What's a boy to say to his parents celebrating their 56th wedding anniversary??!!? Words seem so small and modest relative to the achievement that they have attained. For those of us who feel that we are still in the blush of our wedding vows (our mere 18 years gone...), the heights my folks have achieved seems more daunting than most Himalayan peaks. The emotional, spiritual and daily obstacles that they have had to overcome in creating love. and then family, over these decades seem more Olympian than Himalayan...
In the West, at least, the Himalaya, especially fabled Mt. Everest (Sagarmartha to the Nepalis...) is a standard reference for physical endurance and man's ineluctable quest to dominate nature, to stand atop the highest of snow-clad summits to proclaim his unique existence, before being forced by the greater elements to descend to the valleys that nurture and protect him. Of course, in the Hindu & Buddhist worlds, the symmetry and metaphor of the Himalaya are much richer, more complex and nuanced -- befitting the majesty of this seemingly indomitable barrier, as well as due to the teachings provided by the legendary anchorites who retreated to isolated enclosures in search of profoundly spiritual understanding of our transient human existence.
However, in neither cultural context was the idea of marriage and family ever regularly associated with these awe-inspiring, distant mountain summits. Only the romantic image of Shiva and Parvati, god and goddess, in a union of celestial gentility reminds us that the Himalaya also protect the householder on this earth. Whereas in the Western mind, the Hiimalaya are more often associated with celibate monks or youthful death at high altitude -- neither image exactly conducive to wedding vows and family obligations.
From ancient Hellas, where Mt. Olympus ruled, we were taught that when humans achieve the divine, they may wear the golden, cumulus wreath of the Greek gods. Thus the laurel leafed crown of the earliest Olympics and the transformative Renaissance paintings of man as gods carried forward from Homer's wine-dark age.
Our modern 21st Century world, too, has found ways to honor the inspired divine in our too often commercialized commuter lives. We have prizes and awards, like the Nobel, the Rhodes, the Pulitzer, the Templeton and the Booker, to laud those who have achieved feats few of us can aspire toward in our daily lives. We have Academy Awards and the Golden Globe, as well, to honor the silver screen thespians who offer us luminosity, insight and a reflection of our lives to last through the ages. As a culture, we have found ways to honor the best and most enduring accomplishments of our times.
And yet, is there any way to so succinctly honor the middle path of life, the basic unit of our individual security and identity? The lasting endurance of marriage in a tremulous union of trust, compassion and empathy. We know much in our time of the travails, hurt and wounds associated with marriage and relationships. These knots of caring and need are the circuits of our daily lives. We light up with joy and go dark with pain based on our ability to share each other's innermost sufferings. The struggle for our personal maturity gains moments of insight from those with whom we live -- just as our the scars of childhood cover our longing for real and needed affection. These are the depths of emotion that we plumb unconsciously each day with those with whom we live and seek to love.
Love. How did we find such a deceptively simple word to describe our deepest human emotion? The word slips out almost unnoticed, shy lips pursed together in a near apology of tenderness and longing. Can we remember when a couple first used the word with each other. Or, saw the reflected look in eyes of understanding and care that bespoke a deeper bond?
56 years, you say... An eventful, near-traumatic evening on a cold, wintry December 24th night in an elegant hotel in New York. Families gathered. Both an Orthodox and Reform rabbi there to honor and solemnize the occasion. Generations of faces and souls now lost to us there to celebrate the natural & cultural affinity for continuity. The marital torch, as they say, passed to a new generation. Too young to know the fullness of their vows or the length of their commitment. Still innocent in the truth of that artfully simple word. Unaware of the price that time charges for such attachment. Or, of the fleeting joys that parenthood and childhood and adolescence offer us in this rapidly passing sense of a lifetime. My child, my child, my son, my son, my father, my father, my child, my son, myself...
As I said, and then, as usual, ignored, there are no words for such achievements. (Although words are all we have...) There are no annual prizes or awards. No way of describing the strength and endurance of a marriage that has carried across generations, centuries and memories.
There is only that elusive word, love...