Permanence
twenty-seven years of marriage

Permanence

Steven Lee Gilbert

Why makes a thing last

There are many questions that arise as one moves about the natural, architectural, and archeological wonders of Sicily. When did that thing come to be? Who created it? If in ruin, how did it get there? Why did it last for so long?

The last question in particular stands out for the two of us as this past week we celebrated twenty-seven years of marriage. To have done so in Sicily is quite the starred footnote of our marriage when you consider that we did not, for a number of now-invalid reasons, ever take a honeymoon, either time we had a ceremony, the one to begin or the one at ten years to commemorate.

How we got to this point is another story for another time, because the question of sustainability feels less about How and more about Why because How only provides the process—of which there are always numerous lesson-learning missteps—but it is Why which supplies the purpose.

As we toured the ancient village of Akrai in Palazzolo Acreide, which is still recognized today for its creation, design and cultish importance nearly 3000 years after it was founded, we concluded that Why makes a thing lasts is a study worthy of almost any significant topic: Relationships. Careers. Philosophy. Societies. Civilizations.

Any quick google search will give you the usual answers: Trust. Communication. Respect. Intimacy. Shared goals. They bring to mind a G.K. Chesterton quote I used in a past article about why we choose the small town of Tarboro to open a bakery.

The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world. He knows much more of the fierce varieties and uncompromising divergences of men. The reason is obvious. In a large community we can choose our companions. In a small community our companions are chosen for us… A big society exists in order to form cliques. A big society is a society for the promotion of narrowness. It is a machinery for the purpose of guarding the solitary and sensitive individual from all experience of the bitter and bracing human compromises.

Marriage, the smallest of community, consisting of just two people, is no different. It’s successful because of the diverging, fierce, and uncompromising commitment each member demonstrates to weather any of the bitter and bracing human interactions we share with or outside of one another. In much the same way those ancient, radical town planners were capable of building a stone village through whatever resources they could muster, forever wary of encroachment, as they buffered themselves against the storm which was surely coming, to claw independence from their grasp.

And that is just the easy part.

The hard part of marriage—and perhaps civilizations too—is, as the Jungian psychoanalyst, James Hollis, suggests in his book, Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life, recognizing that “what another really brings us, their greatest gift, is not their imitation or confirmation of our own limited vision, but the gift of their quite different vision, their otherness as otherness.”

Their otherness as otherness.

Hollis explains further: “We do not learn and grow by all subscribing to the same school of thought, copying the same values, or voting the same way. We grow from the experience of our differences, although in insecure moments we quicky forget this. The capacity to include those differences, even incorporate them into an ever broader, more sophisticated ranges of choices, is the chief task, and gift, of an evolving relationship.”

Our twenty-seven years together has seen a lot of those insecure moments Hollis is  speaking—most of them directly related to the second part of the title to his book: How to Finally, Really Grow up (IYKYK). Most has been good. A lot of it hard. Some of it we would need to share with you over a pitcher of beer. But being here in Sicily, surrounded by this ancient history, these grand stories of trying, failing, and trying again, I’m reminded of what the Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, once wrote about love:

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength while loving someone deeply gives you courage.

So, you ask: Why makes a thing last?

The answer: Absolutely.


Along with our anniversary, we celebrated another special event: Franca received permanent resident status in Italy. Though she had maintained her Italian citizenship, permanent residence is required for nearly every aspect of living here. Opening a bank account. Buying a car. Signing up for health care. Things we may have taken for granted in America—well maybe not 100% for granted—but only because we had already acquired them. Replacement cost is always higher, as they say. Apparently, more difficult too.

It was a long, burdensome, frustrating process (the how here is absolute) and unnecessary reminder of us of the difficulty of beginning something new because bureaucracy, to be sure, is one of the top reasons people give up, on anything.

All we can say to that is persevere. Franca did, and now our future here in Sicily can really begin to unfold.