When to Carry

Editor's note

My husband and I celebrated our nineteenth wedding anniversary in March at a fancy, overpriced restaurant. We had each been in the middle of a months-long period of work projects and deadlines that had bled into our home lives and brought into our relationship short tempers and perfunctory communications that primarily involved logistics of transport, finances, and commerce. Our moods over dinner that evening were mild, which was better than flared. Our small talk was polite, which was better than snide. And though expensive, the food was okay.

These are the concessions I find myself making more and more in midlife: mild moods, polite talk, okay food.

Earlier that week, we’d had a bitter disagreement: my husband had made a passing remark about women that he meant as a joke but that I found insulting. I told him so and I told him why. I was unemotional, clear-eyed, and direct;  the offense was something I might have overlooked even months ago, before everything in the news seemed so serious, so potentially devastating to so many. We picked up the conversation a couple of hours later and it went badly: I was insistent and unsympathetic; he was defensive and irritated.

Then, later that week, we were talking with friends, and everyone expressed shock and doubt that there was neo-Nazi activity in our Southeast Portland neighborhood. Having been the target of racist comments over the years, I bristled but said nothing, both because I was exhausted with calling out every insult and insensitivity I encountered, and also because I didn’t want to add to the tension and discomfort that had been seeping steadily into our home that week.

Thankfully, anniversaries have a general design that includes looking back and reflecting on the figurative distance a couple has traveled together. Over dinner, we easily fell into reminiscing about our first years of dating, talking about the people we’d been then and also the people we’d known, many of whom we were no longer in regular contact with. We wondered aloud about when to leave the past alone and intact, and when to bring it forward into the present, no matter the hard work and discomfort that reconciliation would bring.

After dinner, he checked the score of the Oregon Ducks game: “They’re up by eleven.” One thing that has always bonded us, well before kids and marriage and grown-up jobs and midlife concessions, is basketball. We quickly threw aside movie plans and raced to find a bar where the game was on. 

As we watched the team advance to the Final Four, the air around us changed, became more generous. Sitting in that dark bar, cushioned by the comforting buzz of strangers around us, we talked about the difficult week we’d had. We listened closely to each other’s thoughts about the power of language to hurt and heal, the daily trauma of discrimination, the need for solidarity instead of sympathy. 

Who bears the responsibility of moving forward when things seem stuck, of pushing toward growth and understanding even when it would be easier to sidestep or let go? It falls to me, it falls to him, it falls to any of us on any given night. That particular night, I was grateful to be swept up in the generosity created by the win and the joyous crowd. It opened me to see the value of our shared past in Eugene when we were a small part of a great mass of people in Mac Court who believed our cheers and taunts, our collective energy and optimism, could change the outcome of a too-close-to-call game.

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