To Gentle One’s Heart
I’m in Boston tonight, and have been away from home for a week. I’m missing some folks. From How Dante Can Save Your Life:
What did I see in Julie? I can’t guess what leaped in my heart the moment we met, and listing all the things that I adore about her — her love of books, cooking, and travel, her sense of humor, her kindness, her beauty — doesn’t quite tell the story. Until I read the Commedia, I could not articulate what made me fall in love with her, and what makes me fall ever more deeply in love with her every day.
For years I explained it by saying, “She was the first woman I met that I couldn’t see to the bottom of.” After seventeen years of marriage, I know many more things about her but, happily, have yet to solve the mystery.
And then came Dante and Beatrice, who taught me that my Julie was and is an icon of divine love. I had dated beautiful women, women who were bright, funny, and bookish. But I had never met a woman who was all those things and who also put her love of God above everything else. She insisted, rightly, that I do the same.
We stood at the altar of Our Lady of the Rosary church in New Orleans, making our vows to each other. The priest introduced a custom he had learned in Bosnia into our ceremony. He had Julie and me clasp our hands together over a crucifix, and as we held it and each other, the priest said that as long as we hold on to Jesus, we will find the strength to hold on to each other.
That crucifix hangs over our bed today. The priest’s promise is near the center of our life together. Because we both strive to love God above ourselves, we have found the strength to bear each other’s burdens (including at times the daunting weight of the other’s ego), to ask and to offer each other forgiveness, and to show care and compassion beyond what we think we can manage.
I freely confess that I have received far more of that care than I have ever given to my wife, never more than in the three years of my illness. I saw in Julie’s weary but patient face a window into the infinity of God’s love; in fact, I had seen it all along, though I did not understand what was in front of my eyes. I could not accept that the Father loved me, but I could believe that this girl from Texas did. Twenty years ago I prepared my heart for her, and then she, over the course of our marriage, prepared my heart for God. She held me up when my legs were too weak to stand and held our family together when my arms had no strength.
She was—she is—my Beatrice. It took the words and dreams of a medieval Tuscan poet to gentle my heart, and to open my eyes fully to the wonder of my wife and the unmerited grace of her love.