An Anniversary: Thoughts on 20 years

May 27, 2014 in Travelogue


This morning is quiet.

Sun filters through the pale pink curtains, bathing the room in a gentle good morning, the floors of the old inn creak a little as guests work their way down the classic French staircases to the breakfast room on the main floor. I can hear a bird in the courtyard. Tony has started tea water in the hot pot.

Ezra did not knock on my door this morning, as he so often does, and sneak in for a quick snuggle before some adventure more interesting than his mother finds him. Instead, my children found me online: One to report that he’d scrapped his knee badly in a bicycle accident. Another to inform me that he’s borrowing his grandfather’s car to take his brother to a movie this afternoon. A third to enquire where the medicine bag is and whether we have the “good Canadian Tylenol” (read that, “with codeine”) in it because she’s awakened feeling like death (migraine and sore throat) on the very day of her launch on her own 6 week adventure. It’s Murphy’s Law, I suppose.

They all wanted to know how Daddy and I are doing.

It’s been a rough week, truth, be told. It’s hard to maintain such a punishing pace of doing nothing. We’ve slept, eaten long lunches in the sunshine, wandered in and out of the narrow streets of Vieux Quebec, licked the drips of maple ice cream and maple gelato as they ooze down the side of a cone, talked loudly over the echoing bells from the basilica, and we’ve walked. We’re averaging 10 k a day in the ramp up to my big walk next week. The Man says that his legs are a little sore. This makes me happy, as mine are not. We’ve walked in and out of the arches along the thick stone wall, down to the quay to watch the cruise ships and ferries come and go, and through the waterfront market which was a little bit disappointing, but did yield a lovely bottle of ice wine that we enjoyed with a baguette, some olives and cheese last evening while watching Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” episode about eating in Quebec. We are attending a restaurant that he recommends for our official anniversary dinner this evening, Le Continental.

Of course our actual anniversary isn’t until tomorrow. It’s our twentieth.

To celebrate, I’m leaving the man I love.

Not forever, obviously, just for a little while. Six weeks. My walking adventure across France and Spain begins tomorrow. Actual dates have never mattered that much to us. We tend to celebrate things by the week anyway, which just stretches the fun. This week has been one of the better ones, following a difficult couple of months getting kids driver’s licensed, packing, swapping countries and then working like mad to be able to completely unplug for a long stretch. We were ready for a week of absolutely nothing.

I’ve been thinking a lot about marriage this week, mine specifically. (I just don’t have time to worry about yours!) Sitting and looking across the table and wondering who this guy is who still thinks it’s fun to hang out with me, who crows his hardest when he manages to catch me being silly in a photograph. Apparently that’s hard to do? Who seems to wake up each morning with the single minded purpose of making me smile. Who laments not bringing his jacket to dinner on a damp evening, not because he is cold (which he is, a little), but because he sees that I am and he wishes he could give it to me.

I am quite sure that I did not see him clearly 20 years ago. I’m absolutely positive that neither of us knew what we were getting into. Life was simple then, black and white, cut and dried. We loved each other, so we got married. That’s what you do, right? Maybe not… but it’s what we did. And then we grew up, got lives, had kids, had fun, endured tragedies, created adventures and took the whole mess, the good, the bad and the ugly, one day at a time.

There’s so much marriage advice out there. Some of it’s good. Some of it is ridiculous. Some of it is so bad that I want to fish slap the people writing it. Almost none of it applies to everyone. I have no advice. None. Nada.

To some people, our lives look idyllic and our marriage like some kind of fairytale… and sometimes it is. Those who know us best know better. They know that we’ve taken our time in messing up just about every single thing we can mess up, almost like we put thought into it and tried hard to leave no stone unturned on the screw-up front. They know that the things that are good we’ve watered and worked at and we’ve done our best to toss the rocks out of the garden and pull up the weeds by the roots, but there are always those few dandelions that persist, aren’t there?

I’ve learned only two things in twenty years.

Two. Pathetic. I know this, but it’s all I’ve got, and they only apply to me, I’m sure:

1. Take one day at a time
This is a lesson that I’m continually learning and relearning, across the board. It’s not about marriage, really. I already told you, I have no advice on that. Today is the only day I have. Yesterday is gone, and with it the successes and regrets. No sense in measuring myself by yesterdays glory or failure. Today is what it is and I’ll do my best with it. My best varies widely. I know this. Today I have a happy man, an old city to explore, a comfortable bed to sleep in and laundry to be done. This is my day. We haven’t heroically accomplished 20 years of marriage, we’ve simply done today 7300 times. Wow. That sounds like kind of a lot, actually.

