Because my father, his brothers and brother-in-law went into business together, we all lived in the same city. My father, his siblings and their spouses had 27 children, and the shaping of who I am, can in part, be attributed to those 26 cousins.
Because we were a tight knit bunch, holidays and weekends were spent in the company of family--fourth of July shooting fireworks off the warehouse dock, the teenage boys always getting too close as they lit the matches. Christmas Eves singing carols we never knew the words to, and Christmas day visiting to see what Santa brought the cousins. Dinners, going to movies, spending summer nights on the patio together. Lots of swimming. Two of my cousins, Barbie and Lori were the same age and in the same grade. We even attended our freshman year of college together.
Since Dad was the youngest in his family, most of my cousins were older; when Mom and Dad left town, it was often a cousin who babysat. It was cousins who took us to the family cabin. It was cousins with whom I had too much fun even at Grandma's house as we mourned the loss of our grandfather. We got in trouble for that!
Most of my cousins were loving, inclusive, and good examples. They wrote dissertations for PHDs, became lawyers, good parents, astute businessmen and women, musicians, and led successful lives. There were a few hiccups, a rare appearance on the six'o'clock news, but for the most part, they grew up serving God and their families.
The parties and merriment, though I couldn't have realized it at the time, were just a short window of time. The day soon came when I only saw cousins at the church when me met to eulogize and bury our aunts and uncles, our fathers, our mothers. One by one, it defined a new era of family history.
At one point all of my cousins married. Almost everyone had children. That's 27 weddings and in those 27 vows, only three didn't last.
If the national average for divorce applied to my cousins, 13 would have been divorced--we beat the average by 10 successful marriages.
In no way am I ignoring that those marriages might not have been perfect. I don't have any details to support my hypothesis, but we are human, and humans tend to have blips of selfishness, unkindness, obstinance, and marital moments of non-bliss. I know this from my own marriage, but in my cousins' statistics is the empirical evidence that marriage does work--in spite of alleged national statistics.
I was once discouraged as I watched a few young students suffer through their parents' divorces. Marriage seemed to be a giant precursor to insecurity, insincerity, and heartache. My own marriage was fine, but I was seeing the glass 3/4 empty--until I sat behind three, aged, married couples. The conversation went something like this:
First happy couple: "We're celebrating our 50th anniversary this weekend."
Second happy couple: "Well, congratulations, we have another year to go."
Third happy couple: "We already reached that milestone, but we're attending my sister's 50th wedding anniversary party next month."
It was a brilliant light bulb moment. Yes, divorce was real, and maybe half of American marriages do end in divorce, but that also means half of them don't, and some families have even beaten the odds.
So, I speak to my young friend Justin, who hesitates to marry, scarred by his own parent's infidelities, his own parent's and siblings' hurt~~he's only seen 100% failure. No wonder he's scared, no wonder he won't take the leap. We understand, but here is a different picture; a family who has proved marriage odds can be greater than 50/50.
Marriage is one of the few situations where you can increase the odds through dedication, selflessness, and promises kept, yet still, there are no guarantees, but after 37 years of persistent practice, I have no doubt, I would walk to the ends of the earth to keep and cherish the love of my life.