Monday, October 26, 2015
I married Alexi fifteen years ago, on the last day of daylight savings time. It was a typical October day, like this one. The air was sharp; the sky was vast and blue. I carried a bouquet with the last of the dahlias. Our friend Steve’s band played at the reception, and there was cider, and there were paperwhite bulbs in little glasses to take home. I was thirty and in my first year of graduate school. My sister was pregnant with my niece, who started high school last month. Our grandparents were still alive.
We didn't know if we would be able to have children, because I’d had chemotherapy for breast cancer, and it sometimes interferes with fertility. But two years later, there was Abbott, and two years after that, Cal came screaming into the world.
For our first anniversary – the paper anniversary – I had our wedding vows framed. They hang in our bedroom; a reminder of what the whole thing is about, beyond the bed we share. We promised to learn love like a profession; to communicate; to listen; to support one another’s dreams; to prioritize our family first and to be enthusiastic parents. We didn’t know, then, what a lot of it would actually mean, but we were sure about wanting to love and support each other “until death do us part.”
We didn’t know I’d get breast cancer again five years into our marriage, or learn that I was born with an abnormal BRCA1 gene that predisposes me to breast and ovarian cancer. We had already been through chemotherapy together once, but when it happened again, we had a one and a three year old. I had to practice love like a profession to understand why there were dishes in the sink when I got home from the hospital; Alexi had to listen, to understand why it mattered to me when the boys had been well cared for.
I have come to appreciate the redemptive power in small things, something Alexi already understood at the time of our wedding. At our reception, he told a story about a morning when he was due to change departments within radiology, as he did every month of his residency. The transitions were generally stressful. I don’t remember the occasion, but he said that I had recognized that he was struggling, so I made the coffee, which was something he always did. It was out of our routine and he described it as a generous act in his time of need. When it seemed he still wasn’t ready for the day, I offered to drive him the mile between our apartments, so he wouldn’t have to walk. I recently pulled out our wedding video to remind myself exactly what he had said in his toast to me.
“People tend to think of generosity in a time of need as something more along the lines of giving up a last sip of water while lost in the middle of the desert, but that’s heroism,” Alexi said. “The generosity I’m talking about exists moreso in the realm of the mundane. Generosity lies in the small things in life. It’s the daily glue that holds us together.”
I’m inexpressibly glad for our marriage; that we’ve kept at it, figuring things out, loving each other for fifteen whole years. We’ve made something wonderful together, and our story isn’t finished. I hope we will always be able to trust that we will find our way back to wholeness, whatever may come.