You know, it's odd that I first decided to get married almost 4 years and and I've now been married for almost 2 years, yet I still find myself struggling to understand what a marriage is, even just what it is to me personally.
Logic and my 5 senses tell me that marriage is a piece of paper on file at the court house in Hillsboro, Oregon, granting Josh and I certain fun legal privileges. Yet I have never, not for one moment since being married, believed that that is what a marriage is. But that has left me with a puzzle... if marriage is not the thing I can hold and my hand and order a certified copy of, what exactly is it? What is it made of? Where do you find it? How did it come into being?
I do know that marriage has had a profound impact on my very being, on my relationship to Josh, and on my relationship to the world. It has changed the way I see the world, and my place in it. It has fundamentally altered most of the other relationships I have ever had... some in small ways and some in large ways. It has changed what movies I cry at. It has changed how I think about life and especially about death. It has changed what I believe is possible, not only in a relationship between two lovers, but also in my relationships with other people. It has changed what I think about love. It has changed how and why I think about family. It has filled a hole in my life that I did not know existed. It is scary, yet at the same time wonderful, to have something I don't understand influencing and shaping my life so much. I feel like there are whole new places in my brain, new pathways and ways of thinking. It's like being out in the thunderstorm was yesterday... it's terrifying and it makes me grumble at the inconvenience of it all, yet my heart wants to sing with the power and the wonder of it, because it is just so incredible that I am inexplicably filled with joy just by being involved in it.
But I cannot help but wonder. How did this happen? And why? Is this a repeatable experiment? Or are we managing to repeat the successful results of others even though we are half-blind? And repeatability aside, I really want to know what the basis for the change is... and fundamentally, I want it to be something I can hold in my hand and say, "Look there, see that? That's what's behind this." But the thing is, I can't. Alternatively, I'd like to say that it is because I see myself as married now. The thing is, I saw myself as "practically married", "the same thing as married", "completely committed", "almost married", etc before we were married... and yet somehow "actually married" has been worlds different for me.
Something very profound happened that day, the last Saturday of Spring in the year two thousand and five at the Kinton Grange, before so many people who are important to me. And it bothers me that I have not been able to figure out exactly what. The LDS believe that when two people are married (in the temple as part of a special ceremony in a special room), their souls merge together giving them a common destiny in the eternal after life. I don't believe in their God, nor in an after life, nor do I have a firm idea of what I believe a soul is or if I even believe in one. But you know what? That's kind of what it felt like... or at least as good a description of what it felt like as any I have heard.
Yet at the same time I cannot say it all happened in a day. My life changed forever that day, but I don't think it could have had I not spent months leading up to it learning how to open myself... my heart, my soul, my mind, my emotionally being, my whatever-it-is... to whatever it was that happened. And then I spent months struggling to remain open and not to pull away again from... whatever this is we have created. Truth be told, I still struggle not to pull away some days, even as I grow in confidence that I would never want to, and doubt that I ever could pull free from something so powerful anyway.
Yet, as powerful as it seems to be, again the mystery, as there appears to be nothing there at all. The only thing I can think it is made of is faith, the belief we choose to hold in something which cannot be proven to exist. And that scares me too. If marriage is made of faith, then it exists only in our hearts and minds. In some ways that makes it stronger than anything, because it has no physical form to harm. Yet in other ways, it makes it fragile, like a fairy... that will pop suddenly out of existence, as if it had never been, if there are an insufficiency of people who believe in it. The physicist in me is used to believing in things because I know they are real. Yet my marriage, having a profound impact on my life, is undeniably real... and it forces me to accept that there are things which are very real, and exist because people believe in them. I've always had some idea that things like this exist: government is like this, and in some ways religion is like this too (though I don't imagine religious people tend to think of it in these terms), but I've never had an intimate connection to either of those institutions the way I do to my own marriage.
And all this eventually leads me to a conclusion I never thought I'd make. That our marriage is fundamentally not just something that exists between Josh and I, but something which is somehow connected to other marriages, particularly the marriages of couples we admire, and perhaps all other marriages (though I think probably less or not connected to those many "marriages" in my generation "for health insurance", "for immigration", etc). I don't think it could have sprung into being without examples from older couples. I think the faith required to make something like this exist may require more than 2 people, and more than one marriage... certainly it helps, certainly I doubt we would ever have thought to believe if we had been first required to dream up the concept of marriage ourselves. And certainly a marriage's strength cannot be measured at it's strongest point, but based on what happens when faith wavers, and the faith of the greater community may be needed.
For all I've thought about this, what I have figured out seems to me that it must be only the tip of the iceberg, and I am left with my questions than answers. Sometimes I fear I will spend a lifetime contemplating these questions, and never get to the bottom of this mystery.