“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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I have used the love for my children, especially while spending time with the Lord in Adoration, as a type of “springboard” to help me jump into the love the Father has for me.
I believe cherishing my spouse through the children happens naturally, but more peripherally. Until now. What a great tip to turn my head and focus on her qualities through them.
Mark, I thank you very much for this response. We’ll be working on it together!
I love this. It reminds me of a passage from Our Mutual Friend, acted out so beautifully in the movie that it always makes me cry. The old woman Betty Hudgens tells Mrs Boffin concerning her little grandson, “For I love him, I love him, I love him! I love my husband long dead and gone, in him; I love my children dead and gone, in him; I love my young and hopeful days dead and gone, in him. I couldn’t sell that love, and look you in your bright kind face. It’s a free gift.”
Alicia, Oh, that is so beautiful! Charles Dickens is truly remarkable, as shown here so clearly. I’m going to be thinking of this quotation all day. Many thanks.
Thank you for this beautiful reflection, and the gorgeous photo at the top! Tears in my eyes as I think of your sweet spouse and the lovely family God has given you two through your love of each other…and the gift will go on as the children find and love their spouses…
My beloved spouse and I were separated for the first time in 27 years….thankfully for only 4 days in mid-March, until St. Joseph reunited us on his feast. I had traveled to Florida to help care for Tony’s father Paul, suffering from cancer….the man whose awesome love for his spouse has given me the gift of my husband!!
Now we are 4 of us under one roof, two sets of spouses still in love and gratitude for each other. I am so grateful!
Your column has truly hit home today, and renewed my love for Virgil as well as for Dante, you, and your Mrs.!
As for my spouse, our love, and seeing him in our children….Dom is leaving tomorrow for summer work and then college. What joy to see Tony in him, but also we see Tony’s father Paul in him! An extra special gift! God’s love cannot be measured, and it is abundant beyond imagining!!
Gratefully and with love to all the Cuddebacks,
What a delight to receive this note! Thank you so much for your generous and warm thoughts! God’s generosity is indeed made manifest in wondrous and diverse ways. I’m very glad that you are all re-united. Please know that you are all in our prayers, especially your father-in-law Paul. May these days be filled with more and more blessings for you. All of our family sends love to all of yours. Gratefully yours, John
Will your Fatherhood webinar be made available at a later time? It would be a wonderful Father’s Day gift to forward the link to the “dads” and “wannabe dads” that I know of. Thank you in advance.
Janice, Thanks very much for asking. I am preparing to make my fatherhood webinar more available. I hope to be able to do so soon. Thanks again, and please stay tuned–I’m working on it as I wrap up my sabbatical.