Still golden

In honor of my parents’ 51st wedding anniversary today, here is an encore presentation of last year’s post about their golden anniversary. I’ve added a new photo of them and a couple of links to the original version.

For better or for worse,
for richer or for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
for as long as we both shall live ….

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad!

The older the violins, the sweeter the music.

The older the violins, the sweeter the music.


The Golden Ring

They met at a party circa 1960, she a shy country girl in her first year of nursing school in the big city, he a college boy who had lived nearly all his life in that city. Her nervous giggle that was immediately followed by an apologetic “oh shoot” captured his attention. He was charming and handsome. She was sweet and pretty. Neither of them had ever seriously dated anyone else and once they met, they never would.

The first picture of them together.

The first picture taken of them together, summer of 1960.

Continue reading …

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What is meant to be

I love this little boy-meets-girl story from The New York Times, with all its serendipity and romance. Girl decides to take a well-earned vacation, travels to St. Thomas on a whim, meets boy with boat there. Ultimately, they sail off into the sunset together.

To love another person is to see the face of God.

My favorite boy-meets-girl story of all time, though, happened in my own family. My mother’s older brother got a job as a ranch hand one summer when he was still in his teens. It was on a big ranch, “out in the middle of nowhere,” my mother always said, and he worked mostly by himself. The place next door to this ranch boarded horses, and one of those horses belonged to a dark-eyed Italian girl who caught his eye across the fence, apparently, and fell hard for my uncle’s fresh-scrubbed good looks. They are still married, more than 50 years later, the proud parents of two handsome, dark-eyed boys who grew up to be wonderful men, and grandparents to a whole swarm of kids upon whom they dote.

Your task is not to seek love, but to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.

I’ve always taken comfort from that story, and the hope it holds out that what’s meant to be will always find a way, no matter how far you try to run away from it or hide from it. If love is meant to find you, it will find you wherever you are.

“All it takes is some time and some destiny …”

Single sourcing is not a good strategy for love

I was reading today a blog post by a woman who was widowed last year, and who is slowly, painfully, working through her grief and loss. I can’t visit her blog very often because her stories are so wrenchingly sad–how could they not be?–but I do stop by occasionally to see how she’s doing.

She said that on her first birthday as a widow, she tried to ignore it altogether and told everybody in her life not to acknowledge it in any way. She ended up crying alone in the bathroom at work, and said the day turned out to be much worse than she expected.

Everybody grieves differently, and far be it from me to say what’s right or wrong for her or for anyone. But I felt such a pang about her birthday, and about how she exponentially aggravated her pain by the choices she made in observing it. I wondered, is there nobody at all in her life from whom she can receive love now that her husband is gone? Friends, family, coworkers–is nobody else good enough to hold her up through this? Might she have arranged to take the day off work, spend some time with a loved one, take a walk, go shopping, watch a movie, anything other than crying alone in the bathroom? Did it really have to be that hard, that lonely, that sterile? Does the loss of one person require the entire abnegation of oneself and all one’s emotional needs ever after? Is that what having once had a “true love” means?

I don’t know this woman or much of anything about her situation or her marriage, and I don’t mean to mock or disrespect her by any means. I just think, wow, we all limit ourselves so cruelly in love. I have observed that most married people, in particular, regard their spouse and biological children as the sole sources of intimacy, affection and all other essential emotional nourishment in their lives, and if those particular people are unable or unwilling to provide it, they won’t allow themselves to receive it from any other person, ever, because they’re holding out for “the right one(s).” For many people, the pool of love is large enough for only two. Once they couple or marry, no one else need ever again apply for admittance to their inner circle of trust.

I’m not talking about affairs or cheating or polygamy–I believe in monogamy and the sanctity of marriage. I’m just talking about really loving another person other than your spouse–is it even possible? Or do all the generally accepted rules of marriage say no, never, or else it’s a sin? Do married people always have to maintain a certain discrete emotional distance from even their oldest, dearest, closest friends, and never allow friendships with people of the opposite sex, in order to keep a clear emotional space reserved exclusively for their spouse? And if that spouse is routinely absent from that space for whatever reason, what then? How are people supposed to survive on a single source of essential affection upon which they cannot rely?

