Patience and Fortitude

Today is the first anniversary of my wedding day. Jeff and I celebrated with a quick walk around the environs of the New York Public Library building at Bryant Park, where, three years ago, he proposed to me, and a quiet dinner out in the West Village.

Patience flanks the south side of the NY Public Library front steps. (NYPL.org)

Standing just behind the marble lion on the south side of the front steps, Jeff distracted my attention toward some pigeons or something, and when I turned back, there was a small, gray box sitting in front of me on the low wall surrounding the terrace. What else could it be but a ring? Its sudden appearance was still a total surprise. And the first thing I thought was “Why didn’t I propose to him first?” And then “How long has he been planning this?” I snapped open the lid and looked at the simple white gold band, and I hardly knew how to look at him anymore.

“Will you marry me?” he asked. And wishing I could say something more heroic, I took a deep breath and said “Yes.”

After slipping the ring on and holding Jeff for a good long time and looking back and forth several times between his tearful eyes and the shining ring, we walked away together to explore the city.

Incidentally, as we turned to go, we saw we were in front of a Starbucks and were sort of amused and horrified at once. Had he just provosed to me in front of the Starbucks? Technically, yes. And looking in three directions and seeing three more Starbucks, we realized there was little chance in Midtown Manhattan of not proposing in front of one.

This was two years before we moved to New York. September. Jeff thought the library was simply a good bookish place to propose to a former English major. And I loved him for making that choice.

When I later learned that the two lions in front of the library building are named Patience and Fortitude, the appropriateness of that location was even more clear, whether Jeff intended it or not. After love, what are the most essential ingredients of a relationship? Patience and fortitude: a willingness to deal with not only your own problems, but also the challenges someone else brings to your life; and the strength to do it again and again.

And again.

Jeff and I got into a stupid fight the night before our anniversary. We were drunk, and I was being stupid. It was not the way either of us wanted to start our second year of marriage, but there it was — poorly timed, but when is a good time for an argument. I slept in the second bedroom and woke up clear headed enough to remember almost everything from the night before.

We’ve had some spectacular fights in the last eight years. Nothing physical. We don’t duke it out. We just suddenly snap and bark at each other like young dogs. Once I slammed the bedroom door so hard it I broke the door jamb. Once Jeff threw a brick of sharp cheddar on the floor. Broken plates. Overturned ashtrays. Nothing that can’t be swept away.

And we still enjoyed our pilgrimmage to the library today, albeit after sleeping in until mid-afternoon and sheepishly tip-toeing around the apartment. We visited our little sacred spot behind Patience and kissed and held on to each other like our lives depend on it — because they do. We still had our dinner out at his favorite place, Good (which was not-so-good tonight, as it happens). We got dessert at a café with a few friends and had an early night in watching a movie and teasing our cat.

Because we can.

With patience and fortitude all this marvelous mundanity can be ours.

The Starbucks is no longer on that terrace in front of the library. The lions aren’t so easily moved. Those marble guardians stand against time and the elements. And in a way, so do we. We stand against a legal system that is only reluctantly starting to accept us but still doesn’t recognize my marriage, a population that pendulates between misunderstanding and ignoring us, and patterns of self-destructive behavior that threaten to divide us from our friends and family and each other. Witness last night: We can clearly stand against each other. But even in doing this, we do not stand apart. In the end, we always settle in to a soft, close, quiet place and sigh and take a moment to look around at the leather-bound volumes of our years together and find a sense of pride and accomplishment and relief. We remember how important it is to stand together, guarding this little relationship of ours.

P.S. We’re now looking for statues named after “wisdom,” “beauty,” and “financial responsibility.” If you have any leads, let me know.


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