As I was working on my paper I started to think out-loud about what I was writing about. I told Jon the story of Psyche and Eros; about how, because Psyche is the most beautiful girl in the whole world, Aphrodite becomes jealous of her and decides that she is going to be married to Death, a horrible creature who lives on top of the mountain. Psyche's family has a huge funeral procession for her and leaves her chained at the top of the mountain. Then Aphrodite's son Eros, the God of love, is suppose to go and kill her, but instead pricks his finger on one of his arrows and falls in love with her. He marries her and takes her to his palace to live, but he only comes to her after dark and makes her promise never to look at his face. Eventually Psyche, spurred on by the curiosity of her sisters, sneaks into Eros' room and holds a lamp to his face. When she sees that her husband is a God she is so surprised that she spills oil on to him and burns him. When he wakes up he is enraged that she has broken her promise to him and leaves her. The rest of Psyche's story is spent following her as she performs the impossible tasks that Aphrodite sets before her in order to win back Eros. Eventually, against all odds, she completes them and is reunited with her love. Not only that, but she is welcomed into the God's realm as a Goddess.
After telling Jon the story, which he enjoyed, I began explaining that the argument that Johnson makes in his book is that the story of Psyche is the archetypal story for women's spiritual growth. That all women, in order to develop their Goddess nature must have their moment of darkness on the mountain and must face the death of their maidenhood. As Johnson wrote in his book,
"In truth the maiden does die on her wedding day; an era of her life is over and she dies to many of the feminine elements she has lived thus far. Her wedding is her funeral in a sense." ("She", 12)I told him how in my Women's Literature class we discussed how a modern wedding ceremony has resemblances to a funeral. I said, " Just think about it... the bride is dressed in white, like a ghost. The husband and other men wear black, like a sign of mourning. The bride even carries flowers and has flowers around her as decorations, reminiscent of funeral flowers. And traditionally a woman was veiled during her marriage which was a symbol of burial. It is like on her wedding day a bride has to allow the woman she once was-- her maiden self-- to be killed."
I was jabbering on about all of this to Jon as he studied his anatomy text, unaware that underneath he was beginning to fume. Oblivious I went on...
" But, even though the bride is veiled, at the end of the ceremony the husband lifts her veil which is a symbol of re-birth and new life. Her maidenhood has just died and now she is being re-born. She is now on her way to discovering her true power and the true depth of her womanhood. Here let me read you this quote from Robert Johnson:
"All husbands are death to their wives in that they destroy them as maidens and force them into an evolution toward mature womanhood... A man rarely understands that marriage is death and resurrection both for a woman." ('She", 16-17)It was at this point that Jon couldn't hold it back any longer. He silently gave me a sharp, angry look and then with furry in his pen drew a HUGE skull and cross bones right in the middle of his anatomy book. At the bottom of the page, right through the middle of the page on the anatomy of the ear, he scrolled the words MARRIAGE.... IS.... DEATH in black marker and then threw the book angrily in my lap.
"Well, if that is how you feel about getting married to me, you don't have to! "
Needless to say, I was shocked at his reaction and promptly broke into tears. Once we both calmed down we ended up having a really good talk about marriage and the sacrifice that it was going to require from both of us. We talked about how parts of us were going to have to die and be re-born in order for our marriage to work. Our selfishness, our pride, our greed, or anger, our defenses, and our fear were going to have die in order for love, compassion, joy, selflessness, peace, and unity to be born. Like Psyche and Eros we were going to have to struggle through trials and at times allow our weakness to be un-masked, and admit that we were not perfect. We decided that that growth and unity was something -- no matter how hard it was going to be-- that both of us were willing to work for.
It has been nine years since that night on my couch and last week Jon and I celebrated our eighth year of marriage.
It has been an incredible journey.
As I look back at how much both of us have grown I see that in many ways our marriage does feel like a death. Many of the things we brought with us, those selfish and narrow minded parts of us, have died. Yet, I can see that our marriage has also been a birth. A birth of not only 4 new lives, but a birth of some of the most beautiful parts of ourselves-- of kindness, self-sacrifice, patience, long suffering, charity, and unity. And seeing those attributes grow and bloom makes every trial and every struggle we've gone through together SO worth it.
This year I was so overwhelmed with gratitude that I have this wonderful man in my life. I know him better than I know anyone else in the world. He is as much a part of me as my eyes or my ears are, and there are times I think that if he was ever gone... I would die.
Yet, then I have moments when I look in his eyes and I see depth that scares me. I look at him and realize I have no idea who he is. Like Psyche holding her lamp, I realize that I have married a God--an imperfect man no doubt-- but a man whose true self is so much greater than I can even comprehend. It makes me deliriously happy to think that I have eternity to figure him out.
This year, as we were talking about how far we have come together, Jon reminded me of that night on my apartment couch.
So, just in case you ever open up an anatomy book and see a skull and cross bones across the center fold, just know that even though marriage is death--- that isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Because out of that death, comes beautiful-- BEAUTIFUL-- life.