News arrived yesterday that Al & Tipper Gore are separating after 44 years of marriage. A friend’s pithy statement was, “Who would have wagered Bill & Hillary over Al & Tipper?” It made we consider both of these couples and what makes a successful marriage. The Gores vocalize for the media their internal dialogue. Who knows if this is the true and real reason for the ending of their marriage, but it sounds reasonable. But was their marriage a failure? Their marriage is ending and in that strict definition, most would say “FAIL”. But, they have children that all seem happy and successful in life. And it sounds as if they have genuine regard and respect for one another. I suspect the same could be said about the Clintons. While Bill may be a randy rogue and skirt chaser, I must think that his charisma and intellect overcompensate, even for Hillary. And a truly intelligent man adores a partner that can keep pace. Hillary certainly gives him that. And despite all their dirty laundry, aired for the CNN ticker, they remain together. Would we label their marriage successful? If they stick it out and get their 50 year ticket punched, but have contempt for one another, what is the point?
All living things have a life cycle. A marriage, even a family, has a life span. There is no perpetuity guaranteed by consummation. Some marriages, like a human body in cardiac arrest can be resusciatated, shocked back online. From the brink of death, restored. But that heart still has damage. It is not miraculously renewed like the Risen Lord. Is it the cardiac arrest that finally kills or the years of neglect and abuse with alcohol, smoking, sloth, gluttonly, uncontrolled hypertension or diabetes? The insidious damage caused by years of neglect and wanton disregard are less visible, even easily hidden. But the heart attack is undeniable and garners great sympathy. Poor guy, can you believe he had a heart attack? Why, yes! Yes, I can. He smoked 2 packs of cigarettes a day since age 13. He drank a six pack of beer every day. He never exercised. Every other man in his family had bypass surgery and he never took his medicine. And now….when he is hooked up to life support we shower concern and empathy? Is it not his own fault?
It is pitiable but also predictable.
Marriages and families are no different. Sometimes the damage is too far gone, too woven into the fabric of the organism to be survivable. Like a gangrenous limb or a cancerous tumor, amputation and excision can save most of the rest of the organism. Do nothing and everything dies.
There is a certain bravery and courage to what Al & Tipper are doing. We can judge them as failing or giving up. But, we have not inhabited the body of their marriage. I shall pray they each of them find their true path.