This is a falling out of love story. It happens slowly, incrementally. It happens so slowly you barely notice it.
It happened to me after 28 years of marriage to the boy next door.
And maybe it has happened to you.
His name was William. He was witty and smart and wrote poetry. We would sit on our front lawns talking long after the sun went down. I asked him out first — to the Queen of Hearts dance at my all girls high school. But our first date was to the movies to see Easy Rider. It was 1970.
We were very hippy-dippy, very crunchy granola. William and I both had long hair down to our shoulders. We both wore “granny glasses” with wire frames. We both bought our jeans and flannel shirts at Sunny Surplus.
We spent our Saturdays at beatnik bookstores and cruising curiosity shops. We’d go to foreign films at the Biograph Theater and drink pitchers of beer at the Tombs — a bar so loud you could barely hear yourself speak.
Just a year older than me, William was my best friend not just my boyfriend. And being just a year younger, I skipped my senior year at Immaculata so that we could matriculate together at Catholic U (For more than one reason, you may already know, if you have read: Scarlet Letter, No More.)
William and I got married in a little civil service at the courthouse. We set up household in a tiny little efficiency on Connecticut Avenue. We even worked together at bilingual daycare center in Adams-Morgan.
It seemed we were meant to be.
I was happily, happily hyphenated for 28 years as Joani Peacock-Clark. Together we juggled jobs, school, three children, friends, family, vacations, church, and just about anything else that you can think of. We juggled things beautifully for a very long time.
William was a stay at home dad and a fabulous cook, and he did all the grocery shopping. I was the career mom who was very good at doing the dishes. And when it came to parenting Zach, Colleen, and Jacob, we were very simpatico — at least on the things that mattered most.
But the last two years of our marriage were bloody awful, god awful. All the things that we had been juggling came crashing down on our heads. And just like Humpty Dumpty, we couldn’t quite put our marriage back together again.
“I love you.” became just something we said but no longer did. Some might consider my marriage a failure. I certainly felt like a failure for a very long time. But it was death that we were dealing with. Our marriage had died.
Marriages die. Relationships die. Some by neglect and some by design. Some by both.
In 2003, I signed the divorce papers. And this Peacock, after 28 years, uncoupled herself from the Clark.
Uncoupling is a railroad term. Circa 1985, Potomac Yards in Alexandria was the largest railroad switching yard in the country. Struggling to fall asleep in our Delray Bungalow at 212 E. Windsor, we could hear the train cars crashing in the middle of the night. We’d hear the cars coming together and being pulled apart. It sounded like bombs going off. It sounded of wrenching, tearing, coupling, thrashing, and crashing. Passionate hearts breaking in the middle of the night.
Now I have only been married once but I have been divorced many times.
And maybe you have too.
I uncoupled from William in 2003.
I uncoupled from a crazy colleague in 2005.
I have uncoupled from two not so healthy congregations.
I have uncoupled from a dark and dysfunctional friend.
I have uncoupled from a therapist who thought she knew me better than I know myself.
And I am happier for it, healthier for it, and stronger for it.
Maybe you’ve been “divorced” more than once too.
So how does this jive with Jesus?
Please, allow me to explain away, or at least put in context this passage from Mark because it is really harsh on 21st century ears.
Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female…So they are longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
Jesus celebrated marriage we know. Along with the other guests, Jesus partied for three days at the wedding at Cana. And when the wine was running out he famously turned water into wine. (I imagine he got a whole lot of other invites thereafter.)
First century marriage, enjoined not just partners but families. In the first century, women were essentially property. Marriage was a civil contract that handed over the father’s daughter to her husband. Women had no rights, as we would define them. They owned no property of their own. Their word would not be accepted in court. Their status came from being wife, mother, sister, daughter. As part of a family. As part of a tribe.
And they could be cast out with a divorce decree sworn out by their spouse. Cast out without protection for themselves or their children. No recourse, of any kind.
She had no power to divorce him, however. And if the wife remarried, she was labeled the adulterer not him.
But Jesus raises the bar.
We know from reading scripture that Jesus befriended women in such a way the Pharisees found scandalous. Women were prominent among his disciples. Some even bankrolled his ministry: Mary of Magdala being the foremost of these.
Remember the woman with the alabaster jar who washed Jesus’ feet? Remember Jesus railing at the rabble rousers to drop the rocks they were about to hurl at a harlot?
Prostitutes became his friends.
In Mark, Jesus puts husband and wife, man and woman on more of an equal footing. No, you can’t discard her. Faithfulness is a two way street. And women and children and family were to be protected.
Jesus never got married himself. But he advocated for a radical understanding of marriage – foreign in his time.
What God has joined together, let no one put asunder.
But God can separate, whoever has been joined in his name,
God can call us into marriage and God can call us out. When relationships become toxic, dysfunctional, beyond repair, our resurrected God calls us back to life. The Episcopal Church celebrates marriage (marriage for ALL) but, also allows divorce. While divorce is often tragic and never easy it can be the best decision. A life affirming decision.
A decision I made and maybe you have too.
Uncoupled, I am on on my own but not alone. And I am not at all lonely.
Uncoupled, I am free to fall in love again and to be loved again. I am open to love wherever I may find it. Professional, personal, playful, passionate or platonic.
I am not looking to get married again. (You could not pay me enough money to get married again!) I am looking for someone who might like to try and keep up with me. Someone who drinks deeply from the well of life. Someone with a sense of adventure. Someone who reads. Someone who laughs. A partner in crime.
(And if you know anyone who fits this description, please, see me after the service.)
Should this someone come along, that would be lovely.
I’m game. I am open.
Sometimes you have to fall out of love, I believe, to find it again.
Thanks be to God.