That grieving widow probably feels as if her husband was the only person who really knew her, really understood her, really loved her. And now there are multiple voids in her life, not the least of which appears to be in her ability to accept love from anyone else. As such, she cannot allow anyone else to get close enough to her to really know, understand and love her. A vicious circle.

I’ve had my share of bad scenes in relationships, god knows. And when I’ve been knocked down, I have turned to all the other people I love and who love me to help me back up. They are arranged in my life kind of in concentric rings: my parents and my sister closest to me, then my close friends, then my not-as-close friends, then my neighbors and coworkers. All these people love or at least like me to some extent, anyway, and each of them is willing to extend a hug or a handshake or a listening ear to me when I am in need, if I’m willing to ask for it.

There is so much love around each one of us, and we are often completely oblivious to it as we stubbornly hold out for our “one true love” or insist that love can only be shared within our own family.

Rainbow Hearts, copyright  2013 by Lisa Shaw and Shaw Pro Photo

Rather than being a two-person puddle, I think love is an ocean in which we are always invited to swim. It’s god’s gift to us, and can come from any source. Creating meaningless, artificial barriers to it within our hearts and minds under the banner of propriety or pride or fear is a foolish waste of energy. I don’t believe that god intends for anyone to be lonely, and we don’t have to be if we are willing to open our eyes and our hearts.

Relationships are our primary teacher. They are the context in which we either grow into God consciousness, or deny ourselves and others the opportunity to do so.
~ Marianne Williamson, Illuminata

As my grandmother once told me, “love is love is love, and we all could use more of it, honey.” So dive into the ocean and cast your net wide!

The golden ring

They met at a party circa 1960, she a shy country girl in her first year of nursing school in the big city, he a college boy who had lived nearly all his life in that city. Her nervous giggle that was immediately followed by an apologetic “oh shoot” captured his attention. He was charming and handsome. She was sweet and pretty. Neither of them had ever seriously dated anyone else and once they met, they never would.

The first picture of them together.

The first picture taken of them together, summer of 1960.

He was the eldest son of a Norwegian ship’s officer and a school teacher. She was the eldest daughter of a farmer and a homemaker. She was staunchly Catholic. He was uncommitted. She had decided to become a nurse so she would at least have a career because she was certain she would never marry. But then one night she had a dream, and a voice told her, “you will marry a man named Joseph.” This handsome young man at the party who gave her and all her friends a ride back to their dormitory in his mother’s station wagon was not named Joseph. But two years later, when he converted to Catholicism so they could be married in her church, he chose Joseph as his baptismal name. She didn’t learn this until after they were wed. Not that it matters what his (or her) given name is; they have called each other by several endearing pet names almost from the very start, and refer to each other by their actual names only when talking to strangers.

They married in a cathedral, drove away on their honeymoon in the little blue Chevy Nova her parents gave them as a wedding present, and began their life together, both barely out of their teens and green as grass. They lived in that same big city for a short time, long enough for the first baby to be born, a tow-headed, busy boy who loved to get into mischief. They moved to another state so he could go to graduate school in preparation to become a teacher. Along came the second baby, a tow-headed girl who quietly followed her big brother everywhere he went. Graduate school would have to wait; with two babies to feed, it was time to go to work. They moved again to a small town far from both their families, bought a big old house, and set to work raising their own little family. He taught chemistry at the local college. She took care of home and kids. Eventually the third baby came along, a charming little redheaded girl, and the family was complete.

The social turbulence of the ’60s, the hedonism of the ’70s, and the conspicuous consumption of the ’80s passed them by completely as they focused on work, church, home, family, friends, and building a solid, quiet life together. He returned to graduate school on summer breaks and one sabbatical to complete a master’s and a Ph.D., and his career at the college progressed right on track. She worked briefly as a nurse, but soon turned her full attention to raising her kids (for which she found that a nursing career was excellent preparation). She kept busy, too, with all kinds of art classes, moving from ceramic painting to tole painting to oil painting to watercolors while pausing along the way to learn belly dancing, macramé and acoustic guitar. She always had an art project going. She sewed her kids’ clothes, cut their hair in the kitchen, and baked them healthy cookies with carob chips and sunflower seeds that they failed utterly to appreciate.

