Monday, October 18, 2010

In Sickness and in Health

I have been thinking about commitment lately, about who we care for and why and how, about the fifty/fifty nature of a relationship, the willingness to give and take, about marriage vows and family vows and friend vows and lover vows, both spoken and unspoken.

We take no vows when we make new friends, yet the commitment from a friend can be the fiercest we know. It is not a coincidence that I just read "Let's Take the Long Way Home" by Gail Caldwell, a story of the most impassioned, meaningful friendship between two women. Over the past few months, I have been cared for by friends, by friends of more than 30 years who know me better than I know myself, by friends made in the past year with whom I have formed powerful bonds, and even by friends made in the last month. What I realized is that the give and take of friendship is based on mutual openness and sharing, by a willingness to be there for someone else and put yourself in the other's shoes, even when the shoes are sticky or sweaty or bloody or ugly. What I also know is that I love my best friends, no vows necessary, yet I wish there was, in fact, some ceremony which honors these relationships.

We take no vows when we are born into a family, inheriting people with common blood who we may or may not like, acquiring siblings, inlaws and step-families along the way. No vow is necessary for me to know that I will do anything - anything! - for my family members closest to me, and the feeling is absolutely reciprocated. It's not obligation, it is love at the deepest level.

The classic marriage vow includes the commitment to care "in sickness and in health". I truly can't remember if I included this in my mid-70's marriage commitment, yet here I am, separated, on my way to divorce, knowing that not only will I care emotionally for my ex for life, but, in fact, will be caring financially as well due to his health issues. This bothered a man I was dating recently, bothered him enough for us to end the relationship, in fact. I had taken no vows with this new man, had merely opened my heart to him in the opening stage of love, and learned that we had different notions of give and take.

We have to sign agreements online before we can submit personal information to a website. We have to sign NDA's when engaging in early business relationships. We have to get licenses to drive and hunt and fish, but not to form friendships or have children or date where we have the ability to grow love or inflict hurt. Those unspoken vows of honesty and caring are supposed to be enough, and thankfully, they usually are.

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