I remember sitting at a table for two on Little Palm Island. Candlelight flickered across the remnants of the last five course dinner we would share on our honeymoon, the moon danced in corrugated prisms across the water, and salty ocean air tugged at my tangle of hair. It is usually me who asks the questions with a grand arch, but my newly married husband was trying to pull his end of the conversation, “Where do you see us ten years from now?”
“I don’t know,” I stammered. “How old would that make us? Will you be done with your training by then?” I started adding his two remaining years of medical school, the five years of residency, would there be a fellowship?
“I certainly hope so!” he laughed. To him, the end of school must always remain within reasonable grasp. I didn’t understand then that that was part of how he kept his sanity. For me, I felt like I had signed up for eons of training. Pushing through. The end of training seemed as unattainable in “real life” as the dream house and dream land we’d been planning since our third date. All a cherished dream that helped to sustain me. He didn’t understand then that that was part of how I kept my sanity.
“At our ten year anniversary, I will have been in practice for about two years,” he said excitedly. “Do you think we will have any children by then?”
“If I’m 31, I hope we will have a few children by then,” I say, warming quickly to this train of thought as Jeremiah nods his agreement.
“Do you think we’ll come back here, to Little Palm, for our 10 year anniversary, or do you think we will want to try somewhere different?”
“I can’t imagine us doing anything but paying back loans at that point, do you really think we’ll be able to afford to take a vacation?”
“We better be able to take a vacation by then,” he says, and begins to throw around imaginary salaries that are laughable–giddy, ridiculous, laughable–to two people who have nothing but debt, and education, and a lot of life to live through in the foreseeable ten years.
Now, here we are. Training really did come to an end–though as I type this we seem remarkably similar to the couple we were 10 years ago. Jeremiah is preparing to take his oral boards–the really and truly last test he will take before being DONE. Besides the fact that I am just about to pop–three weeks away from delivering our fourth child–I am sitting by his side tapping away at a computer much as I would have been ten years ago (in my fourth year of college).
We are not going back to Little Palm Island, but we had planned to take some kind of celebratory vacation before this last little surprise made herself known. Those school loans ARE still there, they just don’t seem as daunting anymore.
There are some obvious big changes: graduating from orthopedic residency, finishing a spine fellowship in Seattle, moving back to our hometown, having (almost) four children, learning I love to write and take pictures, completing a marathon, losing my mother, helping my three sisters through their weddings and the births of their first babies, and seeing my dad fall in love again…
And there are some equally large, though more hidden, changes: learning how to love each other, how to fight well, and how to let some fights go, learning that there are no greater joys or sorrows than the ones your children can bring and only the two of you can truly share…
I can say that through all the external and internal changes I love him more deeply than that silly 21-year-old girl who didn’t know much except that she didn’t want to be anywhere but by his side all the days of her life. I can say that I am still just as desperate for his time, jealous of his attention, and ready to follow him on any adventure as I was that day. However, I couldn’t have imagined then how challenging marriage would be. I couldn’t have imagined how much I would need to learn, and how excruciating the learning process could be. I can stand here today, not telling you that we have figured this marriage thing out, because we have not, but telling you that I feel like we have found our stride–our pace of life and how to live it together. We still get mad and have stupid fights and say things that hurt, but not nearly as often, because we have learned that God designed us to need each other and Him. We have learned that in this silent dance, this push and pull, this learning when to shoulder a burden and when to heave off to the stronger partner, that there is not enough time or energy to waste fighting your strongest ally and support.
I have this picture in my mind of us from the past ten years. We are afloat in the middle of that moonlit ocean that lapped at our feet on the final night of our honeymoon. There’s a bouy floating a few feet below us that we can access at any time, but in our stupidity we often forget to rest our feet on its blessed assurance. Sometimes the waves crash over us, pushing us down and under–swirling and wondering if this breath could be our last. Sometimes the water is as smooth and warm as liquid sunset, and we breath easily and smile. But in my picture, whether in storm or calm, whether on the bouy or forgetting it’s power, my hands have been clasped firmly around Jeremiah’s neck and his around me. We haven’t let go… My biggest prayers, are that we will never loosen our grasp, and that maybe, over the next ten years, we will find that buoy has become a raft that keeps us floating easily above the tide.