Cross and Caduceus

Over time, many of the cells in our bodies are replaced with new ones. Especially in youth, but throughout our lives, we are an ongoing restoration project, a copy of the original image of ourselves at the cellular level. Still, the “you” in the mirror is not exactly the “you” before, except in your essence – whatever we may believe that to be, whether mind or soul.

Edwin Leap

In the same way, our lives change when we love. But differently as well, for in deep, loving relationships, especially in marriage, parts of us are replaced. Parts of us are exchanged. We become intertwined until, at some point, it is often very difficult to know where one ends and another begins.

I realized this while I recently traveled. I replayed memories of my life, significant events, influential people – and it struck me with renewed clarity that virtually all of my adult life has been spent growing up with, and growing along with, my wife Jan. Her memories are mine, and my stories are hers. Our friends are shared, as are our enemies. My trials have been her trials. Her joys my delight. Our minds connect so closely that we, like many couples, complete sentences and always know the punch line. We ruminate on the same issues and frequently develop similar answers to questions and problems.

In relationships, humans merge, at least chemically. And they certainly merge and coalesce in the creation of children. But there is far more to deep love than platitudes, rings and the emotions of romance.

Last month was my wife’s birthday. Not just any birthday, but her 12th. Yes, you heard it, her 12th. For she was born on Feb. 29, Leap Day, and had the fortune (good or bad, ask her) to marry a man with the last name “Leap.” When her birthday rolls around, I become nostalgic about our years together as I celebrate her birth. Nostalgia for her life is nostalgia for mine.

I never cease to be amazed at how we were and how we are now. When I show our children the pictures we took in college, pictures of the children we were, we all smile. For our sons and daughter, it is funny, and surreal, to see their parents as young adults, laughing at dances, taking ski trips with no children in tow. But to me, those photos represent the first stitch, the cornerstone, the anchor. They represent our inception. From those times, we were, to change metaphors, woven together.

She runs through me, inextricable. Each place I have been with her is forever ours. Each thing I have experienced, infused with her presence, her wisdom, her touch. This is the thing that is easy to forget in modern life.

As marriage has become so “recyclable,” as connections are endlessly formed and broken, we worldly moderns forget that to do so has enormous gravity, unspeakable and often inexpressible consequences.

Many a person has left a spouse, and realized to their sorrow and dismay that life was somehow a shadow of its previous self. That everything from breakfast to overcast days, classic movies to the arrangement of the pillows at bedtime was not merely dull minutiae of daily life, but that each was a holy thing, holding the treasure of connection, of intimacy, of love and embedded deeply in the memories of the heart.

To cast off these connections, to deem them one more disposable part of “finding ourselves,” to give up too easily and walk away is tragedy of classic proportions. Equally terrible is to remain, present but absent, and fail to recognize the wonder of the people we love.

It is to kill the part of us made up of the other, to attempt to extricate ourselves from life-sustaining vessels and nerves. It is to unravel the fabric of life and find oneself threadbare.

Sometimes, when an elderly patient loses a long-treasured spouse, he or she soon follows. While we may say it’s depression and loss of hope, or that they “died of grief,” it’s perhaps more true that they died from being severed, cut in half, emptied of the part of themselves more beloved than their own life.

Feb. 29 comes every four years. Every four years, I get to tell jokes about my child-bride. But every year, every single year, I treasure her more intensely. Because we aren’t two. In the mathematics of love and marriage, we are much greater. We are one. As we should be.