What did we know then of what that might possibly mean? If I could ask the 26 year old woman that I was what she thought, I expect she'd say something about caring for him when he got old, making chicken soup to soothe a cold or even, maybe, sitting with him while he vomited. I was ready to do all those things.
I was not ready for this.
It never occurred to me to think that I'd be the sick one. I don't get sick. Okay, a few years ago I had double pneumonia. I was really sick then. But that's it. "I'm strong as an ox, healthy as a horse." That's who I thought I was. Not sick. Not frail. Not weak. Until now.
"In sickness and in health" has come to mean him taking care of me. I don't mean a pot of chicken soup and or holding my hair back from the toilet. I don't mean a day or two. So far it's been weeks. We have every reason to think that we will eventually be measuring in months.
It starts when I wake up in the morning. I need him to help me get out of bed, go to the bathroom. I need him to shower with me, wash my hair and face and shave under my arms. He helps me get dressed, fixes my breakfast and lifts my arm so I can reach my mouth to take my pills, and so on until he swings my legs back into bed, shifts my weak hips and shoulders and collapses into bed himself. Every day.
I can hardly type the words because I am so utterly overwhelmed by his generosity and my helplessness and my gratitude and his faithfulness. In sickness and in health.
Marriage is a hot topic in the news -- who can marry whom, what defines marriage, whether marriage as an institution is still relevant. What I know is that, those many years ago when we made this commitment, we saw ourselves as committing not simply to one another, but to something outside of and bigger than the two of us, that is, the marriage itself. We knew, however dimly, that there might come a time when it wouldn't be enough for me to be pledged to him or him to me. People change. Feelings wax and wane. Times get tough. People get sick.
It's that commitment that allows him to serve me without word of complaint or self-pity. It allows me to be served without being overcome by guilt and regret. It is the essence of marital love.
"Love is patient, love is kind..." So begins the great hymn to love from 1 Corinthians, chapter 13. Again, because we knew everything and wanted to reinvent the world when we were planning our wedding, we passed on this passage thinking it clichéd. Now I see that it is simplicity itself.
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, love is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)"Love never fails," concludes verse 8. In sickness or in health. That's how we recognize it as love.