On marriage and diamonds

In our first year of marriage, my true love gave to me a yigüírro in an orange tree.

Don’t worry – I won’t continue. That would be silly. By no means will I tell you that he also gave to me two empanadas, three Rock Ice, four chicharrones, fiiiiive Meeeeega Triiiiiits, six monkeys pooping, seven dolphins swimming, eight sloths a-slothin’, nine comparsas drumming, ten egg salesman megaphoning, eleven ladies dancing (at Castro’s), and twelve micheladas.

As we approached our twelfth wedding anniversary, I kept thinking about that first one on my list and how simple it was. We were renting a little house with an orange tree in the yard, and, yes, a yigüírro in that orange tree, more than once. Costa Rica’s national bird would wake us up with its calls for rain during those hot, dry days of late summer. We owned more things than the yigüírro did, but not all that much more. We could flit around the city on a Saturday, aimless. In fact, that was our favorite thing to do.

We marry, and then we add things on top of it, whatever “it” is. We add years, possessions, meals, logistics. Maybe a home. Maybe actual additional humans, if we so choose, and are lucky.

As averse to change as I am, I don’t think all of this is necessarily a bad thing, and I’m not sure we can avoid it. If we had sworn to each other, in our wedding vows, never to give each other anything more than a yigüírro in an orange tree which wasn’t ours anyway – never to complicate our lives further than those vows and perhaps a shared lease – I think we still would have piled something on top. The strains and ups and downs of our jobs, perhaps. Trips we would have taken. Obligations we might have acquired with the time and energy we might have conserved in the absence of a kid jumping up and down on our bed at dawn.

Even when we try to stay in place, as steady as a rocky shore like the ones where my mother lives in Maine, the years have a way of bringing flotsam and jetsam along with them and depositing them in front of us.

A while ago, I started thinking about marriage and diamonds. We so often give and receive them at the start of a marriage – a shining symbol of everlasting love, or something like that – but that’s the wrong metaphor. The right metaphor is the way that diamonds are made: a whole lot of crap compressed over time, and under immense amounts of pressure and heat that form unbreakable bonds. The diamond in an engagement ring isn’t a symbol of what you already have. It’s a manual for what you are going to try to make.

That’s why I don’t think it’s such a bad thing to layer all kinds of crap on top of your marriage vows. I think that’s how it works. Phone bills, dinner dates, lost socks, birthdays exceptional and mundane and bad, small arguments over small things, massive arguments over small things, wrenching discussions of potentially life-changing things – all of it goes in the mix, and then the pressure of life bears down over time. Doesn’t that sound delightful? But they warned us. It’s all there in the manual.

That’s just how a diamond is made.

And the thing is, those diamonds are beautiful. I won’t go into detail, because I’m from New England, and already display far too much emotion for my own good. If I add a thick layer of cheesiness and self-congratulation, a gang of disapproving matrons will arrive at my door, lips in a thin line, to wash my mouth out with rhubarb and make me can blueberries or something. But you know what I mean. In the moments where all those hours and days and long lines and blissful vacation mornings and indecipherable tax forms – all that carbon, which, after all, is what we are – get compressed into something much stronger than either of the two of you, it makes your breath catch.

That’s what it’s all for. We start with just a hope, a piece of paper, some intangible “it,” and watch it become something real. That’s one thing I learned as my father’s life came to an end: that the bond between my parents was not an idea, or a feeling. It was practically a solid object. It was almost visible. I could feel it running through me as I stood between them in a church pew for the last time, for example. We could all see the glint of it as we gathered around them during those unforgettable final days. It made my breath catch. It still does, right now.

It had been forged under the ordinary and extraordinary pressures of life over 52 years.

None of this is exclusive to marriage, or to marriages that last. It can happen anytime we hold on to another person over time and through the heat of life. It stands to reason that divorces can create some absolutely spectacular diamonds. Sisters and brothers, parents and kids, neighbors. Some friendships, although other friendships are the equivalent of walking down the street and picking a fully formed, perfectly polished diamond up off the ground, just like that, nothing to be added or taken away. Sometimes, there’s just a freebie. Maybe some marriages are like that, too – perfect and unchanging from the start – although I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one that wasn’t on a page or a screen.

None of this takes away our yearning, now and then, for the lightness with which we started. That’s what anniversaries are for, and birthdays, and all those celebrations. They remind us of simplicity. We set aside these jewels from deep in the earth and deep in our hearts and put on a flower ring instead, a bruised stem wrapped around our finger that keeps coming loose. We might eat a Ticoburguesa. We might kick up our heels, take an aimless walk. It’s what we always do, as humans: juggle and juggle that unbearable lightness and breath-catching depth of our being.

I’m a writer in San José, Costa Rica, on a year-long quest to share daily posts on inspiring people, places and ideas from my adopted home as a kind of tonic during a rough time in the world. Sign up (top right of this page) to receive a little dose of inspiration every weekday in your mailbox; tell a friend; check out past posts; and please connect with me on Instagram or Facebook! You can also find me churning out small, square poems on any topic under the sun (here on the site, on Instagram or Twitter). 

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