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Forty-five years ago, I met a guy. Against our better judgment, we fell deeply in the kind of love that sticks better than that glue a helmeted guy can use to hang from a brick in cheesy TV ads. We fashioned a bare-bones do-it-yourself marriage that has sailed, bumped, and ground through forty-three years. It occurs to me now that a good marriage is like a well-run country.
For several years, we were close to a couple who never stopped talking about how wonderful their college years had been. Never. Stopped. The same old stories. Walking backward through life. Of course, they didn’t make it as a couple. One spouse didn’t survive as a person. The other told us he couldn’t be friends with us because our happiness depressed him. Even though our present was often less than stellar (we spent our tenth anniversary filling out MMPI forms for a court that couldn’t believe my husband’s ex-wife—who exceeded the standard for spiteful ex-wives—might have manipulated her history to retain control over their children), we refused to discuss quitting our relationship. We focused on mending the wounded children and forging ahead. If you constantly look backward, you’re destined to fall down.
Countries can’t run backward, either. We can’t live the 1950’s again, and who would want to? What looks good in the glow of the past didn’t look great from inside the bubble. (Did you ever see the film MIDNIGHT IN PARIS?) The U.S. barely made it through our Revolutionary War with our bickering and diverse agendas and then we challenged our ideals in a great bloody civil war, the outcomes of which we haven’t settled yet. We don’t do well unless we unite…even if our voices remain dissonant as they have been during the World Wars and the domestic and foreign struggles thereafter.
My husband and I once spent time with another couple who filled our excursions with tales of how hateful their children were. We loved our children—the ones we had sacrificed so much to have with us—and the negativity depressed us, so we removed ourselves from their company. Over the years, we didn’t run into many couples who seemed to be truly happy. In fact, the word “happy” felt cartoonish and inadequate in the erratic world of bright light and dark shadows in which we lived. We were bonded—although each of us remained perfectly aware that the other was ready and able to walk away at any moment. We were bonded by a choice we made over and over and over again…based on that sticky love. We did our best to support one another to the next peak.
In nations, too, our goal isn’t to be happy or to have all our wishes granted. Our goal is to be fair and strong in our convictions of truth, compassion, and integrity. Anyone who imagines we don’t have to share or compromise or disagree is fantasizing about a monarchy in which the ruler can mandate whatever seems pleasing. However, if we consider the reality of the British royalty, for example, with their restrictions and obligations, their lack of power to do as they wish and persistent squabbling, monarchies and dictatorships (which often end in assassination or banishment) lose their appeal. We get the most for everyone involved when we work together and stay true to the love we have for our union.
Love of country is very much like relationship love. We take what there is with love, knowing no one is always right or always kind. But we don’t lose sight of our goal of being able to enjoy one another in our diversity and the fruits of our labors into the distant future. We don’t always like one another, but that’s irrelevant. It’s the love that works the magic.