On June 18, 2011 my husband Steven and I celebrated our 28th wedding anniversary. While we’re both proud of that accomplishment, longevity alone isn’t cause for celebration. What is most meaningful is that the love, trust and commitment we have shared over the years has grown deeper and richer.
As I sat down to write this post, I heard that George Clooney (50) and his girlfriend of nearly two years, Elisabetta Canalis (32) had just split up. It isn’t surprising since the Italian model recently told the press that she will definitely get married someday, and the actor, one of the sexiest men alive, has vowed that he will never marry again.
LIFE LESSON: It’s hard enough to make things work when both people want the same thing, but it’s impossible when they have different agendas. Figure out what you want and what you deserve. If you’re looking for a man who only has eyes for you and who wants to put a ring on your finger, you won’t find him at the Playboy Mansion. As for the Clooney-Canalis relationship, I have to acknowledge George for being honest. He’s always made it known that he wants to remain a bachelor. The problem occurs when a woman thinks she can change a man, and then she’s disappointed when he doesn’t come around to her way of thinking. Ladies, it’s not hard – listen, pay attention, people will show you who they are, even more by their actions than by their words. Leave the charmers behind and look for the real-deal, someone who is looking for a commitment.
When I met Steven it didn’t take long to see that he had a kind and tender heart, a generous spirit, a strong moral compass, and a good work ethic. Still when we got married neither one of us knew the courage, fortitude, willpower and determination it would take for us to keep our vows to love one another for better for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part.
We could have bailed out many times; instead we always tried to grow and become better people. As Zig Ziglar says: “Many people have a lot of wrong ideas about marriage and what it takes to make that marriage happy and successful. It’s possible you did marry the wrong person. However, if you treat the wrong person like the right person, you could well end up having married the right person after all. On the other hand, if you marry the right person, and treat that person wrong, you certainly will have ended up marrying the wrong person. I also know that it is far more important to be the right kind of person than it is to marry the right person. In short, whether you married the right or wrong person is primarily up to you.”
Steven loved me with all my faults and I loved him with all of his.
I love you, for putting your hand into my heart and passing over all the foolish, weak things that you can’t help dimly seeing there, and for drawing out into the light all the beautiful belongings that no one else had looked quite so far enough to find.”
– Roy Croft
No relationship is all smooth sailing; nothing worthwhile ever is. Steven and I have experienced a mix of promising springs, satisfying summers, bountiful autumns, and bleak winters. We’ve had our share of warm, sunny, blissful days, along with some foggy patches when we weren’t sure what lay ahead. There were times when our hearts felt a chill no matter how high the thermostat in the room was set, and other times when our love kept us toasty warm even when a howling wind was beating at the door. We’ve faced treacherous storms and seen the most magnificent rainbows together.
I like this analogy by Professor William J. Doherty, the Director of the Marriage and Family Therapy at the University of Minnesota who says: “I now think of marriage like I think about living in my home state of Minnesota. You move into marriage in the springtime of hope, but eventually arrive at the Minnesota winter, with its cold and darkness. Many of us are tempted to give up and move south at this point, not realizing that maybe we’ve hit a rough spot in a marriage that’s actually above average. The problem with giving up, of course, is that our next marriage will enter its own winter at some point. So do we just keep moving on, or do we make our stand now – with this person, in this season? That’s the moral, existential question we face when our marriage is in trouble.”
LIFE LESSON: It’s unrealistic to think we can stay in the “honeymoon” phase forever. At some point reality sets in and we begin to see each other’s faults and idiosyncrasies; we have to deal with day-to-day life. But if we are truly committed to each other, we learn to accept each other’s differences and compromise. We learn to listen with our heart as well as our ears. We try to speak with kindness instead of impatience because we know that it’s more important to be happy than to be right. Yeah, great relationships take work, but the reward is greater than anything we can imagine. It’s real and true, dependable and trustworthy, comforting and reassuring, exhilarating and nourishing.
There is no difficulty that enough love will not conquer, no disease that enough love will not heal, no door that enough love will not bridge, no wall that enough love will not throw down, no sin that enough love will not redeem. It makes no difference how deeply seated may be the trouble, how hopeless the outlook, how muddled the tangle, how great the mistake. A sufficient realization of love will dissolve it all. If only you could love enough, you could be the happiest and most powerful being in the world.”
– Emmet Fox
Loving Steven, and being loved by him, is what allows me to go bravely out into the world and conquer my fears – to jump out of a plane, to climb to the mountain top, to dive in the ocean, to stretch beyond what I think I am capable of doing, to face new challenges and embrace new adventures.
