Outside, through the open church doors, I could see our guests, peering in at us. They were dressed in the richly embroidered velvet costume of Adán’s region of Mexico and they looked, I thought, like a gorgeous dream I might have after spending a day with peacocks. I glanced at Adán—the smart, sexy man who was now my husband—and I squeezed his arm. Then we stepped across the threshold and into the tropical twilight. Guests threw flower petals at us, blew bubbles.
This moment at our July, 2008 wedding was, for me, one of those rare moments that are as close to perfect as real life will ever allow. Yet it was over in such a quick heartbeat that it made me remember something that my great-aunt said to me after the death of her husband. “We were married for fifty years,” she said. “That sounds like a long time, but it went by faster than you could ever imagine.”
The truth is, I don’t really want to imagine the speed with which all my most perfect moments are going to fly away. I don’t want to think about how, like my aunt, I will one day lose my husband to death, either mine or his. And I don’t want to dwell on what Siddhartha learned when he stepped outside his idyllic palace and saw a corpse: that death is not just something for Siddhartha and his wife, for my aunt and her husband, for Adán and me. Death, rather, waits for all of us.
And death, unfortunately, is not just physical; relationships frequently die even while both parties keep on breathing. In fact, I find the divorce statistics rather daunting. I don’t want a broken home for us and, to guard against it, I try not to fall prey to romantic illusion. I remind myself regularly that nothing stays the same and that the intense passion that my husband and I currently share won’t last—cannot last, biologically. To stay strong as a couple, we will need to gradually replace our ardor with a mellower kind of love. So, for me, our relationship is a bittersweet catch-22. The time we spend together is sadly never long enough, and if we ever feel like it is long enough, that will be even sadder.
Yet I don’t mean to put anyone off hearts and flowers or falling headlong in love. On the contrary, I am very much with Sylvia Boorstein, who reminds us that the only adequate response when confronting impermanence is to love as fully as we can in the little time that we have. Life and loved ones, after all, are all the more precious because we can’t hold on to them forever.
Another reason to give ourselves over to relationships—to the threat of hearts broken and the daily grind of bickering over whose turn it is to vacuum—is that we can learn so much. “Although modern relationships are particularly challenging, their very difficulty presents a special arena for personal and spiritual growth,” says John Welwood.
And if we need another reason to allow ourselves to engage with others, it would have to be that relationships, in one form or another, are unavoidable anyway. The Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche is clear: “We don’t have independent existence. We cannot exist without depending on others.”
So I am surrendering to the possibility that my marriage might break my heart and I am celebrating the inevitability that, come what may, it will make me grow as a person. Sometimes the largeness and uncertainty of it all scares me, but I think it is natural to be scared. And, at any rate, I feel a lot of hope, too.
A few hours before our 7 p.m. wedding, Adán and I went to the church to see if we needed to buy flowers or if someone else—for their own ceremony— had already decorated. And someone had. The altar was, in fact, a sea of golden petals. It wasn’t until a few days later that I learned why all the flowers were the same sunny color: a couple celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary had, that morning, held a commemorative ceremony in the church.
I take all those yellow blooms as a good omen— an omen that Adán and I will also one day celebrate our golden anniversary. And maybe it will go by in a flash, but in this transient world, fifty years beside the person I love would be a wonderful thing.