Saturday, 20 January 2018

A marriage that stood the test of time.

At Botanic Gardens this week, 32 couples renewed their vows. 

The event was organised by the PA's Family Life Champions, and it is into their 10th year encouraging couples to participate to reaffirm and renew their marriage vows. 

This year was special. It's called the MRT for "Mass Romantic Trip" where couples, all 32 of them, "took the train to HarbourFront Centre, where they enjoyed a banquet dinner with friends and relatives." 

Well, I know that abbreviation is kind of corny (Mass Romantic Trip), but the stellar record of the couple's enduring love is anything but corny. It is deeply inspiring. 

If anything, they are the "experts" when it comes to keeping the marital flame alive. They are our shining role models. 

There was in fact a couple (namely, Mr Ang, 80, and Mdm Chua, 75) who celebrated their 54 years of marriage. 

Mdm Chua said this Mandarin: "Vows are just formality. What is more important is to stay loving, and tolerant of each other."

While all vows, like the national pledge, are bursting at the seams with exuberant idealism, it is in the everydayness of marriage where the emotional rubber meets the marital road.

And each of the celebrant in the MRT event demonstrated the resilience and faithfulness expected in a marriage. Kudos to them!

Lesson? Just one.

There was another couple celebrating their 27 years of marriage at the Mass Romantic Trip.

The wife, Mdm Zaleha, said this: "As the years go by and we go through happy and sad times, the vows become more meaningful when we say the words to one another."

Idealism and formality aside, the power in the vows are not just in words but in deeds too.

Like seeds, you don't just send out the invite and gather the witnesses for the planting of the seed. And then, call it a day. The seed will not grow by itself. Good soil is not the only prerequisite. 

You need the water and the sun. You need to protect it from trampling. You need to place it in a good, safe spot. You need to trim it, groom it and nurture it. 

The roots take time to grow. The plant takes time to bloom. The harvesting is not a day or a month away, but many months, even years. 

The marriage vows are therefore the seeds and the wedding day is its official planting.

But for love to blossom, the couple has to put in the effort. Romance can only take you so far. Only commitment can sustain a marriage. And commitment is a conscious daily effort to "stay loving" and "tolerant of each other". 

For the newly wed, it is quite automatic to "stay loving" since every experience is still new, fresh and exciting. 

But when the years roll by, the bills pile up, the kids come, and the monotony sets in, the human tendency is to "stray away from loving" rather than "stay loving".

Let me just say that we often marry our choice, that image of a lifelong partner, and not the person, because the person is much more complicated than a choice or an image of him/her. While the choice seems like a perfect fit, the person is far from it.

But over the years, marriage will unravel that choice and that person with all his/her flaws will unfold. This is where reality sinks in, and for a marriage to last, breezy romance is not enough. The couple need to make a conscious and consistent effort to commit. 

As for being "tolerant of each other", this is one of the most practical advice for the newly wed.

They may find it odd since they would readily confess at the altar that they love every part of their counterpart. I guess this is another symptom of marrying the choice rather than the person. 

So, the newly wed may say that there is nothing to be tolerant of. And didn't the vows say "love each other" and not tolerate each other?

Well, idealism, if not tempered with pragmatism, will lead to disappointment. 

You see, the paper the vows are written on are fixed, but the circumstances that a marriage faces are fluid. 

While you can frame up your vows and they remain the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, the challenges that a marriage faces changes, and with that change comes either the development of character or the retardation of it. 

In other words, we either confront the challenge and brave through it together, or we give up the fight and go our separate ways. 

But it is when we meet the challenges together and brave through them that the vows come alive to us. 

For what is framed up as our vows are words that are unchanging, but what is lived through by our actions are experiences that are empowering. 

That is why the words of Mdm Zaleha resonated with me. 

Let me repeat it here: "As the years go by and we go through happy and sad times, the vows become more meaningful when we say the words to one another."

Indeed, untested vows yield an aesthetic picture, well worth the framing up. But tested vows yield a resilient picture, well worth the living up. 

Let me end by saying that familiarity may breed contempt. And in a marriage, the couple may get too familiar with each other. 

While it is true that familiarity may breed contempt, it can breed contemplation too.

I believe couples who weather the storms together are always thinking about how they can change themselves for their partner. They do not see the lack in their partner, but the lack in themselves and how they can fill the lack or gap.

To them, it is not a contemptuous gap to be scorned, but it is a contemplative gap to be bridged. 

And their vows are made meaningful because they not only back their words with action, but also strengthen their love with introspection. Cheerz.

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