That comes from knowing that there is no other place where I will feel as cherished; no better shelter than in his arms, no greater safe haven than in his heart.
Steven and I went through all the pomp and circumstance of a big wedding. We had the church, a dozen violinists and a operatic soloist. We had the processional with five bridesmaids and five groomsmen, a maid of honor and best man, a flower girl and a ring bearer.
As much as my sweet husband didn’t want to, he suffered through not just one, but two first dances, as we swayed to Lionel Richie’s “Endless Love” and “Truly.”
It was a beautiful day, full of hope and promises, but like the alchemist who can turn lead into gold, it took going through hard times together to mold, forge, and transform our young naïve love into a mature forever love.
Still, early on in our marriage, in fact on the last day of our honeymoon, I got a glimpse of just how deep Steven’s commitment was.
We’d spent nine glorious days in Mexico horseback riding, para-sailing, scuba-diving, sunbathing and shopping. Our nights were filled with romantic dinners, moonlight dips, and walks on the beach.
On our last day in Puerto Vallarta, we decided to have lunch in a lush, jungle setting at a popular, thatched-roofed, open-air restaurant called Chinos Paradise that was built into the side of a mountain.
Steven and I were still basking in the glow of newlywed bliss as we enjoyed a leisurely lunch of fresh fish, grilled vegetables, and mind-altering margaritas. (When I look at this photo of my gorgeous young husband, I feel so grateful that we knew each other then.)
Just a few feet from where we were seated several local boys were jumping off a ledge into a large pool of water at the base of the waterfall about 25 feet below.
After lunch Steven and I meandered down to the large stream bed full of large boulders and cascading waterfalls where we stripped down to our bathing suits and frolicked in the warm water.
Steven, who was a surfer and scuba diver, turned and said,“I’m going to do that. Take my picture as I jump.” This wasn’t such a daring feat for my athletic husband who quickly charged up the hill, jumped, and safely returned to my side.
It was when I got the brilliant idea to do the same thing that things went terribly wrong. I don’t know if it was the margaritas, my desire to impress, or my need to conquer my fear that caused me to have a lapse of sanity.
“Now it’s my turn,” I said. And before I could change my mind, I was trudging up to the top. When I looked down at the specks of people below, a voice inside my head shouted STOP! But for some reason I ignored my intuition which was trying its best to keep me save me.
With reckless abandon, my feet left the ground. I’d like to say I jumped into the water straight and clean, but I didn’t. As I leapt off the ledge I feared that gravity would slam me into the cliff, so I arched my body away from the wall, and with feet splayed, one arm outstretched and one hand holding my nose, I did a good old-fashioned belly flop!
(If you click on the photo it will enlarge and you can see the young boy in the water looking up at me possibly in disbelief or fear of what was going to happen to me.)
The impact was so great it felt like I hit concrete. My first thought was that I had crushed my lungs. As I floated to the surface like a limp rag doll, I tried to cry out to Steven, who had just taken my photo 20-feet away, but all I could do was make guttural sounds like a wounded animal and then sink back down in the water.
Steven quickly realized something was wrong. He dove in and gently guided me to the side of the pool where a few people who had witnessed my plunge rushed over. One lady offered me a sugar cube, “So you don’t go into shock.”
Shaken, I could only take shallow breaths as my bruised lungs tried to recover. I was taking it easy, talking with Steven about what had just happened when suddenly I turned ashen and started gasping. My husband thought I was going into cardiac arrest. Holding up my naked finger, I cried in disbelief, “My wedding ring is gone!”
While I became frantic, Steven kept a level head and tried to retrace our steps in his mind. He reasoned that the ring could have come off anywhere in the streams we’d been in, but most likely it came off when I hit the water. After offering me some reassuring words, Steven made several attempts at free diving, but without a mask, the pool was too murky and too deep.
“Losing your wedding ring on your honeymoon is a bad omen,” I said as the pain shifted from my bruised lungs to a sickening feeling in my stomach. “Maybe it’s a sign we should never have gotten married.”
“The only thing I can think of is to rent scuba gear,” my husband said, valiantly trying to offer a solution.
Now there’s nothing more irritating to a hysterical person than someone who says something they perceive as stupid. “Scuba gear! Are you crazy? Where are you going to get that?” I barked.
Before I knew it I was crying in the backseat of a taxi, while Steven was patiently explaining to the driver in sign language what he needed. By then I was so distraught about this calamity that I was becoming increasingly annoyed by my husband’s calmness.
