It’s a very simple word. Three letters. One syllable. Small, but powerful. It’s the beginning of things. The decision. The first step. The commitment to an effort or a journey. It’s a word my parents said to me at the dinner table a thousand times. When confronted with a new food there was nothing I wanted to hear less than “just try it.” I did not want to try whatever “it” was.
We use the past tense of the word to, almost generically, describe an experience we had but did not like. “I tried it.” We don’t ask others what they mean when they say they tried something. To have a singular interaction perhaps? To spend a month focused on a task? Who knows? We don’t inquire. “Tried” seems to answer our question.
We also expand the meaning of the word to describe the state of our world. These are “trying” times, meaning (depending on your political alignment) we are in a period of our history that tests our fortitude.
So it is not an irregular, uncommon, or unfamiliar word. And yet, it is a word I find so profound, so important to my history. My life has been filled with so many beautiful memories because of a decision to try. Buying the plane ticket. Talking to that stranger. Entering the competition. Trying has meant experimenting, braving the unexpected, trusting in the future, or my ability to navigate it.
But just as formative has been my inability to try. There have been times when insecurity, fear or worry (perhaps all three) have been so strong I have paralyzed myself out of opportunities, preventing an experience that could have had a significant effect on my life. My inability to try is not unfamiliar. And that has greatly frustrated me.
It is because of my knowledge of my own history, and the rapid approach of my wedding, that I am so focused on the word today. I know my future and my marriage will be largely shaped by our shared values, yes, but also my own effort. I want to be sure I always try.
It is, of course, easier said than done. While our culture is obsessed with results, I am far more impressed with efforts. The lengths people go to in order to have the things they want in life. We hear about dedication to pursuing one’s dreams. We hear about the sacrifices of parents for their children. But it is less common to hear about the myriad ways in which partners ensure they always try with each other. It is visible in the questions we ask couples who have been together a long time: “What is the secret?”
Every time somebody asks that question I can’t help but feel like they are missing the point. While I know nothing yet of marriage I know looking for secrets means I am ignoring the less exciting, more mundane, common knowledge: Marriage is effort.
How do I make sure I am always focused on those efforts? How do I make sure I always try?
There is plenty of advice, surely. Platitudes and relationship aphorisms that have stood the test of time with no real explanation on how to execute them. While they might resonate they are not a formula or a roadmap. They are high-level ideas that can be easy to disregard in the heat of the moment. Reminding one’s self “Don’t sweat the small stuff” in the middle of the argument is a less than ideal approach to conflict resolution.
And while I hear “don’t go to bed mad” and “would you rather be happy or right?” playing on repeat in my head, I don’t always want to listen to them. Being honest with myself means admitting I am not always as rational as I would like to be. Which means of course that I sometimes feel wholly irrational.
I do not anticipate that feeling will ever disappear completely.
But whatever we are or are not, whatever we lack or wish for, we can always try. I think that is what I like most about the word. It is not big or showy or even beautiful. It is a 6 point scrabble word we use without much commitment or consequence. It is not illuminating or clairvoyant. It is just the answer in and of itself.
I like its brevity and its clarity. I like its opportunity. I like it standing alone. No period to stop its resonance. Just a single word that says it all.
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