He is one of the cleverest young people I know. A scientist, he also has a parallel artistic career, a broad culture, and is very well-read and informed. In a nutshell, one cannot define him as naïve or ingenuous.
Recently I was with him and his wife, both in their thirties. We were celebrating an important professional success of the husband, who had achieved a long-hoped-for goal with the help of his team; so, it was a moment of happiness, satisfaction, with the added bonus of not being a private joy, but one which was shared with the team members and family. One could say he was in very high spirits.
All of a sudden, he stopped, became very serious and spoke slowly, deliberately, intently. He said: “The difference between conjugal happiness and all other kinds of happiness” (including, it was clear, the one we were celebrating) “is that you aren’t afraid that conjugal happiness will end one day.”
It took my breath away. It sounded so innocent, so simple. And yet so distant from “reality”. I’m not married, and I strongly believe in the indissolubility of marriage; nevertheless, when I think of marriage, and perhaps hope to find the “right person” one day, I have not that same simple, strong and incredibly innocent faith in marriage.
We have both grown up in the no-fault divorce culture. It makes marriage inherently unstable. Even when one says with full conviction “till death do us part”, the lingering thought is that there is plan B, that separation and divorce are an option.
And we all know the frailty of human flesh; the fact that sometimes people turn out to be different from what we expected them to be; that there can be betrayals, failures, infidelities.
And people die. You cannot bank on your spouse to survive you and to be at your side forever. And perhaps it will be always too early, even if they die in their nineties or later.
This is just common sense, not high philosophy. And my interlocutor seemed unaware of all this. He did bank on the eternity of their love. Of course he knew that people die, yet he wasn’t afraid that his conjugal happiness could have an end.
I must admit that his words touched me very deeply and made me think profoundly. So many people do not choose matrimony and content themselves with short-term happinesses, which are inherently poisoned by the certainty of their ending. Others do get married, but with that tiny door open in the background with the sign “emergency exit” on it. Still others expect no more of their marriages than a tolerable state of non-warfare, once the sparks of love inexorably fade and are still.
This young man was certain, almost childishly certain, and yet strong and reliable as only adult people can be, that their happiness would be forever. Not because their marriage would be singularly blessed and without any difficulties, either external or internal. Not because he and his wife are immortal, a thing I strongly doubt. But because true love, built on fidelity, and true fidelity, born of love, are eternal. And though death may indeed part us, even the end of bodily life may not be the end of love, or of happiness.
To some this will sound crazy, but it is the true vocation of human beings, who aren’t made for short-term satisfaction or tiny dreams. They are made for infinite happiness, for infinite love, for hopes so high and unbelievable that their minds can’t quite follow them, but their hearts do.
Dr Chiara Bertoglio is a musician and theologian moonlighting as a journalist. She writes from Italy. Visit her website.