I Love Your Body

On a warm Spring day, you laid a blanket on the grass and met me with a picnic basket on my lunch break. There, in front of our first house, you told me that we were expecting our first child. When summer had faded into Fall and and Fall had frozen over into winter, I joined the fraternity of fathers. We took our firstborn home in January. I had driven through blizzards in perfect equanimity, but now the bundled up product of our love in the backseat had transformed every potential patch of ice to a mortal peril in my mind and the twenty minutes home were the capstone on a mentally exhausting weekend. Our world of two had expanded, and I was learning to catch up.

Her birth happened so fast the doctor barely had time to get into the delivery room. I remember the intensity of the moment: thinking that I was going to have to deliver my baby if the doctor didn’t hurry up, looking down when it was over to see you looking up at me and saying, “I could do that again”. In short, you owned that delivery. I say all of that to make the point that as traumatic as that was on your body, it happened too quickly to notice. Fast forward a few months to Friday evening, May 9th. Some strange and intensifying pains had plagued you for a couple days. It was after 11PM, and I just knew your appendix was going to explode. We left our sleeping child in a crib and passed the emergency babysitting crew (aka Nana and Papa) at the end of the block. The ER was packed. Of course it was packed. They shoved us in a room somewhere in the back for seven hours.

A nurse thought a kidney stone. Apparently I don’t know where the appendix is located in the human body, so that was out. The ER doctor came in to tell us, “This is over my head.” What?!? “Then why are you an ER doctor?” I screamed in my mind. Medication wasn’t diminishing the pain, and after pushing a human being out of your body just months before sans drugs I knew you could handle pain. Meanwhile, an emergency trip to check on the daughter was required, and by the time I got back to the hospital words like “mass” had been thrown around, and we aren’t Catholic.

I remember them wheeling you back into surgery. It was a Saturday, so there was no one in the surgery waiting room. Just me and reruns on the TV. A friend stopped by to sit with me for a while and pray with me. Some time later, you were out of surgery. Out of danger. I still remember the name of the surgeon: John Williams. I forget the name of my own kids, but his name I remember. That was your first surgery. Your first scar. You spent your first Mother’s Day as a mom at the hospital, and your daughter and I came to visit. Seven years later, we’ve been back to that same hospital for two more surgeries and three more children. They should name a wing after you. Wait, forget that. Let’s see if they have a “free fifth kid” policy of some sort.

I think that most relationships in the modern West start with physical attraction. Or I should say that physical attraction is a significant part of it. It might be possible to push through a time of being physically un-attracted to someone and see if it developed, but most people would probably give up and move on to someone else. I think it would be fair to say that, towards the beginning of a relationship, most men love women for their bodies.

If this condition were to persist, the relationship is bound to fail because our bodies are destined to change. “Rejoice in the wife of your youth!” is the biblical admonition. But the wife of your youth becomes the wife of your middle age and then the wife of your old age. And if you love your wife for her body, then your love is bound to wane.

But something has happened over these eleven years of marriage. I do not love you for your body. I love your body for you.

I’m losing count of how many times I have held your hand as you laid in a hospital bed. You have laid down your body four times so that we could bring new life into this world. Your body has been the vehicle by which a thousand daily ministrations have taken place. How could I not love your body? It houses and expresses you, my beloved and my darling.

There is something juvenile about a married man who expends his mental energy lusting for youth, even if it is his wife’s youth. I do not say it is not understandable, but it is juvenile all the same. Such a man may ogle girls who could be his daughter’s age and probably has yoked himself to the bondage of pornography, where his appetites have gotten stuck like a needle on a tachometer than refuses to rise to its rightful level. I’m not sure which is the greater sin: the adultery that he commits in his heart, or the ingratitude that he shows to the woman in his bedroom who bears his name. If he could ever learn to love her, then her body would be lovely to him. But alas, he is too much a fool to realize that any sense of injustice at being limited to enjoying only one woman’s body should be vastly outweighed by the cosmic miracle that he does in fact, get to enjoy one woman’s body. His love for his wife’s body has never turned into a genuine love for her, and now he is impotent to love her body.

I write all of this in the great Christian tradition of incarnate love. Eros is our servant, not our master. If it is true that the highest call of marriage is to picture Christ and the Church, then I maintain that this principle is Christian down to its core. For does not our Lord love the Church that lays down its life for Him? Does he not treasure even more deeply those who suffer for His Name’s sake? Is not the body made more beautiful to Him in service? He treasures every scar, as does any husband who loves his wife. This theme, then, is not unique to the shrine of our love. This is the current in which all lovers swim. This is how Christian men feel about their wives through child bearing, age, chemo, mastectomies, surgeries, and untold other seasons of change.

So, wife of my youth, I do not fear your body changing. I do not worry that you will one day get grey hair. I am supremely unconcerned about wrinkles. Whatever signs of age come, you will have earned along this journey we have undertaken together. You are the most beautiful woman I know because you belong to me. This possessiveness is neither narrow nor wicked. “I am my Beloved’s, and my Beloved is mine.” (Song of Solomon 6:3) This is love. And all the sons of God said “Amen”.

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