I was finally on the plane and nothing was going to get in between me and my well deserved two hour snooze down to the sunshine state. Cheeks still flushed from tears of farewell, only a window pane of orange skies could now soothe my tired eyes and limbs.
.... When he took his seat. Next to me, yep, it was the Teacherman. The man, who spent the next two hours passionately sharing the secrets of his beautiful marriage, was doing more than simply passing the time; he was answering a question I hadn't even realized I needed answered.
What truly keeps couples together?
They say God works in mysterious ways, and this was nothing if not completely mysterious. Even though raised in the Greek Orthodox tradition, I've never felt compelled to adhere solely to one system of beliefs. Being interested in different faiths, I've often come across the stereotypes that each carries. If you don't mind, I'll elaborate. For the Christian camp, the flavors vary. Catholics, for example, like to guilt-trip themselves (and then you); the Orthodox, somewhat snobby (naturally); the Presbyterians are the hippies of the good Faith; Baptists would make spectacular drill sergeants and the Jehovans, well, they're the "oddballs" of the bunch. In any case, none of all that determines anything. Not whether a person is likeable and definitely not whether they have a good lesson to share. And as someone quite beautifully once said: "When you know how to listen everyone is a teacher."
A to the men.
Teacherman was on his way to his sons wedding and I was on a direct flight to a new chapter of my life. As we spoke about our families and favorite airplane snacks, he casually threw in that, "Yeah, and my wife of 40 years is sitting right behind us." (Wait. Really?) Adios, fatigue. Up you go little mental machine, roll up your sleeves, we've got some listening to do.
What's your secret? I asked, coyly.
We've all read the articles, have our theories and stories about what makes a long lasting relationship. But how often do you actually get to pick someone's brain who has truly enjoyed a lifelong partnership? Up until that flight I thought the secret sauce was friendship. A solid foundation of trust built over time that would bind the tears of hot air balloon meeting rocky post infatuation clouds. In fact, I was certain of it. Common interests, mutual respect, transparent communication were all runner ups. Friendship though, friendship was king.
And then he laid it on me:
"You have to serve something bigger than yourselves, you have to share a spiritual understanding and direction."
I couldn't help but smile. Hoping he could see how much I needed to hear those words, I responded in silence. His words resonated deeply in my heart and I can't tell you why, but they made me feel safe.
As I mentioned, growing up under Hellenic rule, choosing a mate of our "own kind" was sort of a big deal. My yiayia til this day still extolls a certain saying (Παπούτσι απ' τον τόπο σου, κι' ας είν' και μπαλωμένο) that in so many words urges one to choose a shoe from one's locality, even IF the darn thing is patched up. OK, I get it. Coming from the "same place" is really really really important; I just also happen to think that this "same place" transcends ethnicity, race and all that fun stuff. I've met plenty of couples who "shared" religious beliefs AND many a miserable marriages too. (Yes, as you can imagine, I'm considered a constant joy.)
Proceeding on this idea of spiritual oneness, think about it; when two people only know the boundaries and reality of their own two thorny egos and agendas they are bound to clash and hit the invisible wall of bitterness that typically leads to catch ya later. It's like a three legged table that does the job for now but after so many sit down dinners is bound to topple over. The fourth leg, the savior in times of human pain, selfishness and limitation must be a shared spiritual Truth. A guide whose knowing transcends that of the individual participants of the union. Not even necessarily a shared "religion", but a principle that both can bow down to in times of anger, betrayal and disappointment. If God (aka love) is too big of a concept, maybe the glue could be empathy, honesty, service? A silent referee of sorts that settles battles too big for the rational mind to tackle.
My all time favorite, Joseph Campbell once said: "When people get married because they think it's a long-time love affair, they'll be divorced very soon, because all love affairs end in disappointment. But marriage is a recognition of a spiritual identity."
I guess this would also imply that each member of the partnership have a certain awareness of what they serve in life, other than their own self-interest, but let's fast forward past that for purposes of this discussion.
Teacherman proceeded to show me some Bible verses on his phone and give me his card. I know what the whole exchange looked like, but I didn't care. I was just so grateful.
"I wanted to know His name", he said, as he explained to me why he chose the path he did. I never got Teacherman's name, either. What I did get, however, was the deepest reassurance I've ever received that everlasting partnership is possible, if created and maintained under the auspices of a shared and deeper connection. Goofy but related side-note: Have you seen the movie Avatar? (don't judge) Well, in order for the Avatars to earn their dragon (their ride through the crazy dangerous forest) they had to first tame the beast and thennn attach a piece of their hair to the animals which would spiritually "marry" their beings to each other. Keeping them in tune and in sync for their joint daring adventures. You gotta see it.
The landing was smooth and we said our goodbyes.
Class had adjourned, but for this very very sleepy student, the ride was just beginning.