My wife Jennie and I have been married for more than thirty years. Certainly, we have had our share of turmoil, but for the most part we have had a good life together. When raising our children, we were quite active. I was a multi-sport coach or assistant coach while Jennie was both a Boy Scout and a Girl Scout Den mom. We were block captains, hosted neighborhood scavenger hunts and block parties and helped to create a sense of community in our small urban neighborhood. Our children have grown and are starting a life of their own and we even have one Granddaughter. For several years now, it has been just the two of us in this too big house with a yard, four flower gardens and two vegetable gardens. Somehow, after thirty years living on the same west side neighborhood in the same – often blue – house we have become the older couple on our street. Life does go on I suppose, but I’m forced to ask: when did that happen?
Jennie and I have never spoken of it, and perhaps after thirty plus years together maybe we don’t have to, but we are committed to each other until “death do us part.” We have weathered through those younger years of “richer and poorer and of sickness and health” and now, we quietly commit to each other for the rest of our lives.
This is what love means to me. It isn’t about the hearts and flowers on Valentine’s day. It is about the tender commitment that I will care for you, no matter what. That I will be there to love you and look after you through illness, or deteriorating abilities or forgetfulness or whatever else may come our way. And I know you will be there for me.
In that light, I want to share my all-time favorite Valentine’s Day poem which I have shared off and on with family and friends throughout the years. I want to caution you beforehand, this isn’t a gushy love poem. Rather, it is a poem of love in the face of the sometimes-harsh realities of the world and what a couple will say or do for each other out of a life-time commitment of love.
By Eavan Boland
In the worst hour of the worst season
of the worst year of a whole people
a man set out from the workhouse with his wife.
He was walking — they were both walking — north.
She was sick with famine fever and could not keep up.
He lifted her and put her on his back.
He walked like that west and west and north.
Until at nightfall under freezing stars they arrived.
In the morning they were both found dead.
Of cold. Of hunger. Of the toxins of a whole history.
But her feet were held against his breastbone.
The last heat of his flesh was his last gift to her.
Let no love poem ever come to this threshold.
There is no place here for the inexact
praise of the easy graces and sensuality of the body.
There is only time for this merciless inventory:
Their death together in the winter of 1847.
Also what they suffered. How they lived.
And what there is between a man and woman.
And in which darkness it can best be proved.
Michael Soika has been a community activist for more than 30 years working on issues of social and economic justice. His work for justice is anchored by his spiritual formation first as a Catholic and now as a Quaker.