Several years ago, a young woman asked me the secret to a long marriage.
As if I were a Wise Woman with a stone tablet.
As if I were a Unicorn surrounded by a Truth and Beauty Rainbow.
As if there is a secret.
But now after 41 years of marriage, I can offer this.
I planted several flats of petunias, Cliff’s favorite flower, in our front garden. I laid out concentric circles around the dogwood tree. It took a while, and he was astonished by my devotion because petunias aren’t on my wish list. At all. Each morning when he gets up, he stands at our bedroom window, gazing at them below. They flutter like joyful butterflies, flapping and calling: “Hello, Cliff! We see you! The day is good!”
All my life I’ve wanted a window box. Some houses lend themselves to this accessory; some don’t. Here, I saw a possibility on this brick house’s addition–once it was painted the right color (instead of toothpaste white), once we located vintage shutters, once Cliff painted them green. I found the perfect hay basket design with brackets enclosed. Cliff screwed it into place.
It tipped forward so precariously that soil and plants would surely be dumped out.
I was devastated.
Cliff consulted one hardware store after another, bringing home attachments that failed. He presented the problem to our neighbor Rob, who is a master of metal intricacies, after working in automotive design for a lifetime.
They contemplated angles.
They discussed nails and screws.
Rob returned within days with custom-built brackets that could straighten the Leaning Tower of Pisa, let alone a window box.
If you know O. Henry’s short story “The Gift of The Magi,” you understand the point. His tale recounts the plight of a couple with limited means who intend to present each other with perfect gifts. Each must sacrifice something. While their story is more dramatic, ours is no less endearing. To us, at least.
A marriage is not an argument you must win or a recipe safely guarded. It only succeeds if, at various points, both are willing to put the other first.
You have to devote thought.
You have to donate time.
You have to seek help.
It’s never one precise puzzle piece, let alone one secret.
In our town, a peacock arrived one day. There are theories about his appearance, but no one truly knows the answer. We just accept the mystery and majesty of him. At summer’s end when he molts, people look for his elegant long feathers.
Treasures, to be sure.
But when I walk, I pick up the small ones, the unlikely ones. I had no idea that a peacock’s beauty involved downy white feathers, striped feathers, copper feathers, twirly wire feathers. Even the dark ones, if held to the light, hold fringed rainbows of his gorgeous colors.
All of them, like unrealized secrets, are equally required.
A peacock is more than one prize-worthy feather.
All lasting things are.