Where have you been? Where are you going? And why?
Black stains adorn my hands as I type. No metaphor there. I pulled into Panera this morning on my way to my first class of the semester: Marital Life Cycle. I sat down with my coffee and pulled out my journal. Forty-five uninterrupted minutes to eat, pray, and love pray, think, and write. Did I mention that snowflakes fell softly on the other side of the window? For a second I almost thought I was in Colorado. I wrote my first sentence and then noticed a large black ink blot on the adjacent page. Must be a Barnes & Nobles factory defect. But it was still wet. I inspected my pen to find it was leaking ink around the tip. As I used my napkin to clean it off, I saw the black droplets on the table. I wiped those clean only to notice more splotches on the back side of my left hand. Then my right. You get the idea. My pen, bleeding from both ends, made a mess of me and my morning plan.
As I threw away seventeen stained napkins, I couldn’t escape the thought that my class on marriage had begun prematurely. Doesn’t marriage get all over us? Once we realize that indeed it is leaving its mark, and the harder we try to halt its progress, the more ink we discover in other places.
We say “I do” and rush off to the honeymoon with the hope that we can check our baggage on the departing flight and leave it there indefinitely. For most, the difficulties of marriage come as a shock. I know of a renowned counselor that declines all requests to conduct pre-marital counseling because the real work must be done once the fan is dirty. But even those that enter this sacred covenant with an appropriate expectation don’t have a prayer to keep the ink off. I was one of these. I recall sharing some struggles with a mentor one month into my married life. With the wisdom of a Jedi master, he sighed and said, “Just wait until you’ve walked through ten years of this.” I didn’t like hearing that. I already knew marriage would be an eternal boot camp. Didn’t I belong to the club yet? I’d paid my dues.
As I look back, I realize that I knew and didn’t know at the same time. I could sensibly assess why marriage would try my patience and ability to love like nothing ever would, but I lacked the wisdom that can only come with experience. I wouldn’t dare claim to know what war is like, but I would wager to bet that no amount of training prepares a soldier for combat. And no soldier returns home unchanged.
For better and worse, we’re marked.