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Collection crystallizes marital wisdom

Michael J. Leach and Therese J. Borchard, editors
Doubleday, 224 pages, $19.95


One of my favorite romantic comedies is “When Harry Met Sally,” a goofy love story written by Nora Ephron and directed by Rob Reiner. What gives it its classic status and enduring edge? In part I think it is the many brief interludes in which old couples tell how they first met and fell in love. This funny technique cuts through some of the treacly sweetness. Just like Billy Crystal’s nutty humor, the “how we first met” episodes lend wisdom and a kind of authenticity to the film. One love story (Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal) soon becomes every love story as the two who are “just friends” discover that they are head-over-heels in love and nothing short of matrimony will do.

I Like Being Married is a book that hits me with the same kind of emotional wallop. Because it’s a sort of coffee table book, a catalog-style assemblage of opinions and stories about marriage, filled with journalistic bits like the “Ten Best Songs About Marriage You’ll Ever Hear,” the 10 best films about marriage, even the 10 top novels about marriage, it would be easy to dismiss this book as merely cute or frothy. In fact, the careful balance between light-touch elements and passionate personal stories gives the book a surprising depth and readability. Many of the stories are riveting. Some really difficult issues like interreligious and interracial marriage are considered. But nothing is theoretical. Everything is personal.

In their introduction the authors say: “This book is a patchwork quilt sewn with threads that bind couples who are famous and those who live next door, threads of commitment that bind them as one. A good marriage is a blanket of love that gives comfort, assurance and impulse to say three of the most powerful sentences in the English language: I love you, Thank you, and I do.” The authors also seem to be out to prove a point, namely that, in spite of its occasional bad press, marriage is an enduring institution in the contemporary world.

Michael Leach is the executive editor of Orbis Books and a lifelong professional in Catholic publishing. Therese Borchard is a widely published author who writes about religious traditions for a modern audience. Though their previous collaboration was the bestseller I Like Being Catholic, and though Catholics are notorious for believing in the indissolubility of marriage, this new book is not a theological treatment. The closest the authors come to specifically religious content is when they include the marriage vows of Christians, Jews and Muslims. A number of well-known Catholics are among the contributors: Cokie Roberts, Paul Wilkes and Sidney Callahan, for example. However, the wide-ranging snippets of commentary on marriage include such unexpected names as Homer, Chaucer, Mikhail Gorbachev, Queen Victoria and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Love letters are included by such notables as Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King Jr.

Some of the most engaging stories tell how a long-married couple first met and fell in love. “Blind Date” by Colin Powell is a delightful story of love at first sight. Similar stories are told by Rosalynn Carter, Billy Graham and Ruth Bell Graham. Show business figures make surprising appearances to testify to longstanding unions. Among them are George Burns, Tom Hanks, Grace Kelly, Bob Hope, Paul McCartney and Celine Dion.

Jerry Stiller, the Jewish actor and comedian, tells the story of his long-running marriage to Catholic standup comic Anne Meara, a union that produced Ben Stiller. (Many will remember Ben’s movie, “Keeping the Faith,” which celebrates Catholic-Jewish romance.)

Who would expect to find Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft as celebrity bits in a volume like this? They make delightful cameo appearances.

One of the most moving essays is by Catholic writer and columnist Sidney Callahan, who tells the story of how she and her husband, Dan, became the caretakers of their grandson after the death of the baby’s mother, their daughter-in-law. Though the Callahans had raised a brood of seven, they had to learn parenting skills all over again. Another heart-tugging story is by Christopher Reeves, who tells us how, after his accident, his decision to go on living was tied up with a loving marriage. Some of the essays celebrate the durability of marriage. Phyllis Tickle’s funny essay, “Squinching,” comments on how her marriage came up with a funny new wrinkle after 50 years.

In the last chapter, the editors put their own marriages into dialogue. Michael and Vickie Leach offer “A Married Couple Looks Back with Love” and Therese and Eric Borchard give us “A Married Couple Looks Forward with Hope.” So, while I Like Being Married is not a study, not an analysis, not a critique of marriage, it manages to crystallize a lot of wisdom.

Also, on the off chance that you’re planning a wedding, you’ll find favorite readings, customs and wedding traditions all collected for you. See Chapter Five.

Emilie Griffin, author of Doors into Prayer: An Invitation, lives and writes in Alexandria, La. She has been married to William Griffin for 38 years.

National Catholic Reporter, May 31, 2002