It's Valentine's Day. It's also Clemency's 64th birthday, so I got up early, cooked her the breakfast she wanted, and had the appropriate Beatles' song playing when she sat down at the table. She opened her presents and we skyped to allow Noah to help her blow out the candles on her birthday scone.
Later this year we will celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary, which means that we have been together for 44 years. She was in my English 3 class at Canterbury University in 1972. I had noticed her, of course; she was so beautiful how could I not? But I was navigating other waters for most of the year, as was she. Around September/October exams loomed and most students stopped whatever it was they were occupying themselves with and began to study in earnest. We all spent the most part of most days sitting at two seater desks in little cubicles dotted around the creaking three floors of the old townsite library.
We arrived early and stayed all day and it so happened that even though competition for seats was fierce and it was almost impossible to sit exactly where you wanted, most days Clemency seemed to be sitting near me. Or me near her. We glanced and glanced away. Smiled. Nodded. One day I placed a note on her desk which didn't quite have the intended effect as the next day she wasn't there. Or the day after that. About a week later, just when I was chalking this one up to experience, I returned from lunch, and though the other chair at my desk was empty, I saw her English folder, with her name written in her unbelievably neat handwriting, sitting next to mine. I sat down and, mustering all my nonchalance, tried to study. Ten minutes later she came and sat beside me and tried to do likewise. We said a shy hello. We noted what each other was reading and asked, quietly, how it was going. At dinner time we went together to the student café and ate something, in company with a friend of hers. We talked about Gerard Manley Hopkins, the subject, for both of us, of that day's study. When the library closed at 9 I asked if she wanted to go to the Victorian Coffee Gallery, which was about the hippest place in Christchurch: they served Nescafe in earthenware mugs, had live folk music and, by way of lighting, candles jammed into old wine bottles. We sat in the candle lit fug, on opposite sides of a small table and sipped at our coffee. We talked for a while, then I leaned over the table and kissed her. She said, in a very small voice, "help". And 44 years later here we are.
44 years. We've had our ups and downs. One of the purposes of marriage is to provide in environment in which our deepest woundings can be surfaced and addressed. We've done that for each other. We've faced, like everybody else, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Sometimes our marriage was as good as a marriage can ever be and sometimes it was not. And now, it is in perhaps the best place it has ever been. There's not much, if anything, we disagree on - music, art, books, politics, child raising policies, travel destinations, food or how to spend a quiet Waitangi weekend. We don't argue much, if ever. We laugh a lot. We laugh A LOT. We rest unguardedly and unselfconsciously in each other's company and in the profound knowledge we each have of the other.
Today I remembered one of Joy Cowley's Psalms Down Under. It sort of sums it up:
Partner, we bring to each other
not spring blossom but summer fruit
ripened by experience
and made all the sweeter by our knowledge of winter and spring.
We have known the seasons of abundance
and times of storm and drought.
We have come through the pains of growing
to understand that petals fall
to make way for something greater,
something that was meant to be
by God from the beginning.
Partner, I love what we have become
and what we are now for each other.
Let us go on together, you and I,
love to love, touch to touch,
to share the wisdom of autumn
and the new spring which awaits us
in the heart of winter.