Family Stories

The Women’s Sports Pages

 

Last Sunday I was reading the Woman’s Sports Pages in the New York Times. For the uninitiated, that’s the wedding section; the part where a happy duo smiles blithely and innocently from their cropped photo on the page.

 

 

Much had changed since my own face beamed out from my engagement photo, a rite of passage with the formal wedding announcement. For starters, in the olden days, proper etiquette dictated that the photo contain only the bride. Hence the pejorative term, in reference to the accomplishment of having “bagged” a husband. The sport was in catching a man.

 

 

Today, those same pages spill over with lesbian and gay couples, hetero duos with bright faces beaming, unaware that they are about to climb on the rollercoaster of life together, certain their love will bring them only good things and eternal happiness. There are older couples too—couples stunned with the brilliance of their good fortune at meeting so late in life or getting a second chance at marital bliss. These couples look less jaunty, perhaps more prepared. They understand that a percentage of this is simply up to the fates.

 

 

Perusing those pages I thought back to my own whirlwind wedding weekend, my open, apple-cheeked face as a new bride marrying “Robert Woodruff, of Birmingham, Michigan attorney at Sherman and Sterling” as if all of those NYT pedigreed descriptions could contain him.

 

 

Our wedding had been hasty. Although we’d dated for two years, Bob had the chance to go overseas and teach in China. He had asked me to go with him, to marry him first, a feat which we pulled off in three months, with not just a little angst on my mothers part and a lot of friction between us.

 

 

The morning after our wedding we woke up as husband and wife in a canopy bed in the Adirondacks and made our way down the Hudson River by train, holding hands as the light flashed through the window between the trees like an old newsreel. We were married. We were determined that our love was big enough and powerful enough and generous enough… was simply enough, to forge a wonderful life together. Tragedy and misfortune were for people who didn’t follow the rules, who were mean and colored outside of the lines, who disrespected others and harbored black places in their heart.

 

 

I thought about all of this last weekend as I let my eye trail down the page at the images of all those happy, expectant people. These were folks who had just gotten engaged or married, who wanted to announce it to the world with their photos, to gleefully make us a party to all that happiness and hopefulness.

 

 

Thank goodness that the world kept turning out couples like that. I reveled for a moment in the prospect of all that boundless optimism to believe that life would deal you a good hand, that love kept regenerating, even while others battled loss and depression, disappointment and sorrow.

 

 

A silly thought flashed through my mind. I pictured us now, today, on those pages, envisioning how we would appear; the set of a jaw, the look in our eyes. Our love was richer, deeper, it hid more in the folds inside of us. It was no longer moonfaced and expectant. We were long past the point where we couldn’t touch each other enough or held hands on every sidewalk. Our love had mellowed into something with real texture; the fibers of the tapestry tough and tenacious from a marriage woven of good and bad, joy and sorrow, loss and abundance.

 

 

Thinking about the miscarriages, the loss, the injury, the fear, the things we had endured together I could touch the parts in me where dreams had been compromised. I could articulate what a parallel life would look like, one in which my husband was not injured in Iraq, one in which life had kept moving forward as he flew to all the worlds breaking events, covered the 2008 election, interviewed world leaders.

 

 

How do you live in the shadow of what might have been after something big and bad happens? How do you grocery shop and car pool and cut up the salad and not let your mind wander to that parallel life, the one where only good things happen, where good people are rewarded?

 

 

And in any marriage you play the hand you are dealt. Wherever that may take you. And yet, as my friend Jim told me once, you never stop trying to get your hands on the deck.

 

 

That, I think, is the lesson we all learn, in one form or another as we struggle to make sense of what it means to choose a mate, to hitch a star to pull a collective wagon, to overcome or to simply endure.

 

 

And as we move, day in and day out into a familiar orbit, one with duller colors and smoother edges smoothed by the passage of time, we are no longer that expectant couple looking hopefully out of the engagement photo. But the rewards of the journey, are often full of unexpected goodness, beauty and moments of grace.

 

 

 

My two sisters and I were recently in Hawaii to celebrate my 50th year. We shared the resort with conference attendees and honeymooners and we watched with amusement and nostalgia as they draped themselves around one another in the elevators or gazed dreamily at each other during breakfast.

 

 

“Enjoy it now!” we joked under our breath.