Their kids grew up, not without many bumps and tears, all attending the same schools, for the most part, and always coming home to that same big old house and those same two parents. A home-cooked supper was served at 6 or 6:30 every night almost without exception, everyone at the table with their hands washed, say grace, converse politely, ask to be excused. Not a lot of extra during those years, but always enough of everything that was needed–food, clothing, school supplies, health care, discipline, support, love. They modeled stability, fidelity and integrity in everything they did.

The Nova eventually was gifted to the oldest son and a used Volvo took its place, which went with the eldest daughter to college, then another used Volvo that went with the youngest daughter to college, which is when they finally bought their first new car together after 30 years of marriage. There were health scares for both of them over the years, some very serious indeed. They pulled together and got through, stronger than before. Friends came and went as the couples they knew divorced or moved away and others took their place. They paid off the mortgage on that big old house the old-fashioned way: one month at a time for 30 years. He tried again and again to retire from teaching, always managing somehow to get called back for one more semester. The kids graduated college and moved away. They said goodbye to their parents, one by one–first her dad, then his dad, then his mom, then her mom. They welcomed grandchildren. They got their first dog, which was the light of their lives for many years. They have another dog now, which they say is really their favorite child.

Mom and Dad

My parents, circa 1989–thirty years older but just as cute. My eyes are green like his and turn into crescents when I smile, like hers.

And today, my parents celebrate 50 years of this love, this marriage, this family, this golden circle of commitment to each other and to their life together. They still enjoy each other’s company, still laugh together, still hold hands when they walk together, still approach life as a team and always have each other’s back. Where you find one, you will always find the other nearby.

From the time I was very young, I always thought/hoped/dreamed/assumed that this was how it went when people grew up: I would meet someone and fall in love, and that first love would be my only love all my life. The relationship would progress smoothly from meeting to dating to engagement to marriage and last until death. It was the natural order. That was how it was going to be for me, too, I was sure of it. (Of course it wasn’t.) I have always envied my parents for never having suffered a broken heart from being left by a lover. They both have always said that they never doubted, from their very first date, that they were meant to be together all their lives. And every day since, they have made the choices and kept the promises and done the work to make that possible. In my eyes, there is no greater achievement.

I have only one friend whose parents have been married 50 years. My parents know at least four couples who have been, one of which is closing in on 70 years together. I don’t know what the latest statistics are, but a quick internet search suggests that about 5% of all married couples can expect to celebrate their Golden Anniversary. One in 20. Those are long odds simply to stay with one person that long, let alone to stay happy with one person for that long.

Happy anniversary, mom and dad. Thanks for everything you have given us, particularly your example of how to be happily married. I love you both.

Chance cannot change love, nor time impair.
Love is more than a feeling. It is a decision,
a commitment to care forever.
~ Unknown (inspired by Robert Browning)

To wed or to marry?

We’re midway through June, the prime wedding season. Ah, the Big Church Wedding, that singular rite of passage that every little girl dreams of as the starting point of her “real” life. The dress, the rings, the flowers, the invitations, the venue, the guest list, the symbolism, the pageantry, the traditions, the planning, the expense! Oh yes, and the groom, of course.  Who wouldn’t want all that, all her life?

Most girls who dream of a wedding probably imagine something like this…

Bridesmaids and groomsmen in their matching outfits, friends and family packed into the pews, the organ playing that venerable song. Candle lighting, vows, prayers, tears. It’s all so … so.

I never dreamed that dream.

I have always wanted to be married, but I’ve never wanted a wedding. My vision was closer to this:

No fancy outfits, no attendants, no guests, no prayers, no candles, no crushing debt in the aftermath. Just some paperwork and a short ceremony in front of a judge at the courthouse to make it all legal. Maybe dinner with our immediate families afterwards and a short honeymoon somewhere warm. Then back to normal life, married. Because the only part of that elaborate, expensive, exhausting Big Church Wedding ceremony that really matters is the piece of paper that says the state recognizes two people as lawfully wedded spouses. No ceremony in any church or anywhere else can replace that. All I want is the marriage, not the wedding.

Civil marriage is a civil right. =