Over the next few months, Ann Morrissey will be blogging about her marriage of forty-three years to her husband David. Some of the topics she’ll cover: trying to find each other; searching for community; losing that vision and finding it again; raising children (both the good and the bad); and the golden years of empty nesthood. As Ann told us when she pitched the series: “I don’t feel I’m very wise, but we’ve made probably all the mistakes that people can make and I just hope our failures can encourage people struggling with tensions as husband and wife.” —The Editors
When I became a Christian at twenty-two, as ditsy as I was, I recognized straightaway that I couldn’t do this thing alone. Even though I continued to live with my former roommate, who maintained her alternative lifestyle, Christians miraculously appeared in my Boston apartment. Having turned my back on drugs, my pack-a-day cigarette habit, and loose life, I embraced their support. I began reading the Bible. I struggled to resurrect a mental self-discipline I had carelessly buried.
Some months later I left Boston for a student-teaching stint in Philadelphia followed by a faith-filled adventurous summer in an experimental Christian community in rural northeastern Pennsylvania. In September when I returned to finish my degree at Boston University, I settled in a Catholic charismatic community where I met David, my future husband. (See Part One of this series.)
Before we married, David and I had each lived in different community households that served the Catholic charismatic Cenacle prayer meeting; these young Christians enriched our time of courtship. Once married we opted to live out David’s vision that community should thrive naturally in a geographically small Catholic parish, so we moved to a working class area of Boston where we hoped to experience genuine long-standing grassroots church community.
Unsurprisingly the location of our first home negatively affected our marriage. Why? We had not considered the lonely challenge of knowing no one, nor had we recognized our naïve ineptness at penetrating a decidedly settled, non-charismatic church community. Neither had we registered the impact that the distance from our friends and prayer community would have on our life of faith. In addition we lived miles away from our families, from David’s university and his job, and from my work, a disgruntling situation all round.
Unsurprisingly the location of our first home negatively affected our marriage. Why? We had not considered the lonely challenge of knowing no one...
After six months of this we wholeheartedly agreed about one thing that needed to change in our marriage: our location. We decided to move to the Boston suburb of Newton where families we knew lived near each other in a supportive, but loose, community around a Catholic church.
Noting that the shared-living aspect of our life had vanished since we were wed, we opted to rent the first floor of a beautiful Newton house together with a friend. With any acuity we could have foreseen disaster in our toxic mix of floundering newlyweds, one lively young woman, her non-live-in yet ubiquitous boyfriend, and her live-in rambunctious dog. We of course foresaw no such thing; we lived it for six long numb months before admitting defeat. We chalked up our second unfortunate housing choice, that, I might add, was not our friend’s fault.
When an apartment became available near one of the Newton families we knew, they excitedly called us, and we moved in an eye-blink. Just the two of us. Into this more outwardly peaceful home that sheltered the perplexing discontent of our first married year, our child was born: Jennifer Catherine, a Christmas present. Both of us were devoted to her. She nearly became the center of my life, since losing myself in Jenny was easy and natural. Thankfully I recognized that such an escape was unwise – an evasion of my marriage commitment, so instead I made room for David to be with Jenny; they needed time to bond.
Our infant daughter whiled away her evenings, which was my husband’s time at home, screaming. To David’s credit, this did not deter him from holding her. Unflinchingly and often with biology book in hand, he patiently forged their relationship. These nerve-wracking evenings were not however the blessed familial moments that I had hoped would heal our relationship. Even though the pregnancy had focused our marriage and Jenny now brightened our lives, she resolved nothing between us; only David and I could settle our marriage difficulties. A child, even a beloved one, cannot do that for her parents.
These nerve-wracking evenings were not however the blessed familial moments that I had hoped would heal our relationship. Even though the pregnancy had focused our marriage and Jenny now brightened our lives, she resolved nothing between us...
Before Jenny’s birth, I had stopped teaching so I could be a full-time mother. As much as I delighted in Jenny, by the fifth month of our intense mother-daughter bonding I hankered after mental challenge and adult conversation, so I met sporadically with a group of married women. Much to my dismay, everyone talked about their children or cooking (these were notably not feminist circles). I wanted to talk about the book I was reading or what was going on in the world; I wanted to know what other women thought about.
I could not fathom why, when offered this rare opportunity to cut loose from our all-too-familiar insular lives, everybody prattled on about one thing: our all-too-familiar insular lives. Such incessant nattering with minimal heartfelt listening gave me a headache, but no real companionship. Visiting neighbors with Jenny, I discovered an outlet to explore other subjects: gossip, about anyone who wasn’t there. After these sessions I returned home feeling rattled and insecure. As a woman I was hungry for honest, open, and trusting relationships.
As a wife, I ran on empty. I was inexplicably and frighteningly unwilling to yield myself to the intimate vulnerability of our marriage. This made us both feel guilty for our mutual inability to find one another. We could have ignored this throbbing pain and doggedly led parallel lives, but we yearned to belong to each other. Not only because we wanted to, but because God had brought us together.
We could have ignored this throbbing pain, but we yearned to belong to each other. Not only because we wanted to, but because God had brought us together.
A growing desire in both of us for deeper involvement with others beyond the normal church fare checked this pain from developing into a depressing, isolating, and paralyzing prison. To our delight we discovered three families who also longed to share their lives with others. We agreed to get together as often as we could.
Once everybody’s Little League schedules, work demands, and family commitments were honored, we eked out a walloping one Sunday a month for fellowship. We flew kites, picnicked, hiked, played, and ate together, which was wonderful and encouraging. It was however one day out of thirty. I hated the frustrating fragmentation that filled and unremittingly separated all our lives.
David and I spoke often with one of these couples who felt drawn to intentional community. Together we pondered how we could serve Jesus wholly in a fractured society. We all felt certain we would move to an intentional community sometime, but not now. Then this family visited the Bruderhof. They told us what they found. They were going back – imminently.
This announcement electrified David and me. We pored through Children in Community, a book with photos and text about the Bruderhof communities. We read Living Together in a World Falling Apart by Dave and Neta Jackson, our contemporaries, who travelled to and wrote about many different intentional communities in the United States.
At the Bruderhof the Jacksons had experienced a man named Benny Bargen’s return to the community. He was old, paralyzed, and, after being away for years, had requested to come home. Not only was he invited back, but on the evening he arrived, lit paper lanterns lined the drive and everyone, including the children, sang him in. This resonated with me: a community that welcomes and joyfully embraces the wayward one who has seemingly nothing to contribute.
Even though David and I had planned to begin our earnest search for intentional community in June when David’s studies would be finished, he responded to my pervasive frustration and driving hunger for companionship. So with ten-month-old Jenny in tow, we set out on Columbus Day weekend 1975 to visit the Bruderhof community. But that’s the next chapter.Comments
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