“It is the flag,” she says, “of love. And peace.” She wants us to hang it in our room. I can’t help but notice that the background is white, which is not an anomaly, the flag is made from paper towels. But still, white, the color of surrender.
It breaks me, but not just me, him, too. Though we had already poured our wounded selves back into the community pool. Our broken bits, bobbing along our marriage’s otherwise pristine surface. Some things coming up again and again, not that we mean them to, they just do. These small jagged glass hurts, have the tenacity of pool noodles. Or Cheerios, those things stay at the surface forever. One minute we’re laughing, or kissing even, then sarcasm spills out, just a drop. It strikes us both, pressure points on our chests, and we are fumbling, a little, once again.
It is anxious making, this crossroad of hurt. Do we need to unpack everything we’ve been carrying around? Even though we’ve both apologized and asked for forgiveness? Do we have to talk it all out, and could we?
We stand at the base of what feels like a mountain, daring ourselves to be the first to start climbing. We need each other, that much is certain. Our strengths are different, and our weaknesses, too. There are things that I didn’t know to bring, things that act as our crampons, and help us not slip, where he naturally knows exactly what to do. He, of course, needs my supplies, too. It takes a team, doesn’t it, to climb anything this big? Marriage, like Everest, is not for those without courage.
Still, both of us are here, in the proverbial pool. Swimming only with each other. We have spent the last two days wading, from our shallowest points, to deeper things. Ones that can actually make us more buoyant. We, who are hurting, we, who are trying to be forgiving. We were sitting drinking coffee, suspended by light conversation, and the dizzying freedom of a Saturday with no scheduled obligations.
Then she walked in. Our seven year old daughter, who is so full of light. She makes everything better, she is just so sweet and good. She is kind, nurturing, and bright. She has the saddest eyes, inherited from my great-grandmother and aunt Ellie, both of whom she also shares her name. When she walks, she barely touches the ground, as if she allows gravity to only just touch her. She is filled with love and deep laughter, a sound that constantly pours from her mouth. In a few years, she’ll have braces to fix things that I love. Like the way her smile is lilting, and goes up on one side, something she never noticed until the dentist told her about it. (And yes, I cried.)
She is perfectly lovely, and she stood there, just now. Reminding us both that more than our hearts are on the line. We have loved so much, and in return been given so much more than ourselves to love.
For the most part, we have such a happy home. If walls could speak, sometimes I think ours would break into song. We have music and dancing, chaos and wonder. Stories and surprises, chores and ridiculous amounts of laughter. So much of the time, I think we have it all. Not everything, materially, of which I dream, but more than enough. And certainly more than just things.
We are trying so hard to build something that won’t break. Something lasting and sure, a foundation that will never crack. Our legacy, it seems, is one of redemption. Which means there is joy in the midst of healing, but also, that we so often are in need of redeeming. Our marriage can be exhausting, but even more so exhilarating. It is so much bigger than just him and I. And I think that the dark times are what make us appreciate the light. Even when we are sitting in our self-made muck, there is growth and changing, and refining that happens. Without these adult growing pains, we would never reach our full height. He knows this, and so do I.
So we try and we try, and we try again. We wipe the mud off our fingers and grab each others hand. We are tender and loving, and scrub at the slate, trying to wipe off it’s markings, and anger, and pain. While our house rings with laughter, it echoes with truth. Marriage is hard, but so worth it, at least, that’s the case for us.
We try to fill in each crack with patience and trust. We paint the walls in our favorite shades of kindness. We decorate with hope, the only shelf sturdy enough to hold all of our stuff. And, yes, we’ll put a flag out on our front porch. One that stands for peace and love. Its white background telling all who pass by, what we’re learning. That, at this house, our strength is in surrender.