June 30, 2016

Partly sunny

Keep the flame burning in marriage

By John Gladden

We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout.

That’s what I remember about our wedding day. It was hot. One of those humid late-August days with air thick as beef gravy.

John Gladden

John Gladden

I also remember the pastor, who didn’t like the one small change we requested in what was otherwise a textbook traditional marriage service.

At the point in the ceremony when we lit the unity candle, we were supposed to extinguish the two side candles, lit by our mothers. It was to symbolize the end of our separate lives and the beginning of a new life together.

It’s a common part of weddings, yet it was image that didn’t click for us. We wanted the side candles to remain lit. This flabbergasted the pastor. You’d have thought we had requested a juicy reading from the “Song of Solomon.” Too bad I didn’t think about asking for that until just now.

I should have figured there would be trouble when I flunked the compatibility test he gave us in our pre-marriage counseling sessions. I couldn’t help it. It was made up entirely of “On a Scale of 1 to 10” questions. I’m an English major. Give me an essay question. Or at least multiple choice. Don’t give me some personality quiz ripped from the pages of “Cosmo.”

The questions were like: “How important to you is neatness?” A score of 1 being Oscar Madison and a score of 10 being Felix Unger on “The Odd Couple” scale of good housekeeping.

Well, that depends on your definition of neatness, doesn’t it? Is it OK to leave the dinner dishes until the next morning if you’re tired? Some people can’t sleep if there is so much as a dirty spoon in the sink. What if I organize the cereal boxes in the cupboard by type instead of by height? To me, it makes sense, but to someone else, it’s anarchy.

So I marked that one a 5.

Another question was: “How important is communication in a marriage?” Compared to what? Love? Fidelity? Chewing with your mouth shut? And isn’t one of the most important things in maintaining a long-term relationship knowing when to keep your mouth shut?

I marked that one a 5, too. In fact, I marked every answer a 5. I was being honest.

The pastor handed the test back to me with some disgust.

“I can’t work with this,” he said. “Try again.”

Fortunately, my wife, who is an accountant and excellent at filling in little boxes with correct answers, passed the compatibility test with flying colors. So, here we are, 20 years later, our candles still burning brightly, thanks to her.

In fact, we still refer to our wedding unity candle as the Unity Bonfire. It had the appearance of a candle, but it actually was an oil lamp with a wick hidden inside. We wanted to be sure everyone could see the flame, so we raised the wick really high during the rehearsal.

We lit it with our candles and it went up in a whoosh. That sucker burned like a runaway gas well. We stood there as the soloist sang about love, trying to look contemplatively into one another’s eyes. In reality, we were half afraid my wife’s veil would catch fire and half trying not to laugh. But, that’s how marriage is.

The old you doesn’t cease to exist when you get married. Rather, two people create something new together. Both take on the responsibility to keep the flame alive. And sometimes you have to dig deeply within yourself to do this.

Yeast and water together make bread. Pen and paper make words on a page. Sun and rain turn an acorn into an oak tree. Simon and Garfunkel stand together on stage and sing “The Sound of Silence,” combining their voices in a way that creates a third voice. They don’t collapse on stage after the song is over.

Well, Art Garfunkel’s career mostly does clap shut when he’s not singing with Paul Simon, but you get my point.

When two people have a baby, they don’t keel over after the baby is born — as much as they might like to after several weeks of 4 a.m. feedings. Soil and water don’t cease to exist after a seed sprouts. They are more important than ever as the source of the nutrients that keep it growing.

I like the old term “getting hitched.” As with most expressions arising from rural life, it is earthy and true. You hitch up a team and when you hook them to a wagon, they can pull a lot more together than they can apart. But the key word is “together.” It takes two.

It’s June, the month of weddings. If you are making plans to get hitched, or merely have the itch to get hitched someday, don’t blow out the candles your mamas lit. Let them burn. They are symbols of partnership, of humanity, of the gifts and liabilities both of you bring. They are reminders of the responsibility you have — yes, you — to nurture that relationship through much love and sacrifice.

As any English major will tell you:

1 + 1 = 3. As long as you give him an essay question to explain how.

Contact John Gladden at gladden@frontier.com or on Twitter @thatjohngladden.

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