One of the advantages of living in San Diego, aside from the fantastic weather, is that we have two theaters that stage Broadway-bound shows, both to test how they fare with audiences and to get out the kinks before hitting the Great White Way. In the last few years I've seen several of these big productions, some winners (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) and others not (The Full Monty).
A few years ago, my husband, Rich, and I zipped over to the Old Globe Theatre to take in A Catered Affair. We agreed the musical had its plusses and minuses, but one of the standouts was Tom Wopat (yes, that guy from the Dukes of Hazzard) singing a lump-in-the-throat-inducing number, "I Stayed."
To understand the impact of this song, you have to know that Wopat plays a 1950s middle-aged husband whose wife, among other issues, is accusing Wopat's character of having never really loved her. They married because she was pregnant, so she always suspected he rather would have been anywhere but with her. Now that their daughter is marrying and moving out of their home, she frets over what kind of life she will have with this man who only tolerates her.
In response to her anxiety, Wopat angrily belts out, "I stayed." The song goes on to explain how perhaps she wasn't his first choice, but he is confident he did the right thing by marrying her. And most importantly—he stayed. In other words, his loyalty to her, he felt, was his way of showing he loved her. It might not have been a storybook romance, but theirs was a solid, faithful marriage that produced two children and, one would assume, a lot of family memories.
Needless to say, Wopat's powerful song produced many tears in the audience (even from Faith Prince, who plays his wife). I think that is because most of us know the value of "staying." Regardless of how a marriage comes about—from love at first sight to a shotgun ceremony—it's more than anything a decision to say, "No matter what happens, I'm sticking with you—I'll stay." And to say it over and over again.
I'm reminded of this commitment's influence every week when I read in our Sunday newspaper the feature on a local couple celebrating a notable anniversary. Somewhere in the piece the couple is asked some form of, "How on earth did you stay married for 50 (or more) years?" Without fail, the couple responds in the fashion of, "We stuck out the bad times and celebrated the good ones." In other words, they stayed.
When Rich and I married, we agreed it was for life. Regardless of what the church teaches, we all know Christians get divorced at the same rate as the rest of the American population. We knew we couldn't go into a marriage with that as a looming option. So we looked each other in the eye weeks before our wedding and made a pact that we would work out whatever problems came our way. There would be no "growing apart," no "irreconcilable differences," no "dissolution." While we agreed to the same things in our marriage vows a few months later, I'll never forget the muscle of our plain language that day when we said, in essence, "Whatever happens, we will stay."
Lest you think this understanding moves us beyond the occasional squabble, may I point out that he is Irish and I am Scottish? Yes, we fight. We accuse. We toss a few barbs. I slam doors and he raises his voice. Sometimes we go a whole day without talking.
But it's all for naught. Even when we're at the height of an argument, eyes narrowed and faces flushed, deep down we know it all will end peacefully. There won't be any moving out or filing papers. Within hours, or sometimes minutes, there are tears and hugs and "sorrys" and weak smiles. Later, it's almost as if the disagreement never happened. Life goes on.
Someday when our fiftieth anniversary approaches, I hope the newspaper (if such a thing still exists!) interviews us. When the reporter asks the requisite "How did you do it?" I'll reach my wrinkled hand over to clasp Rich's and say, "Because—we stayed."
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