wife than you’ve found in me. You, with your lists and your love of a schedule and your distaste for any deviations from a plan. In no small part because of my callings and your grace-filled trust of them, plans are laughable in our lives. And yet. When I see you most clearly I see you by my side on a tightrope with no safety net. And when I see us there it’s me who’s most afraid. You resist. You push and grouch and want to hide. But then, when the time comes, you never chicken out. You show up and I hang back and it’s because you are brave. You are deeply brave. You could maybe have had – if nothing else – an easier life that required less courage. But you chose me because you are, in the end, mostly made of courage.
And so you get up and rush out the door. You leave me at home with our children because you know that my heart would break otherwise, and you honor me deeply, saying, “this, with you, is the best place for them.” And you fight and struggle against circumstances to provide for us all because there is a fire inside of you that calls you to do that. And each time you come home to us you come home with a deep well of intentions and love and wonder and you say that I’m the optimist, but that’s only the way it is on the surface. I have instincts; you fight and trudge and try to pray. We fail again and again, but you keep coming back to our table with almost grandiose intentions. And those intentions keep us going. You are our dreamer, though I might be the only one who knows this.
So we trudge. We co-labor, and that labor is backbreaking. We have babies and lose babies and our marriage collapses and then swells again. We try to carve out the space to be gentle with one another after the endless days and years of being gentle with these beings with whom we’ve been trusted. We negotiate. We fail. We pull each other out of dark places. And more days than not, you surprise me. You, pushing your tie to the side to nurse our babies and finding a way to open your heart just a little bit more. You are still that radical marching topless in DC, but now the things you fight for are even closer to home, and the risks are even more real. And the thing about you is that you know it. And you are terrified to take those risks. And then you leap. Every time.
So happy fifth anniversary. You are brave, and pure, and fiercely loyal, and even when I barely have time to look at you in a whole day I never forget all of that. I meant it when I told Bram about my love of valor. When valor is your thing, it’s pretty hard to find someone you can fall head over heels for. But five years ago today, I married you. And now I get to see every day what valor looks like at its messiest and most sincere.