This open letter to you, Kelly, is a deliberately non-Hallmark message.
Why this blog post and not a traditional card, you ask?
Well, first off: It's the 21st century. What benefit do we really derive from buying pre-packaged cards and then letting them collect in piles around our house, a house already stuffed with too many paper memories that mark the beginning of our eventual and inevitable descent into hoarding?
With this, my dear, you may save the URL, click when you like and enjoy the perpetual pleasures of this, your personal cloud-storage Valentine.
Without further ado, I want to start with this core principle...
We are not the same people we were, but we love each other madly: When we married, at 24, young for our generation, I wore my hair below my shoulders, listened exclusively to the space jazz of Sun Ra (for a three-year stretch), and delighted in my newfound vegetarianism. My favorite color was green -- no one favored green more than I did -- and my idea of Valentine's Day decorum was to buy a paper card and write something on it.
Now, I eat meat again, with gusto, listen to Sun Ra no more frequently than anything else (considerably less, at the moment, in fact), and have switched to favoring blue for reasons still partially unfathomable to me. My skin cells have shed so many times that I must assuredly no longer be the same person, at least on the outside. Just as you can't visit the same river twice, well, I'm no longer the same. If there is something essential about me, it's that almost everything about me has the potential to differ from earlier versions of the person I thought I might have been.
If you've ever thought about being married to another man, I have news for you: You are, always and again.
This is true, in part, because of our two children: Athena (6) and Kallista (5). When we were given Athena's photo from her Chinese orphanage in the same week that you discovered your pregnancy -- that eventful time in late 2006 -- we crossed the Rubicon. Not only would we start a family, but we would also double down; this was completely wonderful and completely terrifying, and also completely different than in every way from the lives we had been living until that moment.
Yes, of course (says every parent in America), having children changes you in a ways that are so unpredictable as to be surreal. We may have made a promise to one another vocalized on our wedding day, yet that promise is based, at least in theory, on mutually chosen interdependence. The children didn't choose us, though, they simply arrived through the shot of a cosmic pinball flipper, and they also weren't capable of any independence at first.
We may have chosen each other and then wanted a family, yet they need us for their survival.
And so we pulled together in ways we had never imagined: laughing through our suddenly-complete-acceptance of the constant presence of baby bodily fluids, of crumbs all over our furniture as if our couches were encrusted with edible diamonds, of stickers placed so deftly on the hardwood floors of our first and so-far only house as to have bonded in molecular fashion to the scratched surface.
We barely see each other some days amid the craze of our schedules, and we often run at opposite trajectories. You stay active until late (you might rearrange an entire room) whereas I collapse into sleep in the first moments I stop moving at the end of the day. In the early morning, I rise quickly (maybe I'll grill something at 6 a.m. and take in the occasional sunrise at Lake Michigan) while you rise more slowly.
I've learned that it's not how closely you track with your partner that matters, but how well you navigate the differences. We may not always have the time that we want or need, but we never pass each other without the intensity of our bond pushing up through the layers of the day.
In these moments we may smile, kiss, huddle together to convey the essential information of schedules, duties and dinner rosters, or simply move together in the same space at the same time.
We may be silent. We may speak.
It doesn't matter; we are in twin orbit around each other, two stars burning slowly and steadily, yet reflecting each other's light as we exhaust ourselves. We are never the same when we meet, whether for a moment or for hours, yet I can feel in these changes the gratifying sense that we are still committed to changing together.
To say that you can't change your partner is pure folly; quite the opposite. You can't stop the people you love from changing.
Therefore this card -- not a card, and not foldable -- is merely a different way of saying what I must always find new ways to say: Let's continue toward the unknown with each other, my love; let's explore together because we have no other choice; let us renew our love, continually, a different love always, and yet the same only in its difference.
For if our bodies are rivers, always flowing, I can't imagine not flowing together.