Marriage as Martyrdom

Someone recently said of marriage that it is the only martyrdom in which you get to pick the instrument of your death. Of course it is not so much a physical death, though your physicality is a part of your sacrifice, but it is also the laying down of your ego, your self will, your time, your passions, your selfish desires… all the things that are ultimately harder to give up for the long haul than your physical life in a split second.

I (like most of us I suspect) chose marriage before I knew the true meaning of the sacrifice required. And being deluded by passion, I also didn’t know the depth of my self-centeredness nor my true capacity to make that sacrifice. I look back now on more than half my life that I’ve shared a house, a bed, and children with someone I chose (and who chose me.)

I think of all the things I have seen and done and shared with someone within marriage. I think of the things I accomplished at too great an expense. I remember all the secret self-indulgences, the wastes of time, the compromises I made and the lies I told that barely covered them. I think about the things I have failed at, the times I didn’t show up when I needed to be there physically or spiritually. I think about all the ways I’ve fallen and caused grief and pain to those I’ve loved and fallen out of love with. I think of the unforeseen twists of fate and the turns I’ve taken that took everyone around me down dark paths. I think of the joys mingled with sorrows, the regrets, and the grace of happiness unsought and undeserved. I think of the decades of day to day monotonous sacrifices I’ve endured and all the ways I’ve sinned to ease the pain. I think of all the nights staring into the darkness dragged down by the weight of things that could have been, but I know will never be, my unfulfilled goals, the hopes unrealized, the things that might have been “if only…” If only I had been wiser if only I had been stronger if only I had been more spiritual or even something as mundane as just wealthier. Ultimately these things are evidence that what I was I brought into my marriage, and what I am becoming is the hard work of love within it.

I wake up, I come home from work, I go to sleep and my wife is there with me. I look upon the woman I love, my chosen martyrdom, who shares our children, my table, my couch, my bed.

I think of the deaths we’ve shared, the passing of best friends and of parents. I think of the people we’ve drifted away from, and of the conflicted loss of the respect and trust of old friends. I think of the friends we’ve gathered in our joint history. Together we are facing the impending death of friends, and we know we continue to face the death of friends and family that will come out of season and in unimaginable ways. Together we’ll share the anxious joy of our children’s new lives apart from us.

I see my wife both in my memories and in the present moment. The years have etched their indelible marks upon her skin. I see the lines of her face radiant in the morning sun. In the night as we lay together and no words are needed nor hoped for, I hold her aging hand in mine. I know the history of her skin, the silken beauty of her youth lost, the silent frailties now overtaking her bones. Time has done us both irreparable harm, neither of us are as young as we used to be.

But I have no desire to hold a hand that has not touched death, nor do I wish to look into glittering, hopeful, shallow eyes that have not seen my world. I have no longing for the false comfort and the old man’s lies of an embrace of a smooth body. I want to face the remaining days of my life with the one whose body, soul and spirit have been my faithful companion in all I’ve revealed in, longed for, ruined, loved and failed at in life.

I love you, Maggie. I still don’t know why you are the one in my bed, and I still love looking up and seeing you across the dinner table… I pray I never cease to be amazed.