By Francis Ewherido
Today, I celebrate Richard and Sharon Low, our older friends from Lewiston, near Niagara Falls, New York, USA, who celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary quietly yesterday (September 4, 1965–September 4, 2015). Fifty years is a very long time to stick with one’s spouse, especially in a society with one of the highest divorce rates in the world. There must be a good dose of friendship, sacrificial love, tolerance, patience and a large forgiving heart.
The last time we (Fr. Tony, my elder brother; my wife and I) were with the Lows, Richard regaled us with the history of Lewiston and the role the villagers played in helping freed slaves who escaped from their recalcitrant masters in the south of America to cross into Canada through Lewiston.
Lewiston is separated from Canada by the Niagara River about 200 metres in width. He was uncomfortable discussing the slave trade. He was apparently embarrassed by the activities of his antecedents.
I had no time to ask him the secret of his long marriage. But I got a few clues from the time we spent together. The first thing I noticed is that they genuinely love and care for each other; they also have enormous respect for each other. They are also friends; you can feel the chemistry.
As I always tell young people who feel sex is everything in marriage, sex is important, but as the marriage and couple grow older, its importance diminishes. Many senior citizens no longer have a sex life, but the genuine friendship that exists between them keeps the relationship going. That is companionship, the primary reason for marriage.
They also take their marriage seriously (that is the only way it could have survived for 50 years), but not everything that happens in their marriage. Richard told us a story. He asked Sharon what she would do if she were tending her flowers (her favourite hobby) and he suffers a heart attack. She responded that it depended on the flowers she was tending at that time, meaning that if it were her favourite flowers, he was on his own.
They laughed about it, just as we had a good laugh when he told us the story. But that expensive joke will unsettle some marriages and probably break a few. Elders from the woman’s family will be invited to hear their daughter’s “heartlessness.” Although in her late 60s or 70s, Sharon does not look a shade older than 50 years. She glows and that is part of the benefits of a happy marriage.
Her passion is gardening and she is also in charge of the church garden; something this very religious couple is happy and proud of. While taking us out for lunch at their favourite seaside restaurant, they stopped at their local church, St. Peter’s, to show us the unique architecture and interior of the church. The church has an inverted cross shape.
I asked Richard if the design was influenced by the fact that the Apostle Peter, after whom the church was named, was crucified upside down. Church history has it that Peter was crucified upside down because he said he was not worthy to be crucified the way his Lord, Master and Saviour, Jesus Christ, was crucified. His persecutors gladly granted his request.
I use this opportunity to celebrate all couples who have spent a long time together in marriage. Waking up every day and seeing the same face for one, two, 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years or more is a monstrous achievement. Some couples spend many of these years in absolute bliss, with occasional hiccups and storms, while for some others; it is turbulent weather all the way, with occasional respite.
Anyhow, ultimately many land safely. I salute you. Marriage, “sweet” as it is, is a slippery terrain with many twists and turns. That is why the presence and grace of God are absolutely necessary and important. May God bless you for your perseverance and strengthen your unions.
Beyond the reasons stated above, many couples who have been married for 50 years or more stress the importance of communication. You do not have to agree with your spouse, but hear him/her out and respect his/her opinion. Effective communication should be backed with effective conflict resolution mechanisms to resolve the inevitable differences that must arise. Compromise is also very important. Marriage is like dogs playing, it is: “fall for me, I fall for you.” Also, the “bites”—like dog bites when playing—should be on the surface, not deep; no hurtful words and actions that can linger. Respect should also be mutual and should extend to the extended family.
Sometimes, successful marriages come down to individual nuances. A couple was interviewed long ago on the secret of their long marriage. The man said it is because they have never seen each other’s nakedness, so they respect each other. Did I hear somebody say that is from the Stone Age? How did they produce their children? Well they did it only in the cover of darkness. Although it worked for this unique couple, that is stiff and too restrictive for the modern day couple. Sexual urge does not send mails. It visits most times unannounced; so many couples do their thing if the environment is conductive, aka, privacy—day or night.
Another mama, an octogenarian, claimed that marriages do not last these days because young men go and “pick wives anyhow from wherever they like. They do not consult their mothers and families to look carefully and get them wives from good families.” Hmmm, mama, I will not argue with you, but the person putting on the shoes should have the final say on whether the shoes will be comfortable over the long journey called matrimony.
One thing is clear; these “secrets” of long and successful marriages notwithstanding, couples must come up with their USP (unique selling proposition). Happy anniversary to Richard and Sharon; I wish you many more years together in good health of mind and body.