This week, I celebrate two milestones: my wife’s and my 20th wedding anniversary and five years since we adopted our Lilly, the Boston terrier.
Now, these are hardly world records in either category. But they are monumental to someone who once thought he would always be alone because, well - he just didn’t know how to play well with others.
I used to believe that the prime ingredient in relationship longevity was struggle; one had to be willing to do battle at every turn to avoid getting swallowed up by another being. At best, partners coexisted.
Solid relationships do take a tremendous amount of work, but not the kind of work I thought. I did not learn until mid-life that success at togetherness is not about struggle - it’s about surrender. In my case it meant giving up my laundry lists about myself and others. To create a “forever endeavor” with my wife (and, later, our doggie daughter), I first had to accept myself for who I was.
This feat of surrender was more grueling than any of the several high-school brawls I was involved in almost half a century ago. Back then, I was really fighting myself and using my opponents’ fists to pound my imagined shortcomings into submission. I so hated who I was and believed I had to literally have a different kind of person beaten into me.
Thanks to lots of therapy (and a few psychotropic drugs), I became schooled in the more gentle art of self-persuasion. First, I had to decide that I was worth living for. Only then could I attract the kind of love that proves to be a vessel for growth. And that’s when the work really began.
The love that my wife and I share is only possible because we allow ourselves and each other to be exactly who we are - no more, no less. When we disagree (sometimes) or push each other’s buttons (a lot), we are more often than not able to step back and say, “Ah, there it is again. I’m pissed because I want him/her to be different.”
By unconditionally accepting both my wife and myself day after day, year in and year out, Lilly reveals the eternal genius in surrender. Since we adopted her, the love and acceptance my wife and I have for ourselves and each other has expanded to keep pace with the big bang.
Lilly is our model for undying affection. However long we’ve been away from her, she greets us with the same tap dance and squiggly butt. No matter what kind of day each of us has had, Lilly glues her hip to ours and still chooses us to play fetch or tug. When we say, “No” to her pleas for more chicken, she may sulk, but she never holds a grudge.
As more anniversaries pass, Lilly will show us how to age with grace and - eventually - how to die with dignity. She will forever demonstrate the beauty of what is.
Her brain may be he size of a plum. But in the ways of love and how to live together, Lilly is the wisest between the three of us.