It’s the month where we commemorate love and romance with its very own day, February 14th, Valentine’s Day. Love and romance are all well and good, but boxes of chocolates, sexy lingerie, a fishing license— in other words presents—to your beloved only go so far in sealing the deal. For love to last, there is one more thing you absolutely need. It’s not as sexy or titillating as a Victoria Secret bustier or an Orvis reel but, at least from my humble perspective, it means much more. You want to go the distance? You need commitment.
I got to thinking about the meaning of commitment after playing music for a wedding recently. Jim and I were married in December, 1985 and I think we, like I suspect most of you, really had no idea how encompassing, how huge the concept of commitment is. What couple does when starting out? I know pre-marital counselors cover that topic, right after the “create a budget” lesson and right before “which religion to raise the children” discussion. But really, how can anyone teach the subtleties and ambiguities and just plain unfathomableness of commitment, especially to a young couple who know, just know, that love, that their love, is strong enough to crush any obstacles that may lurk in the far away future.
Commitment isn’t an abstract concept in a marriage; it’s a real thing. It’s palpable. You can touch it. In its most basic form, it’s called showing up. You show up and do what you say you are going to do because someone else is depending on you to show up and keep your word….and look! There’s a baby now and now you’re showing up for two. Add to that you’re now showing up for late night pharmacy runs, diaper changes and showing up to work with spit-up on your shoulder.
Commitment means making hard decisions together and backing them up with resolve, determination and, hopefully, money. You get tired of living in two rented rooms so you figure out how to swing a down payment to buy a three and two which leaves you a coupon book the size of a footstool that you’ll keep track of for thirty years. And look! You close escrow just in time to assemble another crib for baby number two.
Commitment means sticking it out even when you want to want run away screaming. You stay because you said you would. And you said you would stay in front of God, your family, and that person who is your spouse—-but for the life of you—-you can’t remember what attracted you to him/her in the first place. But there must be something between you because, oh look! Here comes baby number three and she’s not going to care if you are having a dark night of the soul with regard to your marriage; but you care because most of the time the daily trials of marriage do indeed pass and you eventually start remembering why you said “I do” in the first place.
Years go by, the cribs turn into bunk beds, you coach your kid’s soccer teams, jobs and houses change; there are good years, not so good years but you continue to show up, and you show up and you show up. Showing up is an everyday commitment, an every moment commitment. You show up for the big decisions as well as the seemingly insignificant moments which are no less crucial in sustaining the marriage over the long haul.
A couple of years ago Jim, the kids and I went shopping in Ashland during Christmas. We were on Main Street and walking towards us was a group of carolers. We followed them into a store and stood in a corner to listen. After they belted out the raucous carols, Jingle Bells, Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph, I was completely caught off guard when one caroler began singing the first phrase of Silent Night and the rest joined in with brilliant, well-rehearsed harmony. Their music was so beautiful it shocked me into tears. I am not a person who cries in public—quite the opposite—so when this unexpected wave of emotion hit me, I turned to my husband, hid my face in his coat and cried. He didn’t ask me why I was crying, didn’t try to cajole me into stopping, didn’t recoil in horror at my unraveling—he just stuck around until my fit was over. After nearly three decades, he doesn’t need to know everything; he just needs to show up. And he does.
Madeleine DeAndreis-Ayres was born in Eureka, California into a large family that ate a lot of Rice Krispies and listened to George Carlin and Tom Leher albums while getting dressed for school. She started playing flute in 4th grade and continues playing in bands and with her husband Jim, an excellent guitarist who is also father to their three children Henry, Sally and Mae, fine upstanding citizens in their own communities. She recently retired from teaching in Scott Valley and is confident she will find things to do.