Tomorrow is my second anniversary, which means it's time to ponder marriage again. Or, rather, it's time to ponder the real horror that underlies it - to remind myself of what it means, and make sure I'm measuring up to the reality it exposes. It's time to dust off and ponder the realization that hit me right about the time I decided to propose to my wife, the one I haven't been able to shake since:
When you stand in front of your friends and family and say "I do," you're promising that one of you is going to watch the other one die.
I realize that this is old hat to a lot of people, but to me it means a lot. It means that some day I am going to sit beside a bed in a darkened room and hold her hand, and then she will be gone. It won't matter what I do or what I say or whether I'm ready or how many mistakes I've made - I'm going to have to watch it end then and there, and the beautiful, loving woman I've spent my life with will be gone. Or - maybe I'll be the one feeling my life slip away, having to watch the despair in her eyes as she whispers comforting, meaningless promises and entreaties into the stagnant air.
Maybe we'll get lucky and die together suddenly, and painlessly, after a long and happy life. More likely, something will happen at a distance, and one of us will be killed while the other one goes about their business - unaware and way, way too far away. Maybe we'll die fast, or well; maybe slowly, or badly. No matter how it happens, one of us will be suddenly and irrevocably deprived of the other, forever.
That's what marriage is, after all: it's giving up the choice of when to part. It's promising that it won't be a petty argument, a decision about a job or money, or changing personalities that separate you. It's going to be the Grim Reaper himself, with his scent of roses and his dry laugh, that does it for you. For all you know, he was standing at the altar too, looking into your eyes and taking oaths of his own in a low, heartfelt voice.
That's the decision I had to make back then: was I willing to hand one of the most life-altering
decisions one can make over to the ultimate horror of human existence
, for a chance to live my life with this woman? That's the decision I remind myself of every year - it's not up to me anymore which day is the last day, which trivial utterance
will be the final legacy
of our relationship. In the end, of course, it wasn't a difficult decision, however difficult it is to think about. And I didn't see any black robes in the church that day - just a vision of loveliness
with bottomless eyes that shone with just the suggestion of tears
, and with infinite sincerity
So I said "I do," and I made my fateful bargain. I haven't regretted it yet. I just try every year to make sure that I remember what I meant when I said it, so I can live my life accordingly.