Sunday, April 11, 2010

Strength to Dance in the Rain

In most intimate relationships there are daily challenges. Some are mildly inconvenient, but others collect like thick fog in the air, and eventually form into black clouds. Then one day they thunder and burst open into a full-fledge storm, all because of an incident as simple as a dirty pair of underwear left on a bathroom floor.

Many of my relationships ended over trivial issues because I was too weak to handle the stress of a significant other. Sometimes I’d burst the black clouds myself by consciously waving my Fruit of the Looms in the air before letting them fall to the ground like an ax on a chicken’s neck.

But there are those couples who open an umbrella for the storm, or mop up the excess run-off of life so their relationship can flourish. There are those who find the strength.

My brother Mike married his high school sweetheart, Tina Simon when they were both teenagers. In their thirty-five years as husband and wife, they’ve faced many challenges, but have managed to stay together. Their reward has been four beautiful children, and strength for another thirty-five years.

“We began our lives together as best friends, and over the years we have become soul mates,” says Tina. “I am so proud of the life we’ve made together and I thank God for blessing me with such an amazing man.”

Mike has worked in law enforcement since 1982, and is currently the Vermilion Parish Sheriff. According to Tina, as her husband moved through the ranks of his career, there were many bumps along the way. But the roughest were the fifteen and a half years when he worked as a narcotics agent. During this period, he spent a lot of time away from home and was exposed to dangerous situations.

“I found the strength to deal with his absence through prayer and my children,” Tina said. “God kept me sane, and the kids kept me busy.”

Tina channeled her energy towards her children’s education and development. She substituted at school, taught catechism, and took an active role in the Beta Club.

“I not only wanted to be part of our children’s home life,” said Tina. “I wanted to be part of their educational years, spiritual growth and extra-curriculum activities.”

Another great challenge for the couple was during Mike’s campaign for Sheriff. They worked together for sixty hours a week during an eighteen-month period. Their four children joined the crusade, and through moments of sadness, joy, excitement and exhaustion, they found the strength for a victory.

“There were times when we had to give each other pep talks,” said Tina. “But we were so in touch with one another that we found ourselves finishing each other’s sentences and silently thinking the same things.”

I initially wanted to write this story about Tina to hear where she found the strength to be married to a man in both law enforcement and politics. But during our interview, I was surprised to see how well my sister-in-law took the situation in stride.

“It’s hard to view Mike being Sheriff as a challenge after what we went through when he worked in narcotics,” said Tina. “Now he comes home at night so we have more time together. The rough patches made us stronger today.”

I sat on this story for two weeks, a bit irritated that Tina wasn’t having a hard time being married to a Sheriff. Didn’t she know I had an agenda? Was I going to have to make something up to give the column a little spice? But then, as if the universe heard me, inspiration rode up to me on horseback.

It was the late afternoon before my deadline for the column, and as I sat at my desk staring at a blank page, I heard noises coming from outside. I opened my window blinds and saw Mike and Tina on horseback working cattle in the pasture. My first look at the couple was the two of them riding side by side. Their backs were to me, and as they got further away, it was as if someone was standing beside me whispering the story that needed to be written.

Since I am much, much, (much) younger than Mike and Tina, I’ve always known them as a couple. I would often sleep at their home, and catch intimate glimpses of their relationship. There were tough moments, but there were many more filled with happiness, trust and love.

But the recent moment I watched of Mike and Tina on horseback was the most powerful. It was a story of best friends who are human like the rest of us. They’ve been through storms, but stood strong as the black clouds thundered above them.

Both my brother and sister-in-law have been a large part of my life. I believe in them, and their lasting relationship has proven to me that I am capable of having my own. I know that neither of them would ever hurt the other or their family. It is the trust they’ve built over the years that will give them the strength for any storms in the future.

“Mike is the one I can count on to be there for me, to believe in me and to care about me,” says Tina. “Together, we have given one another the strength to conquer all of the challenges that have come our way. We have learned to dance in the rain.”

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