 

 

“This is the fantasy island part,” my sister Nan said in a feigned warning. “The rest is all downhill.” We cracked ourselves up.

 

 

But lurking under our pretend cynicism was a moment where each one of us took stock. The children, the years logged, the good health, the close family, the new families we had built. We’d all three weathered the good and the bad. We were here. We were celebrating, each raising a glass, ultimately eager to get home to our house, home to our kids, and home to our men.

 

 

 

 

 

25 Comments

  1. Deb Woerpel

    November 19, 2009 at 4:25 am

    Lee,
    Thank you for the wonderful, insightful thoughts shared in this latest entry. At this moment, my family is going through a challenging time, and your words remind me that there is still much for which to be grateful. Wishing you and your family a wonderful, relaxing Thanksgiving.

    Deb

  2. Liz

    November 21, 2009 at 5:17 am

    Wow, I need to read that over again- to absorb all that it held.

    First, I can’t believe you were in Hawaii, and we did not get to meet, I would have loved to have you sign my book…:((( If you come bacK ???

    Second, I think you are so on to something. I am 50 also, and divorced.

    I too, started my wedding day and married life as you describe, with all the hope, anticipation and happiness, eagar to share my life with a man I had known for five years. I was 20 years old. Life sure does throw some curve balls….
    7 years into my marriage, I find out my husband (and high school sweetheart) is having an affair and I am pregnant and carrying our 2nd child. Talk about a blow.

    It is a very interesting observation…to watch young couples as they start out, particulrly when we have the experience and know what heartache and disappointment might /can follow.

    When we have children that very age, there is a part of you that wants to warn them, and protect them and tell them how it all might turn out- but I am not sure they would even believe us-

    It seems like something everyone has to find out for themselves…

    Happy belated Birthday to you and Happy Thanksgiving…Even with all we have been through, we all have much to be thankful for.

  3. Val

    November 23, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    Lee-You have captured the essence of the lifetime commitment so beautifully with your lines:” Our love had mellowed into something with real texture; the fibers of the tapestry tough and tenacious from a marriage woven of good and bad, joy and sorrow, loss and abundance.” I LOVE THIS!
    My husband and I just marked our 25th anniversary, and we celebrated by driving across the country to see our newly married son and his bride, who had just settled in California. As we drove, we were amazed to see how quickly the landscapes changed, transforming from green, to golden to brown–I was so moved to realize that this was a perfect and picturesque representation of our life together…the journey begins so very green–lush, alive…but it doesn’t take long to enter the rolling hills…lots of ups and downs. I had my 4 babies int he first 6 years of marriage, so the ups and downs of that are obvious! Before long you are in the flat plains–those middle years. A bit repetitious, even monotonous sometimes–not bad, just predictable. Then suddenly, and without much warning, you enter the dusty, dry regions. There are dead things there! I do remember around the 15 year mark thinking “what’s wrong with us? Why do we feel so far apart?”. It took hard work and persistance to reignite and reconnect. I remember feeling sad and distant for a time…
    Just when those embers started to glow again you hit the deep deep canyons–death, illness, heartache, loss–challenges that you wish you did not have to endure, and yet you KNOW they shape you, mold you, make you into an even stronger unit than you were before. The work that you put into leaving those dry places prepare you for the hardest times. As you leave the lowest of depths, you enter the steep inclines of the beautiful mountains…and you aim for the mountaintops! As we attempted to celebrate our 20th anniversary, 5 years ago, we were forced to face the deployment of our 19 year old to sere in Operation Iraqi Freedom. This was my canyon..followed by his safe return…this was my mountaintop!!
    Before too much longer, we were arriving at our destination–it was so poignant and revealing, to ponder the journey we had just taken! We had started out from sandy soil and salty air…we had ended up at sandy soil and salty air..and yet there was so much growing and changing connecting the two! Different oceans, different seascapes…same wonderful, full, and fulfilling life. I look forward to many more years of marriage to my silver haired love! I am forever changed by our “Sea to Shining Sea ” tour..I am so thankful for so many things–my heart overflows!

  4. Lee Woodruff

    November 25, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    i loved your words and am sorry we didnt meet either– we were in Kaui and only for 5 short days where i was giving a speech– i hope you have a great thanksgivnig and as always– thanks for reading and writing.

  5. Lee Woodruff

    November 25, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    i loved reading this– talk about capturing it eloquently!!!!!

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