A Lifetime to Love

Today is my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary. I’m sitting here, repeating this to myself so that the words can sink in. I say it aloud a few times, rolling the words around on my tongue so that I can taste the meaning of them. And yet, it takes a while for the true impact to register. Because my brain almost can’t fathom 60 years. When I say to myself, “Wow. That’s a long time,” it feels ridiculous. Because, of course, I am stating the obvious. It is a long time. It’s a lifetime.

Growing up, I never really thought much about my parents or their marriage. I was a kid, and they were just my parents. When you’re young, you don’t think about things like that. Really, you don’t think about much outside of your own, immediate concerns. I was blessed to come from a stable home, with parents who had a good marriage and who, at the base of it all, loved each other. I never thought about my parents getting divorced or separating. Because it seemed impossible to me. My mom used to say, jokingly, that she and my dad might end up killing each other … but they would never leave each other. Which sounds ridiculous, but, really, it was her way of saying she did not want to live a life without my dad in it. No matter how difficult things might be — and they were difficult at times — my mom and dad both chose to live their lives and build their futures together. As a child, I took this for granted. As an adult, I look back on it and realize just how amazing and incredible this was. It was a gift. A precious, intangible gift.

How much laughter fits into sixty years? How much love? How much sorrow and pain? How many sweet memories? How many times, over the years, have my parents turned to each other, knowing they only had each other to cling to in the face of a  world that is, often, all too terrifying and brutal. There are images of my parents that will be forever written on my heart. My dad, coming up behind my mom as she stands at the sink, wrapping his arms around her and kissing her neck until she finally scolds him and swats him away with a dishtowel. But I remember the smile on her face and the way my dad laughed. The sweetness and playfulness, all wound up together. Or the night my brother nearly died, after a terrible motorcycle accident. Terrified, I watched my mother sitting in the ER waiting room, waiting to hear if her first-born would live or die. She was stoic and brave and refused to cry, until my dad, who had driven all night to reach us from his work, came rushing into the room. And then, she melted into him, letting him hold her and comfort her. These memories … and hundreds more … live inside of me, all built from my parents’ lifetime of love.

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My parents don’t celebrate anniversaries. It’s not that they ignore the day. They remember it and mark it every year, in some small way. But they are not “party people”. They have never been ones to do lavish gifts. There will be no huge celebration to mark this milestone, other than my husband and I taking them out for a nice dinner once they arrive at our house next week. Instead, I believe my parents choose to live every day in the moment. They fill every day with all the love and laughter and memories they can. In a way, every day is an anniversary for them. This morning, my dad got up and gave my mom a kiss, telling her, “Well, looks like we made it, Old Girl.” It doesn’t sound super romantic, but it pleased my mom to no end. And, I guess, really, it says it all.

My husband and I celebrated 18 years of marriage this past October. And, like my parents, I think we both sometimes feel as if we might kill each other … But we will never choose to live without each other. My husband often tells our daughter that we will never separate or divorce. I know you can never say “never” in this life, because nothing is certain. But it warms my heart to know he loves me deeply. He loves me enough to put his faith out there, so that he feels he can say “never” with confidence. And I can do the same for him. I can’t even think of a life without my husband in it. He is my best friend and my sweetest love. Will we make 60 years together? I don’t know. But, if we do, it will be because of the lessons and the gift my parents gave to me. My parents taught me to love in the deepest and best of ways. My parents paved the way.

Goin’ to the Chapel

Tonight, I am waxing a bit nostalgic about my wedding day. I pulled out our wedding album a few days ago to do a little photo shoot with my new rings set and ended up spending a couple of hours looking through the whole thing with my daughter. We no longer live in the same state as our extended families, so it seems the only way my daughter is going to “know” her aunts, uncles, and cousins is through pictures. And then, there are the very sentimental pictures of my husband’s grandfather, who passed away a few years ago.

It’s funny the things one remembers from such a long-ago day. I don’t remember the way the air smelled or what the weather was like (other than knowing it was nice, overall, because we had an outdoor reception). I don’t remember all the words that were said during the ceremony. I don’t remember every word of our vows, although I always thought I would remember that particular detail. I don’t even remember everyone who was there to share our big day with us.

wedding photo with ringsI remember feeling nervous, in spite of the fact that my husband and I had already been together for eight years at this point. I remember almost tripping over the hem of my dress as my dad and I started down the aisle. I remember my dad’s hand, placed so gently over mine in the crook of his arm, as if I were the greatest treasure he had ever possessed and he had to take the utmost care. I remember how, when we reached the front of the church, my dad held on for just a few moments longer than expected. Maybe he was reluctant to let go. I wonder if it was hard for him to turn away and sit down, knowing another man would now be so prominent in my life. I remember how uncomfortable my shoes were. I hated those shoes. My mother picked them out; I wanted to wear tennis shoes. No one would see them under my dress, anyhow, I reasoned. But she insisted I had to have “nice, ladylike” shoes. I remember thinking my hair was too tall. I still think that, looking back at these pictures, but, again, I didn’t pick out the “wedding day hairstyle”, either. I remember bubbles floating through the air, chased by laughter and funny stories during the reception. I remember beautiful sunshine and warm, golden-tinged thoughts of those I loved the most. I remember my husband’s hand shaking a little bit as he slipped the wedding band onto my finger.

wedding photo with ringsI remember standing there, in the dark entry of the church … feeling nervous and unsure … clinging to my daddy’s arm and looking at what seemed like the longest aisle in history laid out before me. I remember thinking to myself, “There’s no way I can do this. There’s no way I can make this walk in front of all these people.”

And then, my husband turned around. He saw me for the first time in my wedding dress, standing there. It was like time stood still for those few moments that we looked into each other’s eyes. As if he and I were the only two people in the universe. And he smiled — a smile that told me everything would be all right, as long as we were together … a smile that melted my heart and gave me butterflies all at the same time … a smile that didn’t promise perfection but spoke of years of laughter and love and good memories to come.

And that is my favorite memory of all.

rings with wedding album cover