My wife Lou Alice and I got married twenty-five years ago today. I won’t say we were children, but we were barely not-children, and we hardly knew what we were promising to do, but we promised anyway. Then we went home and started trying to figure out how to make a life together. I have often heard that marriage is hard work. I don’t disagree. To borrow a phrase from the philosophers, however, hard work is necessary but not sufficient. In any creative endeavor (and a marriage is a greater creative endeavor than War and Peace and the Sistine Chapel combined), the real work is to make room for grace to intervene, to have eyes to see see the deeper truth, to stay alive to the fact that a reality we didn’t make will triumph every time over the shriveled and shriveling narratives of self-absorption.
Every year I return to this poem, which Richard Wilbur wrote as a wedding toast to his son and daughter-in-law:
St. John tells how, at Cana’s wedding feast,
The water-pots poured wine in such amount
That by his sober count
There were a hundred gallons at the least.
It made no earthly sense, unless to show
How whatsoever love elects to bless
Brims to a sweet excess
That can without depletion overflow.
Which is to say that what love sees is true;
That this world’s fullness is not made but found.
Life hungers to abound
And pour its plenty out for such as you.
Now, if your loves will lend an ear to mine,
I toast you both, good son and dear new daughter.
May you not lack for water,
And may that water smack of Cana’s wine.
Earlier I said that Lou Alice and I went home twenty-five years ago to figure out how to make a life together. One thing I think we have figured out in the mean time is that we weren’t making a life so much as finding one–uncovering it from beneath the rubble of self-protection and self-aggrandizement and self-indulgence and self-promotion and self-centeredness. When life feels full, it’s not because we have managed to fill it, but because we are learning to receive its fullness.
Friends, what love sees is true. That’s not wishful thinking. That is an old married person telling the truth as literally as he knows how to tell it.