In London, I had a running mate. We would run towards Tower Bridge at 6 am. It is a 12 km run to and back. And in one of the runs, he asked me a question: "Mike, what is the one thing that defines you? What is the most important thing in your life?"
While jogging, he got me on a mental treadmill. I was digging deep into my cerebral mess for an authentic answer. In a flash, these few words appeared: Purpose, Courage, Love, Faith and Character. I paused to sieve through it all and one word emerged: "Faithfulness". That was it and I replied: "Bro, I have no big words for that one thing. After living 45 years on earth, the one thing that matters to me is being faithful."
I then turned that question back to him (30 years old, single) and this was what he said, "A few years ago, I drew up a list of qualities I hope for in my future partner and I listed twenty of them. But on deeper reflection, the one thing for me is commitment." On that score, our minds met.
I guess as a married man, faithfulness is the cornerstone of my marriage. It sets it, builds it, moves it, grows it, protects it, improves it and defines it. It is of course not smooth sailing in the 15 years (of marriage) but faithfulness is the safe harbor we can always return to when the storm of life hits hard. And faithfulness is essentially mutual for it takes two hands to clap (and two wings to flap).
This brings me back to a couple I know who recently celebrated their 41st wedding anniversary. They are my in-laws and we celebrated their anniversary in London four days ago (1st June). While travelling on a train to Legoland at Winsor, my brother-in-law asked my father-in-law this question: "What is the one thing about mom that you find negative?" He thought for some time and replied, "There is nothing." I chimed in, "Nothing?" He said yes.
In my mind, I was nonplussed. How can there be nothing? Isn't a marriage about conflict management? Isn't marriage about give and take? How can there be no cause for complaint when you live with another for 41 long years with three grown up children (with children of their own)?
Then I came to the conclusion that maybe it is not about the complaints so much as it is about the heart to be faithful at all costs that truly matters. My father-in-law knew that you have to work on your marriage and it doesn't come to you in a pre-planned, well-executed wedding dish served on a silver platter.
If anything, two people living together is both the most difficult and the most rewarding endeavor a couple can ever take. And the key to keeping the passion alive over the years is faithfulness. It is faithfulness in the smallest thing, seemingly trivial, that really counts.
Forget about the grand wedding night of overflowing extravagance because a marriage is not so much about the flowing bridal train and expensive honeymoon as it is about taking out the trash, changing the diapers and sparing no hugs and kisses. It is being faithful with the little things that adds up to a lifetime of enduring commitment.
And I therefore see my own marriage not through the lens of idealism but through the eyes of my lover. In her eyes, I see the passion I once promised to keep sacred. In her eyes, I see the love that I don't deserve but it is still given unconditionally. And in her eyes, I see the hope of a future that is made robust by faithfulness.
This brings me to my last recent memory in my London trip before we set off for Manchester. Twenty years ago, I studied in the heart of London and I came to this beautiful city all by myself. At that time, Anna and I were in a courtship. We were still young and clueless. Whilst in London, I stayed in a hostel in the east side that is managed by the Methodist Church. I recalled then that we did not have Facetime, Facebook, Twitter, Whatapps or Skype.
All I had to keep the communication alive with Anna was the snail mail and a phone-booth outside the hostel. It took one week to sent a letter and a steel heart to brave the wintry winds to call her (and I only had three minutes to talk to her because it costs one pound per minute). But faithfully I did them. I wrote to her every week without fail and I called her every weekend whilst chattering in my teeth.
Coming back to London (20 years later), Anna and I hunted the hostel and the phone-booth down (we took two hours) and we took pictures of it (see below). The revisit was definitely nostalgic for me. But what is even more significant is that I had kept our passion alive by writing to her and sharing my thoughts over the phone.
It was faithfulness in the little things that made our relationship resilient. And although we still have a long journey ahead of us, it is still faithfulness in the little things that will lead us forward and bring us safely home to the anchorage of our wedding vows. Cheerz.