Image via WikipediaWhen Mary Patricia and I were graduate students -and married-we went to a party given by another married couple and for married couples; although a few single students drifted in. And like in most college-students parties way after midnight (curled up on sofas, or forming a circle on the floor, legs crossed) we discussed the hot topics of the day.
Peter and Marcella -Peter a native of Iowa, and Marcella a beauty from Peru-had met while Peter was serving in the Peace Corps. Marcella had been an exchange student here in America and spoke English perfectly. Mary Patricia and I were fascinated with this couple, for while Peter was a plain man; or perhaps unhandsome may be a better adjective, Marcella was a striking beauty. Behind their backs our friends would refer to them jokingly as, "the beauty and the beast."
Inevitably, that night the trite question of the night came up: "Suppose your mom, your wife, and yourself are in a boat in middle of the ocean; and if the boat capsizes-who would you save?"
Entrapped by such a dull question that is designed to stoke disagreement, Peter got himself in trouble with Marcella, for he blurted out: "My mother of course!"
Muffled mutterings and harsh stares of disappointment filled the room.
Shaken but not stirred, Marcella shot back: "Have you forgotten your marriage bows, Peter?"
Ned Van Park, the resident Marxist at the university and a good friend of Peter's, came in Peter's defense: "You have to understand, Marcella," he said, "Peter's dad died when he was an infant, and he was raised by his mother."
The fire in Marcella's eyes flickered with disbelief and embarrassment. Had she married a man who'd leave her behind?
Other men chimed in agreeing with Ned. The influence of a mother, her continuous presence, her indelible image, and inviolable trust, fills a man's life. That intra-history isn't something that can be ignored just because a man marries a woman. While a husband has established a bond with his mother for many years, a wife comes into the life of a man and his mother and family-a later arrival so to speak. I'm paraphrasing, of course, but that is general tenor of the remarks in Peter's defense.
Women interjected other points, but for the sake of brevity, I want to bring up what Mary Patricia said that night. This is something that I gladly share, for it was a lesson that I have never forgotten and a lesson that has guided my thinking and attitude in my marriage.
Cool and collected, Mary Patricia, spoke slowly:
Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, 'This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman,' for she was taken out of man.' For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
No sooner had she finished quoting the passage from Genesis, than another current of muffled mutterings circled the room. This time it was the murmur of assent.
"Did you hear, Peter? Marcella asked her husband. "... a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh."
Not only did Peter apologize to Marcella but he openly hugged and kissed his wife, and turning to the audience of half-asleep students, he said: "From this day forward, my wife is and will always be my first love, my first duty, and my first obligation as long as I live."
With that out of the way Ned Van Park, took over, lecturing us about the bourgeoisie and the dictatorship of the proletariat.
When we got home, I told Mary Patricia that I really liked the way she had settled the argument with that quote. Turning, she asked me pointblank:
"Who would you save?"
My answer was straight forward and simple
"I only have you-'To have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part.'"