As I sit in a chair on my front porch facing the north portion of the property, I see my children playing in the yard with their father. A fluorescent green softball wafts in the air until I hear the snap of it being caught in a leather glove. Just a short decade ago, I can vividly remember sitting in this same spot with newborn twin girls, watching my husband mow grass with his shirt off. I remember feeling more in love at that single moment than I had ever been before and felt like nothing in the world could top this feeling. That was until today.
In the 10 or so years that have passed since my ‘aha’ moment in the sun my husband and I have endured many things together. The birth of more children, one unplanned, and the utter distortion of well-laid plans he and I were making for our life together. We have forged through the remnants of our dreams to put our personal puzzle together in new ways so that it would fit all the unexpected twists and turns that marriage holds for us. Sure, people warned me about getting married and having children, but I like the millions of others didn’t listen. We were different. Then as some weeks left us without the money we needed to afford our lifestyle, sick children compromised our security and anger and frustration toward one another drove us crazy we had to rework the puzzle yet again. Weeks without making love, nights without sharing a bed due to the needs of children and months without exchanging more than daily polite chatter have left us disconnected at times and lost at others. Some days I was left wondering whom I married, if I was married at all and whether or not life would ever slow down long enough for me to catch my breath. Then, something simple would bring it all full circle and I would feel the love for the man of my dreams all over again as if we had just met. That lost puzzle piece hidden under the couch, found at last and placed in the puzzle to make it whole once again. But how long would it last?
Each year that has passed has brought with it troubles, conversations and situations all their own. Some so intricately woven with the element of surprise that I wondered at times if my marriage was working or at least resisting the infection of life unlived that makes so many couples just like us fall apart. And then there are days like today, where I sit from above and realize in a sweeping sense of emotion that we, him and I -are indeed growing old together. And everything from the past, every argument left undone, every idiosyncrasy and mind shattering annoyance of marriage, every hurt, pain, or slight of respect disappears into the shadows and I am in love, all over again – with that man who was cutting the grass with his shirt off. Growing old together? Are we really? All signs point to yes.
When two people get married, there is a sense of urgency and control that takes over. It is difficult to imagine every curveball thrown your way and impossible at best, to know for sure how well you will handle it. In 16 years of marriage, I can say for sure that I have wanted to call it quits at least a thousand times or more and I can bet that he feels the same. Yet, we have never – not once – shared that emotion with one another (at least not seriously). We decided somewhere long ago in our history that we would in fact grow old together. And suddenly we are. What would have broken us in our dating years now makes us stronger and simple displeasures like worrying about money, disagreeing over the kids or the lack of intimacy at times now makes us laugh and move on. Each time I have changed my personality or “grown” as therapists like to put it, he has taken steps in my direction. Similarly, each time he has walked ahead of me, I have subconsciously picked up my step just to catch up to him. There was no discussion or precise moment, no fear of divorce that forced us to act. Instead, we have both been able to allow the natural rhythm of life; marriage and family evolve us in our personal ways with the strong commitment to remain dedicated to our often-mismatched puzzle. We have let go of preconceived notions and realized that expecting ‘something’ of other people; especially your spouse, is a terrible waste of time. Now we speak our peace, treading on the tires of brutal honesty so that we can travel forward together. It seems that we both know, but are afraid to admit that time is getting away from us faster than we can keep up and in the midst of living and growing old together we are slowly but surely completely our puzzle in ways we never imagined.
Recently, we both have seen our own parents unable to defy their own age. To us, they all seemed so invincible. As we looked through photographs taken just a week ago – he and I laughed (almost too loudly) about the wrinkles on our own faces and the size of our children. If we were to place that picture, both of us looking tired but happy – directly next to our wedding picture that sits on the mantelpiece; few would recognize the people as the same. And for lots of reasons that is a good thing.
Growing old together, with someone you love, isn’t about tolerance. It isn’t a feat only for the perfectly well adjusted couple, which we are definitely not. It isn’t a catch phrase in life. It isn’t said to warn of the alternative which is growing old apart. Growing old together is just something that we do whether we want to or not. Growing old together is realizing that heart breaking moments of the past aren’t worth ruining the future and that marriage has taught us enough to at least realize that we are always in for a surprise. Growing old together isn’t planning a bright future but ignoring today, or simply waiting for a time when we can sit in rocking chairs together gently reminiscing about our lives together. No, growing old together is about much more than all of that.
Growing old together is about knowing where you came from, having no idea where you are going – but deciding that it is worth the try. It is about sitting in one spot and watching the view change drastically over time, and being happy about it. Looking forward to what the next frame will bring. For me, in my spot on the porch – with my family playing softball as I sip coffee, laughter resonating through the pecan tree that shades my chair – I imagine that it will be grandchildren and with any luck at all, that same man with his shirt off who does everything for me a man should do, that I fell so deeply in love with years and years ago sitting by my side. As we look at each other then, perhaps we will laugh at our silver hair, glasses, and soft wrinkled skin – remembering all the days, good, and bad- that have come before while we were growing old together without knowing.