I saw a young married couple today. They were very attractive--thin, athletic, out walking their baby. I drove past and waved. Whether they knew me or not, I don't know. But they were clearly very comfortable in their young marriage, and I felt good about them for that.
I knew their parents some time ago. We saw them in Maine; we knew them in Chattanooga. But mostly I am thinking of them when I saw them at a wedding.
At the wedding, the wife had suffered some kind of injury. Knowing them, it was a sports-related injury. Maybe a stress fracture or some such. At the wedding, and this was late in the reception, they arrived with the wife on crutches and the husband in full health. It was a large, raucous wedding, with great food and drink and a kick-ass band that had been hired from somewhere deeper south, maybe even down along the coast. People were dancing. The "Love Train" had taken place.
As the evening wore on, the husband had danced with a number of women, family friends and acquaintances and whatnot. I watched them from time to time. He had not been aggressive in seeking out the dances. The dances were not overtly flirtatious in nature.
Still, as the evening wore on, things reached a point where the wife gathered herself, rose to her feet, and hobbled out onto the dance floor to dance with her husband. It is a marital moment that I have never forgotten, though it has now probably been six or more years since it happened.
What I wondered, what I still wonder, is this: why did she raise up and make her way out to the dance floor? Was she jealous? Was she being protective? Did she simply want to be with her husband? Did she only want to dance? Did she need to assert herself?
The answer, I suspect, is the dreaded answer on any multiple-choice test: All of the above. Isn't, in fact, the ultimate marital moment when a spouse asserts himself or herself into a situation, not because he or she is particularly worried, but only because everyone in the world outside of the marriage needs an even gentle reminder that there is, indeed, a marriage at work? There isn't much more at stake at that moment, but there potentially could be at some later moment in the evening.
And so, in this case, she walks on crutches out to the dance floor only to say, that is my man. And, perhaps, by then she is only saying it to herself. That doesn't really matter. It is still a social reminder.
That's why this is so interesting to me. That's why I've never forgotten it, why I remembered it today when I saw their child. Because marriages, both the best and the worst, are fueled by a kind of unease where no matter how settled things seem to be, the slightest situation could make them unsettled again, and could require both parties to recalibrate, to "up their game," to no longer take for granted what they have.
Some might see that as a bad thing, as an indictment, an affirmation of the fragility of marriage. I don't.
That wife hobbling out onto that floor takes me back to the Knicks vs. Lakers in about 1973, to Willis Reed, badly injured, steeling himself up to start Game 7 even though he could barely walk, to him hitting his first two jumpers in the game and then being too hurt to do much else the rest of the way, but having done enough to provide a rallying point for his team, who "upped their game" the rest of the way.
Marriage, it seems to me, is that very moment, one when one of the two spouses reaches a quick realization that he or she has to make a dramatic move to propel things forward, regardless of how he or she is feeling at the time, regardless of how trivial the moment might seem. It is likely that the moment will never be discussed, but both know that it needed to happen. And, by the way, the smaller the circumstance, the better.