This Is a Love Story Between a Buddhist and a Christian.
The Buddha encouraged marriages between people of different religious faiths, because they’re better learning experiences than, say, Buddhists marrying Buddhists, or Christians marrying Christians.
I’m a Buddhist who’s been married to a Christian woman since 1972. We’ve been asked many times how our relationship weathers the inevitable conflict implied in such a union, but we shrug and tell them that in 44 years, we’ve never argued about anything, much less religion.
And here’s the thing: our ethical standards are identical. The honeymoon was over along with the American Bicentennial, but we are loyal to our ethics, and therefore, to each other as well.
First and foremost, those ethics are based on our shared belief that compassion is not just something, it is everything.
She is about to retire from a 45-year career as a direct care registered nurse, 25 of them as the third-shift charge nurse on a neonatal intensive care unit. In a 20-year career as a case manager, I have helped refugees, the mentally ill, developmentally disabled, veterans, homeless people, and ex-cons establish their presence in the community, taking a break every once in a while to teach English to children in war zones.
My wife and I love each other, but it is our shared love for humanity that is the big love story in our lives.
Ethics is the big overlap zone in the Venn diagram of our marriage. Although we are altruists, we work in non-overlapping professional zones, and we are a part of non-overlapping worship communities. This separation of church and sangha, so to speak, insures that we live separate lives through which we can pursue our spiritual passions and professional talents, and we have separate circles of friends.
She likes Hallmark Channel movies. I’m more of a Jackie Chan man. We are complementary: she makes big money at the hospital, whereas my grant-hopping career in human services needed perpetual bankrolling, as I could have done better monetarily flipping burgers.
But our priorities have always been about the welfare of others, even, or perhaps especially, each other. Once we had co-workers whose children were raising money for school activities by selling pre-formed frozen cookie dough, and each of us bought a box. These kids must have been in the same class or something, because we revealed our surprise purchases to each other on the same day.
I’d bought chocolate chip cookies, because they were her favorite, and she bought oatmeal raisin because they’re mine.
And when we want to live on the wild side, there’s always snickerdoodles.
Our kids turned out great. She stayed home with the first one until he was three, and I stayed home with the second one. They were never punished, so consequentially, they were nicely behaved. They gave us three granddaughters.
We are young. We are only in our mid-sixties, and being from the mid-sixties, we lived the 60’s ideals of peace and love our whole lives long. We’ve paid our dues as humanists. When my wife retires in November, she will, like Odysseus and his oar, walk off in her Hello Kitty scrub uniform and take it off where people don’t know what a Hello Kitty scrub uniform is.
Her intention for the rest of her life is to sew. Mine, now that I am not moving clients’ belongings in trash bags in the back of a pickup truck every week, is to write.
Because of our oddball working schedules, social lives, military service, and my extensive overseas travels, we’ve probably seen less of each other over the last half-century than most married couples. My wife said to me the other day, a little uneasily, “I don’t think we’ll get on each other’s nerves when we’re around each other more after I retire.”
“Of course we won’t,” I assured her, “we’re best friends.”
“Oh, not that,” she observed, “I never go upstairs, and you never come down.”
This article was originally published on The Tattooed Buddha.
Gerry Stribling is the author of Buddhism for Dudes: A Jarhead’s Field Guide to Mindfulness (Wisdom, 2015). He is a regular columnist on The Tattooed Buddha.