About a week ago now, Amani and I celebrated our one year anniversary. This time last year, we were in Canada, having been through our official wedding in Dodoma and preparing for another celebration on the other side of the ocean.
I had the privilege of having two weddings, one in Tanzania and one in Canada. A double wedding is one of the many joys of a cross-cultural relationship and a multi-continent family. September 2014 was a month full of events, parties, celebrations, and two opportunities to don the white dress, make some vows and dance. In Tanzania, we had traditional dance, songs and roasted goat. In Canada, we had an outdoor fall ceremony followed by a Scottish ceilidh. My wedding experience was an eclectic mix of cultures and traditions, wildly different from than anything I could have expected, and I absolutely loved it.
12 months later, here we are. Celebrating again, but a very different kind of celebration this time.
I came into my marriage thinking that I had seen enough and had acquired sufficient wisdom in the 32 years prior to my wedding to escape the common pitfalls of unrealistic expectations of matrimony. I thought that I was so worldly that I wouldn’t get caught up in all that silliness. I thought that I was self-aware and independent enough to be able to live in a healthy relationship with my new husband. I thought I had it all figured out.
Oh my dear friend, I most certainly did not.
Being married is one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life, and trust me, before this I thought I’d done some hard things.
But I have never been faced with the kind of intensity of personal growth that this year has asked of me. I have never been faced so blatantly with my own failings, my own mixed up ways of relating, my fears, my insecurities, my deepest hopes. I have never had to learn to depend on another human being in quite this way, to lean in, to step in, to trust his embrace, despite my growing awareness of his own lack of perfection 😉
Whew! What a ride. I can say now, with confidence, that I wouldn’t trade this first year for anything, but there were moments, if I’m really honest, when I wasn’t quite so sure.
Amani and I made our commitments on our wedding day, said vows, promised a whole host of fairly grandiose things and then we came home, to our new home, together. And we were set with the task of living that out. We were given the opportunity to bring a new life into the world, the new life of our little family, the two of us, a family we had chosen. We each came with our own set of baggage, our own assumptions, expectations and dreams for what our married life would be.
We soon discovered that we were not going to survive if we couldn’t find a way to compromise. Okay, maybe “soon” is a bit of a positive spin on things…. It took us about 11 months of our now 12 month marriage to figure out that we needed to compromise. It took many sleepless nights, many slammed doors, walking out into the darkness of the night and thoughts of what in the hell have I done? for us to come to the realization that both of us had to give and move toward the elusive middle ground.
I have never given birth to a baby, so the following metaphor may seem naïve and created out of inexperience, but bear with me because in many ways, I think that the first year of marriage is similar to the labour of birth. Through blood, sweat and tears we have reached this landmark and we have brought forward a new life that has been born out of that struggle.
As we now celebrate our anniversary, I feel as though we finally have something to show for our drawn out birth pains. We have created a life that is our life together. It has been born through a stripping down of expectations, through a radical and vulnerable exposure of heartache and personal madness. It has come from the deep aches and rocking pains of healing, and through the tearing apart of old habits. What we have birthed has come through a somewhat miraculous grace in the midst of deep and unfathomable pain.
My husband has seen my underbelly, the nasty parts of me that I wished no human would ever encounter. He has seen them, he has been hurt by them, but he has not let go of me despite them. He has chosen to love me through the ugliness, side by side with the beauty and grace and goodness, I bring to our relationship. And I have done the same, seen him at his worst and held on despite the mess.
The trick of it is, that at the exact same moment that you are wildly exposed and vulnerable within your marriage, you are hidden and sheltered outside of your marriage.
What spaces exist for couples to expose this struggle (married or not)? To be honest about the difficulty? To find water and sustenance to keep us going through the long birthing process? I have been blessed with truly great friends, both married and not, who have created space for honesty, for questions, for doubts, for challenging me as I grow. I have been blessed with a therapist who asks good questions and pushes me to think outside the box. I am grateful that I can be honest and transparent in my struggle, in our labouring into this new life.
To those of you who have been honest enough to share your stories of struggle, in both the early days and the recent ones of your own marriage, I thank you from the very bottom of my heart.
I am not naïve enough to say that we have somehow made it now that this one-year landmark is upon us. Much like the miracle of birth, no parent would tell you that when the baby arrives, safe and healthy, that the work is done. Far from it. In fact, our real work begins now. We have been rocked and shaken, torn apart and thoroughly exhausted. But we have been given this miraculous gift, this life that we now hold in our hands, our life, our little family. We have come together, found a middle ground where we can stake out our space, learned to practice a radical form of grace, both for ourselves and for each other. But this little life we have created is still fragile and vulnerable, needs to be protected and nurtured to grow into something beautiful and strong.
I was lying beside my husband this week in the early hours of the morning. I was holding his hand as he slept and had this sudden realization that what I promised was to hold that hand until one of us leaves this world, until death do us part. It is not that I didn’t know this before, I had said the words now 12 months ago. But promising such a thing is just so ridiculous, so massive and so far beyond what our human minds can actually grasp. It is just too much, too big, so grandiose. I made vows on my wedding day with the very best of intentions but I had no idea what I was in for, I had no idea what it actually meant.
What it means, is that we are all in, no holds barred, come what may. It is fucking terrifying and unbelievably beautiful. It is wild and raucous and cuts right to the quick of who you are, and at the same time it is safe and healing and sacred. This year we have laboured to birth this new life together and in the years to come, we will nurture and raise that new life until it grows into something resilient and beautiful. With the wisdom of those who have gone before us and the grace of those who walk beside us, we enter a new year with hope, with faith that this labour of love has been worth it in every way.