The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky. . . . For the more we are, the richer everything we experience is. And those who want to have a deep love in their lives must collect and save for it, and gather honey.
— Rainer Maria Rilke, from Letters to a Young Poet
On New Year’s Eve I had the privilege of attending the wedding of two of my dearest friends in cold, lovely Georgetown, Ontario (bonus: I had set them up). I pulled double-duty as a groomsman and reader. The passage I read—shown above—surprised me when I first saw it. I had read Rilke’s famous book of advice when I was young, but I’m sure I arrogantly passed over some of the language about an “expanse” between us, and the “impossibility” of merging. I was twenty and in love and those words didn’t account for how I felt! But here was this wonderful couple on December 31st, 2013—in their late twenties, well-read, self-aware—who had chosen a passage focusing on the distance between them to be read at the very event that would bind them together.
I read the passage in the ceremony. And I’ve contemplated it many times since. I’ve been meditating on the facts that “even between the closest people infinite distances exist,” and that if people can accept such a truth, “ . . . then a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.”
2014 will mark, to my eternal gratefulness, my sixteenth wedding anniversary with the woman I love. I’ve begun to wonder how many of the problems Beth and I have lived through over the years can be traced to my failure to honor, much less love, the expanse between us. Instead, at my worst, I try to change her, to transform her into something much less that the fullness of who she is. That robs her—robs us both, really—of our “freedom and development.”
And that robbery is, frankly, nothing short of evil.
So I think back to New Year’s Eve when I celebrated two dear friends pledging vows. One of those vows was a profound determination to love the expanse between them. As I look toward spring, I’m thankful that this long winter will be over. I think of the increasing warmth of the sun, and the return of living, growing things. Yet I can see that true renaissance—rebirth—will only come into my life if I, too, vow to see Beth each day “as a whole and before an immense sky,” and to love the expanse between us.
Let us go forth and gather honey.