“God willing, I pray we may grow old together.” A wish for a lifetime. But, be careful what you wish for.

If we live as a couple for what seems a lifetime, through that time together we move down winding passages, from the initial delight of the romantic to the frenetic years of family growth – each new phase accompanied by a need to redefine our roles. We engage in testing periods, fraught with jockeying for place in this family unit. Who will wash the dishes and who will wipe? Who will shop for weekly groceries, and who will run the errand for Sunday morning bagels? Who will put out the garbage, and who will pick up the laundry? Who will become the leader, who the follower, and who the hero in the eyes of the children?

When an agreement is reached (or capitulated to), and life falls into a pattern of behavior (temporary or permanent), what we have accepted as our role defines the nature of the partnership. Through it all (even in the face of inequality), if two are lucky, a sense of comfort emerges from being surrounded by a familiar ”we-ness.”  In time, the comfort becomes essential to our sense of security, and the wistful prayer is chanted: “God willing, I pray we might grow old together.”

Then, as the years pass, take care.  Look at the other.  Look hard and listen. Feel and touch. The look is different, less pleasing to the eye. The feel is more fragile to the touch, and more brittle to each hug. You listen less to the other’s words, heard so often before, now clawing in their agonizing repetition.  How long must this go on?  Can I ever be free?  The anticipation of a possible return of freedom, though the cause may be abhorrent, holds promise.  The time has come to look in the mirror. You are not as you were. Your shoulders are now stooped, your gait is slow, and your breathing comes harder.  You need help to sustain your body, to face the challenge of age. You’re eased by the comfort of “we-ness.”

Now, in muted tones of resignation, clothed with fear of the path to the inevitable, you murmur the familiar prayer: “God willing, I pray we may grow old together.”