This weekend, we were in Ohio for a wedding and my mind always gets particularly nostalgic around marriage ceremonies. Every time I witness a couple exchange vows, committing to promises they don’t know how to keep, there’s a little bit of me that remembers how naive I was on my wedding day. As time distances me from that event back in 2008, I am increasingly aware of how much I could never have known. Because no one can possibly know prior to being married what it means to be married. We can read about it, we certainly can (and will) get advice, we can think things through and have head-knowledge about marriage, but unless we are married, we are not experiencing marriage. And I’m finding that the experience of marriage is very different from reading or knowing about it.
It is one thing to make a commitment blindly and realize later what that commitment means. I think we all have experienced that. It is quite another phenomenon to blindly commit, realize later what the commitment will cost you and still choose to commit.
At the wedding reception this weekend, the DJ orchestrated the “anniversary dance”. If you’re unfamiliar, this is where the DJ plays a slow song and invites all married couples to the dance floor, calling out number of years married to whittle the crowd down to the one couple that’s been married the longest. It’s a cute tradition, usually ending with an older duo who have a lot of years of marriage under their belt. This time, I was surprised with how many couples were still on the dance floor after 25 years and 30 years were called out. And when we were down to the bride and groom’s grandparents, each standing strong in 50+ years of marriage, I was inspired.
50 years: that’s a lifetime of recommitment.
25 years feels way off for Nayt & I. Though we just celebrated 8 years, and I’m sure the next 8 will feel just as fleeting, 25 years feels far away. But the commitment I feel toward my husband here in day 2,968 is astronomically different from where I was on day 1. What it means to be married has changed for me. It has required more of me than I ever thought. And I’m sure it will continue to require more and more. I am not prepared for what is coming.
We never can be.
But being in Ohio, where Nayt & I began dating, literally standing in places we went to as young, clueless twenty-somethings got me nostalgic. Amazing how memories can linger behind the peripherals, waiting…for something to trigger them–to bring them forward into your consciousness.
Sunday, we walked down some stairs at our old church and I was transported to June of 2006, a mere week before we began dating. My brain dusted off an old picture. And I clearly saw 23 year old Nayt, pressing his face between the bars that supported the hand-railing on those steps, and the look in his eyes. I had snapped a photo of that moment with my ancient flip phone. That photo is long gone, never to be recovered from that dead technology. But I hope my brain dusts off that image enough times to engrain it in my long-term memory. His face, with his eyes all brilliant blue, was telling me what he hadn’t yet said aloud, “I like you, Jes.”
And Monday, I visited Mt. Storm Park in Clifton, OH and sat in the sun at the pavilion pictured above. My mind recalled a similar warm day, way back on September 1st, 2007. I almost saw 24 year old Nayt come smiling out of some trees, dressed in his uncle’s old suit with a bouquet of flowers. He had created an elaborate scavenger hunt all over the city: places we had memorable dates and moments. It ended at this pavilion: The Temple of Love. (I still find this title as pretentious as I did back then.) I hope to never forget the look on his face, with his Tevas and suit and that bouquet of flowers, when he asked me to marry him.
What twenty-something Jes said, and did, and thought about twenty-something Nayt matters. It is our history. It is the root we grew from. Standing in places where we began matters. It reminds me why we began. And that really matters. And somehow the past recommits me to the future. Isn’t that strange? Memory is more than watching the past play out again. It can spark the present. It can inspire the now. It can create a strength that without history is not there.
And I’m finding that recalling these old memories is like pouring layers of wet concrete over an established foundation. Things are solidifying again and again over layers of commitment and history. And one day, maybe Nayt and I will be left dancing, 50 years in the future, with a giant concrete foundation of a marriage under our belts. Years of choosing to recommit in the face of new definitions of what it means to be married.
And to quote Over the Rhine, “I’m looking forward to looking back on this day.”