In 1905, Tevye, a poor Jewish milkman, his wife, Golde, and three headstrong daughters lived in a small Ukrainian village under the thumb of imperial Russia which wanted to banish the Jews from its villages. This is the setting for “Fiddler on the Roof,” a musical comedy.
Tevye and Golde were wed 25 years earlier in a marriage that followed the tradition of their culture and
was arranged by their parents. They had never met one another until the day of their wedding.
The couple was busy arranging the marriage of their oldest daughter to a prosperous widower, a bachelor twice her age, and she wanted no part of the arrangement. She and her sisters despised “The Tradition” and pleaded for a modern, non-traditional idea of marriage to somebody you know and already loved.
Tevye and Golde gave the argument their parents had given them – you will learn to love one another. The parents remembered how shy and scared they were on their wedding day. As Tevye reviewed the past 25 years, he began to search his heart and wondered about Golde’s heart, so he asked her the question:
Golde, do you love me?
Do I what?
Do you love me?
With our daughters getting married now and the trouble in our village, you’re upset, you’re worn-out. Go and lie down. Maybe it’s indigestion, go lie down.
Tevye persists. Golde, I’m asking you a question, do you love me?
You’re a fool.
I know, but do you love me?
Do I love you? For 25 years I’ve washed your clothes, cooked your meals, given you children, milked your cow.
And now, I’m asking Golde, do you love me?
I’m your wife.
I know, but do you love me?
For 25 years I’ve lived with you, fought with you, starved with you. For 25 years my bed was yours. If that’s not love, what is?
Then you love me?
I suppose I do.
After 25 years that’s good to know, and I suppose I love you too.
NOTE: Those weren’t the exact words or the whole song, but that’s the gist of it. As a result, Tevye and Golde gave in and consented to drop the tradition and allow their daughters to marry the men they loved.
These days we regularly see photos in the paper of couples observing their 25th, 40th, 50th, 60th or even 70th anniversaries. Is that love?
Is love washing the clothes, milking the cows and sharing a bed? Yes, and what else?
The couples could make their own lists and very few of them would tell of love at first sight, or wild passionate feelings and orchestras playing romantic songs from the very beginning. Very few would say their marriage was like a movie they could name or a Hallmark episode.
A review of the couples for all those years would include tears, hurt feelings, sleepless nights, hard work day after day, year after year, disappointments, dirty diapers, naughty kids, losing jobs, crop failures, moving, pinching pennies, birthday parties, feasts, burnt meals, leftovers, laughter, hugs, kisses, sickness, death, grief, problem relatives, family holidays, vacations, arguments, more hurt feelings, strength, weakness, greed, lust, stubbornness, persistence, patience, grudges, forgiveness, giving in, crying with your kids, crying with one another, crying alone, ego, selfishness, generosity, gifts, humor, frustration, long periods of silence, jealousy, pettiness, fatigue, depression, doubt, indifference, pride, achievement, failure, confidence, optimism, honesty, trust, fidelity, more joy, faith and almost giving up but not much lovey dovey talk – no mush.
In the end, if patience, mutual respect and genuine care for one another are present, if that’s not love, what is? I suppose it is. I suppose so too. Love isn’t what you say, it’s what you do.