It seems that summer is the season of weddings. We have four new SAMS couples celebrating their upcoming nuptials over the next few months. Four different stories of laughter, learning, loss, and, of course, love. Often the most difficult part of my job is trying to answer those pressing questions facing the newly engaged: how to ensure a happy marriage, how to keep love alive, how to change together without forcing change on each other.
It’s not easy! (Duh!) Anyone who says otherwise is probably lying. After all, our tradition claims that matching up couples is harder for God to do than splitting the sea. Yet it also teaches that when a soul enters the world, it is rent in half and each half is then placed within one human. God has to engineer the reconstruction of that broken vessel- bringing two people together again who, unbeknownst to them, perhaps share two halves of that pre-mortal soul. This task, then, is far more complicated than simply splitting the sea; tearing something apart is always easier than putting something sundered back together.
Perhaps this metaphor can help us all better understand the reality of marriage, even if we’re not sold on the concept of soulmates. If marriage is a new construction, we’d expect it to be flawless. But it isn’t that. It is something that has existed before- as two pieces of a single torn soul or even as a relationship that is now shifting and changing to accommodate the new realities of being together.
If we pretend that change and brokenness are not a part of every marriage, we’re setting ourselves up for failure. We have to be realistic that a marriage is the joining of two separate bodies, minds, and histories in union, not in unity. No matter the strength of our feeling, we can never truly know another person’s mind and pretending as if we can will only lead to disaster. What then, do we do?
Perhaps we can embrace the beauty of reality- the beauty of broken things and the way we try to fit them back together. In the Japanese discipline of kintsugi, in which broken ceramics are knit back together with gold-lacquer; the point is not to hide the cracks, but rather, to highlight them.
Marriage is a constantly shifting thing that demands careful inspection and repair along every possible faultline, with the hope of making ourselves better by examining our failings and being willing to put ourselves and our partners back together, piece by piece, when we’re broken. Even if we accept the Jewish image of God restoring rent soul-halves, we can’t eliminate the important individualities of those halves, even as we celebrate the beauty of their reconstruction.
To my four couples getting married over the next months and to all of us wondering how best to be a partner to another human being, I wish I had the answers. I don’t. No one does. But perhaps the premise of kintsugi pottery- that something is all the more beautiful for having fallen apart and been painstakingly repaired- can help us all on our paths towards a life of love and happiness.