Ah, the joys of married life. Pure bliss, is it not? It's kind of like visualizing a crystal clear lake as a new day dawns, with nary a ripple on the mirror-like surface. Tranquility and unruffled calm abounds.
I'm standing on an imaginary dock extending out into the lake, and I have in my hand the perfect cup of coffee. On the very end of the pier, taking it all in, I feel for a moment as if I'm suspended over the very surface of the water itself. Life is good. All is at peace.
Suddenly a 20-pound boulder plunges into the water next to the pier. Startled, I lurch, spilling scalding hot coffee over my hand. Moments later, I'm drenched with a geyser of water from the vortex created by the entry of the boulder into the water.
And there I stand, soaked to the bone, hand ablaze, with not a drop of coffee left in the cup. Looking around for the culprit, but finding myself totally alone, I wonder where the rock came from that turned my perfect world upside down.
It's called marriage. Total bliss, and unexpected trauma, all rolled into one magical experience lasting a lifetime - or a minute. I guess it all depends on your commitment, your fortitude or maybe just the way the cards fall in the hand you've been dealt.
I don't know. In fact, I don't even pretend to know. I'm no expert on marriage and don't pretend to be a marriage counselor. Sometimes, in fact, I feel that the older I get, the dumber I get about the mystery called marriage.
In actuality, however, I do know a little. I know I'm the luckiest man alive, as my wife still loves me after putting up with me for some 34 years and 24 days, as this is written. Richard Milhous Nixon, a Quaker, was president of the United States when we tied the knot. Soon afterward, however, Nixon resigned.
Nixon lost his space in the White House and besmirched his legacy, but through it all first lady Pat Nixon stood by her man. For better or for worse, through thick and thin, their marriage stood the test of time.
Gerald Ford, an Episcopalian, became the first non-elected president before we celebrated our first anniversary. President Ford's wife, Betty, turned out to be an alcoholic, and spent time in a rehabilitation clinic.
Jerry Ford had been a standout athlete for the Michigan Wolverines, but interestingly, as his wife's dependency issues developed, the president suddenly became unable to keep a golf ball in the fairway. Spectators soon learned to scatter for cover when Ford addressed the ball.
Yep, marriage can surely wreck a man's golf game. Just ask Tiger Woods.
After President Ford's golf game deteriorated, he was succeeded in the White House by Jimmy Carter, a Southern Baptist. Carter downgraded the Navy to barely 200 ships, cancelled American participation in the Olympics and on one occasion while fishing was attacked by a wild rabbit. But Carter created one of his biggest stirs when he announced that he had committed adultery by lusting "in his heart" if not in actuality. Not long afterward, the number of divorces in America exceeded the number of marriages in one calendar year.
Just in the nick of time, however, along came President Ronald Reagan, a Presbyterian. Reagan was married to his second wife, Nancy, and their loving and solid relationship endured all the shots folks took at the president, both literally and verbally, as he brought about an invigorated economy and a revitalized military, oversaw the downfall of the USSR and won the Cold War.
The number of annual marriages in America surged and exceeded the number of annual divorces again during the Reagan years. Coincidence? I don't know.
Reagan's vice president, George H. W. Bush, an Episcopalian, was next to occupy the Oval Office. His wife, Barbara, turned out to possess both charm and an unexpectedly raucous sense of humor. Bush family vacation outings to Kennebunkport, Maine, provided informal opportunities for Americans to catch glimpses of their family during unguarded moments, and it was clear that the Bushs' had a strong marriage and a vibrant family life.
But just as things were going along famously, for reasons known only to the voting public, as we stood out there on that dock with our perfect cup of coffee looking at a serenely smooth and mirror-like surface of the lake, along came a 20-pound boulder to shatter the marital calm across the land.
President Bill Clinton, a Baptist, looked straight into the camera and said "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" in the face of overwhelming testimony to the contrary. It is interesting that Clinton's boyhood hero was President John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, whose extramarital flings in the White House were well known by journalists of the day, although the unspoken rules back then kept those exploits from the headlines.
Come to think of it, Kennedy, Carter and Clinton were all Democrats, too. Food for thought, perhaps; but alas, I digress.
Clinton's successor, President George W. Bush, a United Methodist, is completing his second term in the White House now. "W's" marriage to Laura has proven to be a source of strength for him through the terrorist attacks endured by our nation, and as his own family endured criticism when his daughters sowed some wild oats early in his first term of office.
Looking back over these 34 years and 24 days, it is kind of interesting to hypothesize that the examples set by the couples in the White House have unseen and intangible impacts on the state of marriages across our land. Whether or not the first couple seem to be truly in love with each other surely has to have at least a subliminal impact on folks.
I may be stretching there. But I think everyone will agree, for sure, that the last thing America needs is for the person in the Oval Office to be dodging marital boulders while making decisions which shape the future for America, and the world.
As for me, I consider myself fortunate, indeed. I'm married to the world's most perfect woman, a saint who works at keeping our lake surface mirror-smooth, and who every once in a while even grants me spousal permission to watch football, undisturbed, whilst enjoying an ice-cold beer in a frosted mug.
But lately, however, a few ripples of concern have appeared on our marital pond. I am hopeful that they will not turn into tsunami waves, and I wonder if these are conditions unique to my marriage or if others might identify with them.
We raised three children, each fortunate enough to have their own room with their own closets. As the children grew up and moved away, we found ourselves with an abundance of storage space. That's right, a virtual plethora of unused space.
But this morning I awakened to the realization that of those four closets, I am allotted exactly one-half of one. My slacks, shirts, shoes, suits, caps, belts, ties, and sweaters all have to fit in one 10-square-foot half of one closet. And, wouldn't you guess, that's the one in our room, the one we call "our" closet.
Meanwhile, my lovely wife has not only her half of "ours," but three other closets all to herself. And while I don't begrudge her that at all, what frosts my cookies is that she lets her shoes spill over into my puny half of "our" closet.
What's up with that?
And it gets worse. The closet space issue is not the only ripple on our lake. There's the matter of my own sacrosanct space which has always been called "my" desk. Are you hearing this? Mine. Not hers. Not ours. Mine.
But stuff gets piled up on my desk. I do not pile it there. There is no ghost piling it there. My wife's dog does not pile it there. Yet even now a pile of stuff obscures my desk from view.
What's up with that?
The final ripple on our pond concerns the computer work station area. Now, granted, both of us utilize the computer. But that's where I write my Sunday columns. I, therefore, have bits and pieces of paper, all vitally important and necessary to keep the Earth in precise orbit around the sun, strategically placed on the computer desk where I can easily find them. Yet, from time to time, my wife undertakes to throw all the papers away and to tidy up the computer work area.
What's up with that?
You know, it's not like I'm high maintenance. I don't ask for much. All I want is my meager half of "our" closet back, for "my" desk not to have stuff piled on it, and for the computer work station to be left alone. And I don't think that's too much for a grown man to ask, given that a man's home is his castle.
Well, that ought to just about do it for today's column, folks. I believe it's time to get myself a cup of coffee now and head on out to that imaginary pier, to revel in the calm of the tranquil bliss I've enjoyed for 34 years and 24 days.
But after writing this one I think it may be prudent to keep an eye out for that 20-pound boulder. After all, lake water is usually pretty cold in January.
Nat Harwell is a Newton County resident whose column appears Sundays in The Covington News.