2. Keep breathing
Sometimes, taking life one day at a time is really more than a girl can handle. I’ve had to reduce it to breath lengths sometimes. When that’s too much, sometimes just an individual inhale, followed by an intentional exhale. Sometimes that’s all I can do. My Dad told me more than once that, “Time carries us away from all things.” He is right. The key to that time, and the relief of being carried away from the hard things, is to keep breathing. No one tells you how hard that is going to be, do they? That’s my base goal in life, and marriage, to keep breathing. To inhale every possible sweet thing about life and make it part of the essence of my soul, and to ride along on those long slow exhalations that are carrying me on a leaf boat down the river of time. This, too, shall pass… and it always does.

Scanned Photos 3

I definitely did not see this man coming.

Not when I first met him. Not when he proposed to me (countless times, before I took him seriously). Not when he met me at the end of an aisle (that my Dad assured me, standing at the other end, that I did NOT have to walk, if I wanted to run for it, that was okay with him and he’d take care of everything… I have the best Daddy). I laughed the laugh of the young and innocent and made him walk.

I’ve met him, however, over the years.
I’ve met his firm determination to build our family in an intentional way. I’ve met his warrior self as he’s done battle to protect us, in big and small ways, from friends and foes. I’ve met the depth of his compassion and the fierceness of his love. I’ve met his independent spirit and the soft, small part of his soul that he’s only handed to me and that I try hard to carry wrapped in silk, padded with wool and as gently as I possibly can in my bull-in-a-china-shop way of crashing through life.

I’ve met his furrowed brow of dedication to getting the job done and never making excuses. I’ve met his generosity, of spirit as well as in the material sense. He’s a giver like very few people I’ve ever known, and he never, ever, not once in 20 years, has asked for anything in return. I’ve met his bottom line, and so have our children, and our friends, and family and anyone who hangs around long enough to understand that beneath all of the layers of gentle, loving and strong is a solid no-bullshit management policy. He extends grace like no one I’ve ever known, but he also expects everyone, every single person, to do their best and pull their weight. No whining. No excuses. Man up. He inspires that in people.

While I’ve been writing this he’s made me two cups of tea; the second one with maple syrup as sweetener because there were only packets of “the yellow stuff left, and that could kill you.” He’s dedicated to my preservation, in big and small ways. He’s been reading sailing magazines and playing sudoku, which he loves to do in the morning. That kind of sums him up, really, taking care of me, planning the next adventure and learning something new every day. And also, he takes care of me. Even when I don’t want him to. 🙂

And so, of course, I am leaving.

I spoke to Gabe this morning. He’s in Indiana, enjoying his day off of work by borrowing his grandfather’s car and taking his younger brother to the movie. X-men.

Are you excited for your trip?” He asked me.
Meh. Yeah, I’m excited a bit, but I’m going to miss you guys.”
🙂 We’ll miss you too, but we’re glad knowing that you’re off having an adventure,” he replied.

And it occurred to me that that’s one of the things I love most about our family: We love each other to pieces. We spend more time than average together (Tony has worked from home since Gabe was 6 months old, none of the kids know what it is like to have a parent who attends a job, we eat three meals a day together most of the time and we travel like crazy people). But we allow each other the space to be our own people and have our own adventures. I love that. For my kids, who are now launching in their own directions, and for myself, who sometimes just really needs to take a walk. Open-handed, fierce love and mutual encouragement to chase dreams, that’s what we’re doing over here.

That said, Tony doesn’t like it when I’m gone.
Not because I’m not around to cook meals, do laundry and wrangle kids; he does all of those things as well and as frequently as I do. He hates me being gone because neither of us sleep that well alone and when I’m away it’s a bit quieter than it should be, and he worries. He doesn’t worry that I’m not going to be okay, or that something bad will happen.

He worries more that he won’t be there to take care of me in the ways he likes to. He likes adventuring together more than he likes adventuring apart. So do I, most of the time. He knows this about me. He knows that I need space sometimes. He knows that I occasionally get a wild hair and want to take off on my own. Instead of getting disgruntled about that, he sends stuff with me, little pieces of himself: a bell I wear around my neck, notes to keep me encouraged, a solar panel so that I don’t have to fight for charging space, bank cards with plenty of money on them, just in case. Last night he gave me a rock. Two rocks, actually: one to leave at a certain point on the trail. A second rock for protection. It’s a little piece of quartz that a crazy hippie guy gave us and swore was protective for our journey. Neither of us buy that voodoo, and we had a good laugh around the tears of the significance of the other rock.

After twenty-some years together, more than half of both of our lives, we carry one another no matter where we go, or what we do. Having lived through some of what surely must have been the best years of our lives together, and having weathered some of the worst, the beginning of our third decade together finds us peaceful. We are beginning, just beginning, mind you, to understand what it means to love. There has been much we’ve both had to learn to let go. We’ve stood on the cliff’s edge of bottomless pits of both despair and possibility and had to learn when to hold hands and make the leap and when to walk quietly along the rim until a safe place is found to build a bridge. Bridge building is hard work, but a well made span reaches across generations of benefit. That’s something I try to remember.

 Tomorrow I’ll celebrate by leaving. Today I’ll celebrate by remembering all of the reasons we’re still here.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Quebec City, Canada