July 1, 2011

Tomorrow, July 3, 2011, my wife, Gwen, and I will reach the big “50.” That’s right: our 50th wedding anniversary, a milestone some friends believed would never be reached, not with the saintly Gwendolyn marrying the likes of me.

How, you may ask, did it get this far? It’s simple.

For our 25th wedding anniversary, I took Gwen to Hawaii. Tomorrow, I’ll go there to bring her back.

Ha, ha, ha…No? Blame that joke on my friend, Carl, who with Ida, celebrated their 57th anniversary this year. I stole it from him.

For those still curious about how we managed to last all these years, I offer this advice: Once the knot is tied, leave it alone.

Marriage is like baking bread, roasting a chicken or whipping up a dessert. Once it’s prepped, and starts cooking, no testing, tasting or stirring. Don’t poke or flip it once it’s on the grill. When it’s done, let it rest.

Too many folks get married, only to end up worrying their marriages to death.

“Is our marriage working?” is one of the more asinine questions that get asked.

Consider this: clocks, computers, cellphones, radios, televisions, guns, electric toothbrushes, light switches work . . . or they don’t. Marriage isn’t a thing. It can’t be taken apart, fiddled with, and fixed.

Neither will it respond to constant flyspecking.

Marriage, in fact, doesn’t do anything. It just happens to be the state in which couples voluntarily place themselves, either in the eyes of God, the state or both. The question is not whether a marriage is working; it’s whether the two people wedded are clicking.

On that score (and this I learned the hard way) life can be just hunky-dory in a household when, as in my case, one does exactly as one has been told.

Oh yes, in the early years I resisted. Winning the day, having the last word, being ruler of all that I surveyed were the goals. It was a waste of time and energy that I would love to have back at this late stage in life.

First of all, I learned that winning was losing. If winning led to unhappiness, then, at the end of the day, I was unhappy. That’s because Gwen’s happiness, to borrow a thought, was essential to my own.

Put another way, “If momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

But there’s more to it than that. Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, in their book, “Ossie and Ruby, In This Life Together” wrote, “That we arrived at fifty years together is due as much to luck as to love, and a talent for knowing, when we stumble, where to fall, and how to get up again.”

There it is: the understanding that you’re in it together; that you are soul mates on a journey, traveling toward parenthood or with just one another. Sharing a life filled with hilarious moments and painful losses; experiencing the satisfaction that comes with success and the crushing humiliation that accompanies rejection.

But it’s also knowing that when it comes to facing life’s challenges, two are better than one. Two people, a partnership sharing the highs and lows, hurts and triumphs, holding back little, whether good or bad.

Then there’s discovery. What fools are young folks who think that they know all there is to know about each other when they lock eyes and say “I do.”

It is the rare married couple that is not learning something new about each other long after heads turn gray. Get this: When the wedding clothes and paraphernalia are packed away, there’s still a lot of learning to do, both about yourself and about the person with whom you have pledged to spend the rest of your life.

Before we got married, Gwen told me that she could cook. Remembering that first meal still brings tears to my eyes, and not in a good way. To survive, and by popular demand of our children, I’ve become the family cook.

It matters not how long the relationship existed before the nuptials. Discovery commences after family and guests have moved off into the night.

Warning: You’d better have a sense of humor, and a capacity for tolerance. And take the words of Ruby and Ossie to heart: Develop a talent for knowing, when you stumble, where to fall, and how to get up again.

Don’t be afraid. Love is what holds it together. A little tenacity doesn’t hurt, either.

So back to where this Golden Anniversary musing began (ignoring, of course the bad joke): Don’t pick marriage to death.

Besides, think of comic Rita Rudner, who said she loves being married, adding: “It’s so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life.”

kingc@washpost.com

Continue reading