Marriage Vows for your Younger Self

It’s only natural to go through the passages of life and ask yourself what you would do differently now that you have the benefit of age and experience. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, author, mother of five, and wife of Charles Lindbergh (she was an aviator in her own right as well) took the occasion of her 20th wedding anniversary to review her wedding vows . What would her 40 year old self whisper over the shoulder of her 20 year old self as a young bride at the altar? Further, what thoughts could she put down for her five children when they came to marry?

Several of AML’s previously unpublished letters and diary entries have been compiled into a new book, Against Wind and Tide, in which she pens her “Marriage Vows Annotated after Twenty Years.” Although she still finds the vows beautiful and would probably say the same words today, she notes “And yet a strange aroma rises from those familiar phrases, like the pinched scent of dead rose leaves. What false and fairy-tale notions had I, and almost everyone of my generation, of marriage. How much we expected of it, and how little we knew of its real riches. We looked for roses where there were thorns and thorns where there were roses, and we could not see that the measure of marriage was neither in the thorns nor in the roses, but in the growth of the rosebush.”

While AML’s marriage harks to a previous generation, her observations are remarkably prescient for today’s 21st century experience. In rewriting her vows, it is interesting to note that she explicitly does not promise to always love. “I cannot make a promise against time, against growth, against life. It would be perjury. These are my marriage vows, and I will not lie to you.” This is from a woman who married in 1929 and wrote these words in 1949, before  women had much “say” in marriage at all.

Among many other declarations, AML goes on to comment: “I do not expect marriage to fill my essential loneliness, nor do I hope to fill yours, having learned that everyone is, in the last analysis, alone and believing this is not something to grieve about but to rejoice in. Rather, I promise to respect and protect your aloneness, knowing that everything created must have its period of darkness: child and bulb, poem and personality. I promise not to pry into your loneliness, never to tear at the bud with frightened fingers to make sure there is a flower inside. I believe in the flower.

This pledge of patience and trust seems to me the most courageous of all, and could apply to children as well. If we made parenting vows, wouldn’t this declaration – to never “tear at the bud with frightened fingers to make sure there is a flower inside” – be almost impossible? Isn’t our first instinct always to swoop in and fix things, or bake a cake or serve ice cream to cheer our loved ones back to our preferred state of normal?

So perhaps the ultimate advice for us from AML, whether whispering over a young bride’s shoulder or speaking to us from her letters today, is this: Believe in the flower.