“Goodbye Aeneas. Cherish our love in the son it gave us.”
Virgil, The Aeneid

This stunningly powerful goodbye between spouses says so much.

A son, it says, was ‘given’ to a couple by the love they bore one another. Love between spouses is already itself a gift. That we have one another and love another is an amazing gift that we each receive and give. And then, sometimes hard upon the heels of this love, sometimes not, can come this further gift–a person. Imagine: a person as a gift from our love! Again, a gift we receive, and also give.

Any separation between spouses, especially in death, can be like a fissure deep within us. Aeneas’s wife goes directly to the heart of the matter. Continue to cherish our love, she begs Aeneas. And a central way of doing so is in our child. What a profound notion. As our love is incarnated in our child, our love can be cherished and fostered in and through that child.

These words of Aeneas’s wife make us think of saying goodbye. Sometimes my wife and I have wondered aloud which of us will survive the other. I find myself hoping she will go first—a long time from now!—so that my death won’t leave her alone. Of course, regardless of who goes first, there is a goodbye—whether that goodbye is able to be offered in conscious presence or not.

But then there are other ways than death that a couple can suffer separation—such as physical separation, or perhaps worse, spiritual or emotional separation. Virgil has pointed to a great secret, and challenge, for uniting spouses. These amazing words need not be said in farewell. They can be said between spouses any time, as an invitation to enter more deeply into our relationship today, and every day. “Cherish our love, in the child(ren) it gave us.”

Somehow, I can learn to cherish and even foster our love in the persons who are its gift to us. Yet this is harder than it appears. It will take looking with eyes that see, and perhaps changing and purifying our hearts.

It is a hard reality that spouses sometimes seek refuge from the travails of their relationship with one another by turning to their children. Such a turning can be more of a turning away from than a turning toward the spouse. And sometimes, God forbid, we can consciously or unconsciously undermine our spouse’s relationship with the children.

I think this can be a uniquely difficult and understandable temptation for a woman, especially if her husband is not attending well to the spousal friendship, to turn away from her husband and to the children, with whom she already has an immediate natural connection.

So how can we turn to the children, not to turn away from our spouse, but as a way of turning more fully toward him or her and cherishing him or her more deeply? This is one of those wonderful life-long and life-giving questions. Here are two things that strike me.

First, in my interactions with my children I can intentionally foster my spouse’s relationship with them, for instance by speaking glowingly of her and my love for her, and always patterning for them seeing her in the best light. Is this not a way to cherish and foster our spousal love for one another?

Second, I can practice seeing the children through her eyes. It might be amazing what I see that I have not seen before—both about the children, and about my spouse. Don’t the children, for example, embody in themselves an astounding array of sacrifices that my spouse has offered on the altar of our marriage? Again, in seeing and cherishing this in the children, I see and cherish it in her.

There are surely many other aspects of cherishing our love in them. I’m convinced that it can be done, and it should be done, much more than I have yet discovered. So I will try to understand and to live the words of Aeneas’s wife.

NOTE: I’m doing a Live WEBINAR on Rediscovering Fatherhood with the Institute of Family Studies, Thursday May 14 at 12pm EDT.  For details go here.

Virgil (70-19 B.C.) is the great Roman poet, author of The Aeneid and The Georgics. In the Divine Comedy he appears as Dante’s guide through hell and purgatory.

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