Somehow the taxi driver understood the situation and ten minutes later we pulled up to the nearby beach where a Mexican scuba instructor named Miguel and two Americans were just returning from a dive. The taxi driver had seen Miguel’s van there earlier. Steven explained that he was scuba certified and he needed to rent a tank of air. Miguel only had a little air left in each tank, but he agreed to go with us to Chino’s Paradise and help search for the ring.
By the time we got back to the restaurant, the sun had started to go down. When Steven and Miguel walked in, carrying masks, fins and air tanks, they were greeted by a group of people who had witnessed my near-death experience.
Aware of the fading daylight, the two guys quickly strapped on the scuba gear and disappeared into the dark water. I couldn’t bear to watch their air bubbles slowly crisscross the pool. Instead I walked away. Though my doubts were greater than my faith, I kept repeating a prayer my mom taught me as a child to Saint Anthony, the Patron Saint of Miracles.
While I was crying, pleading and doubting, Steven was trying to calculate where I had landed when I jumped. The water was so murky he had to put his face two inches from the bottom as he methodically scanned the pool including the area near the waterfall where the turbulence was churning the sand. After fifteen minutes he was almost out of air.
Just as he wondered if the ring might be lost forever, he noticed one grain of sand that seemed just a little brighter. Reaching in, Steven had a surge of adrenalin as he felt the ring that had been almost completely buried. Gripping it tightly he started his ascent. When his arm broke the surface of the water and everyone saw the ring between his fingers they started cheering and applauding.
Suddenly I heard the echo of a woman’s voice. “He found it…he found it…he found it!
In the distance I saw Steven coming toward me. In what felt like slow motion, I ran over rocks, across the stream, arms outstretched.
Just a moment earlier I’d had a huge realization that the ring was only a material possession, a symbol of something eternal. It could be replaced. What was really precious was something that couldn’t be bought – the love of a special man.
As we came together, Steven scooped me up in his arms and kissed me. Then he put my wedding ring on my finger for a second time. “It’s an omen that we should be together forever,” he said with a triumphant smile.
Steven gave a lot of people at Chino’s Paradise a gift that day. He showed all of us what it means to never give up, even in the face of the impossible.
Over the next 28 years, his strength, his positive attitude and love never wavered. He has always been there cheering me on, celebrating my victories, and comforting me when life seemed to crumble when my mom had her stroke and my dad passed away.
Susan Sarandon said something very poignant in the 2004 movie “Shall We Dance when she was talking about her husband Richard Gere that I’ve never forgotten:
“Why is it that people get married? Because we need a witness to our lives. There’s a billion people on the planet. What does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything…the good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things, all of it… all the time, every day. You’re saying “Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed – because I will be your witness.”
I’ve been so blessed to have the gift of time with Steven. Not everyone has that. Remember the Waylon Jennings song, “Looking for Love in all the Wrong Places”? Well as I said earlier, if you’re looking for a good time you might find it at the Playboy Mansion. But if it’s a committed relationship, I’d look somewhere else. Hugh Hefner (85) and his 25-year-old girlfriend Crystal were supposed to get married on June 18. A few days before, on June 14, Crystal called the wedding off, and reportedly by June 20, Hef had a replacement. He may have plenty of young girls to choose from, but I believe he’s missing something so much deeper:
“What greater thing is there for two human souls than to feel that they are joined for life – to strengthen each other in all labor, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent, unspeakable memories at the moment of the last parting.”
– George Elliott (aka Mary Anne Evans – 1818-1880)
For those who love romantic quotes, here are two more. The first is about remaining who you are, maintaining your individuality in a relationship, while bringing out the best in each other.
“A soulmate marriage does not at all mean that you have found someone you match up with on all the cards – on all the issues, on everything. That would be the most deadly dull thing to even imagine. Instead, it means you’ve found someone and they don’t ever want to blow out that little light inside you. And you feel the same way about them.”
– Diane Sollee
This second quote touches me deeply as it talks about becoming so entwined, so connected that there is no separation between the two.
“I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where, I love you simply, without problems or pride: I love you in this way because I don’t know any other way of loving but this, in which there is no I or you, so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand, so intimate that when I fall asleep it is your eyes that close.”
– Pablo Neruda
Endless Love is not some unattainable fairy tale. It connects with one’s inner spirit rather than one’s outer facade. The real magic happens by recognizing the sacred in the ordinary, the mystical in the mundane and the spiritual int the extraordinary. It’s where the better for worse, richer for poorer, in sickness and health is really put to the test. Endless Love can happen to any two people at anytime. It requires work, but brings such great rewards.
That is what Endless Love really means to me.
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