Perspective. It's all about perspective. Point of view, outlook, framing. When you're faced with losing everything, things drop like a thud in the pit of your stomach into... perspective. So here it is. The answer. Here we go. The single most powerful reason we've been able to keep this whole mess in perspective is because a year and a half ago we came very close to losing something much more valuable than a house: our marriage.
The second half of 2007 was the most terrifying time in my life. Much more so than now. We were coming up on our five year wedding anniversary when out of the blue everything came crashing down. Our marriage and everything we'd built together was suddenly filled with cracks and holes. Like a shin bone that had endured pounding on pavement for far too long... that suddenly cracks. Shin splints untreated turn into stress fractures. Our marriage was like that. Though we'd only been married for just under five years, we'd been together for nine. Far too many aches and pains had gone ignored.
I will never forget the day it began. I'll never forget the moment our marriage disappeared from beneath my feet and I was left without a place to stand. I'll never forget what it felt like to look into my husband's eyes and feel like I might actually lose my home. Our marriage was my home.
We had a lot to figure out. A world between us to understand. So much to forgive. We reached out immediately to our families and began couples counseling. We didn't start this marriage alone- it began before one hundred and twenty five of our closest friends and family- and we wouldn't let it end alone. We were determined to not let it end at all. And we knew we needed support.
What we discovered in turning to our friends and families was unconditional love and support. They had faith in us. They were on our side. They believed we had all the love and commitment required to carry us through the darkest time I never expected to experience. Other people went through this, not us. But there we were. Going through it. But not alone.
If I sit and think back to those days, I can still summon the physical experience. What it felt like. The nausea, the sadness brimming just behind my eyes ready to transform into salty, burning tears at a moment's notice, the exhaustion, the puffy skin around my eyes, the anxiety pressing on my lungs making a single breath hard to take...
We met on a long distance bike ride for charity. The AIDS Ride from Minneapolis to Chicago. 500 miles. 6 days. Non-stop togetherness up long hills, down steep ones, pedaling through endless stretches of cornfields... pushing ourselves for something much bigger than the two of us. We knew we were made of the strong stuff. We were up for big challenges. I was good climbing, he was good at enduring. Together we got each other through. And in the end we knew we were meant for each other.
The ride has always been a metaphor for our life together. This period was the longest, hottest day of the ride. The day where your knee threatens to blow at any second and your lungs burn. Where everything chafes and all you see is endless road ahead. No rest in sight. No camp. No water. Just pain. And misery. You question: Why did I ever agree to this?! 500 miles?! Am I insane? And then he rides up beside you and says: "We'll ride together." And that's all it takes. The road is still endless, the humidity still suffocating, the butt still numb... but as long as you're together, nothing else matters. You ride together and you remind each other that you're not riding alone. You're riding for all those people that donated to the cause, that couldn't ride themselves, all those people who benefit from the ride... and that helps. That carries you to camp. To rest. To water.
Just as that was true for us in the beginning on that ride that brought us together, so it was true in the darkest moment of our marriage. We were carried through this time by the support and love from our family, friends and community. Three days a week in counseling soon became two... then one... then once every other week. We worked through a lifetime of 'junk.' We discovered so much about each other and ourselves. We were there for ourselves as much as each other. We knew that if we really dug in and were vulnerable and peeled back every single possible layer that we would have the marriage we always wanted. What began as the darkest moment in my life turned into a huge possibility. An opportunity to create the marriage of our dreams.
I do remember very clearly saying to my mom (through tears): "As awful as this is, I have this feeling it could be the best thing for our marriage." And I was right. It was an intensely challenging (such an understatement) time for us, and we're stronger than before having gone through it. Our marriage is the marriage of our dreams. Every day we look at each other knowing what we almost lost and grateful for having had the courage to save it.
A moment that is now etched into my bones happened on one of the 'bad days'. We were at a point where neither of us had the energy to keep fighting. We were just standing there in our house. Nowhere to go. Nothing left to say. I looked around at our newly and beautifully renovated home that took so much of our time, energy and money. I looked out at the wrap around view of the San Gabriel Mountains, looked at Bob and said: "I don't care about any of this. The kitchen, the house, the view.... none of it matters. It can all go away. I'd give it all up as long as I could just have you! Us- together and happy." And I meant it. What does a house matter when you're faced with losing your home? My marriage, as I said, was my home. I've thought about that moment a lot because the irony is just too good to ignore. As though the Universe was listening and said, "Yeah, so you'd give it up? Okay, we'll see." And here we are.
Would I give it up? For my marriage? Hell, yes. A house isn't a home without love. And none of this matters without each other.
The most frequently uttered cliche between us is: "At least we have each other." Never before have those words rung so true.