Vows


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I was 21 when I took the official vows,
but had really taken the important ones
some months earlier. When I proposed
on April Fools Day and she said ‘yes.’
And like two fools,
we thought that was just fine.
Turns out, nearly 50 years later, it was.

But vows are merciless things, and they don’t
tell you the whole story. You can’t listen, anyway,
with your eyes full of hunger for each other’s bodies
and your ears full of music and laughter and dreams.

It’s easy to make promises when you
don’t know all that will be asked of you,
the blood and the bone and the griefs.
You find out the truth bit by bit,
day by day. You find out
where you’re weak and where strong,
and whether you’re someone people
can count on.

But you never learn these things unless
you have solemnly vowed, and keep the promises
made in hope and ignorance.

You learn the lessons that come
only with walking a long road,
until your feet are worn as thin as paper
and the dust of the road is your new skin.
And, if you’re lucky, keeping promises
has, with much practice, become second nature.

I found all this out the hard way,
and not until I listened to a still, small voice
and started writing again.
I was asleep for 50 years, more or less,
but when I awoke, it was
to shorter days and cool nights.
And I wasn’t sure
if I was fully awake or not.

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8 Replies to “Vows”

  1. Thank you for imparting some of your wisdom. I think marriage is one of the greatest adventures in life. I want to love my husband fiercely with all the challenges, frustrations, unfairness and setbacks. I think marriage is an ultimate refinement of character. I have known of so many failed marriages and relationships. Obviously, it isn’t easy. I guess I’ll never really know the depths until 50 years from now. I loved the second and third stanza especially. Thank you!

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    1. I know it sounds like I know something, but I’m not sure, even now. My wife and I met in college and were both kind of conventional and unconventional for the time. But we are pretty basic people. We joke now that we’ve actually had somewhere between 4-7 marriages. Two people never grow at the same rate, and one or the other gets to a point where the relationship is not working for them. If the two of you have a basic commitment to figure out if something can be worked out, then you do. Even with some screaming and tears and distance. For us, it was those two things: we don’t give up easily, and aren’t afraid to tell the truth to each other; and we know things, and people, change, and respect each other’s need to grow.

      It may sound odd, but over the years we seem to have assumed that our behaviors at a certain phase of life are just temporary. Like children change from when they’re 2 and when they’re 10. We all change. But we’re also the same people, too. Make sense?

      I don’t know what works for anyone else in all that. And we have had our crises, temptations, traumas (four cancers), children, financial worries. But it’s all just life, too. Not a movie.

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  2. You make the vows and hope that you will share everything good or bad. A Partnership I believed, how foolish one can be when you deny to yourself for so long that it is only one sided. It takes a long time to wake up to the truth, the truth you have denied, by then it is all too late.

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    1. Very true. Not only do we not really understand the full implications of the promises we make in our own minds, we can never really know the depth of the other person’s understanding of the promises, or even whether they have the same understanding of what a promise means. I think longer courtships as in the old days might help, but it’s still a matter of taking the chance.

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