Next week, my husband and I will be celebrating 29 years of marriage. As our anniversary rolls around, I find myself thinking back to the year of our wedding. He proposed to me the weekend I graduated from college. We were supposed to be apart for the next school year as I moved to Seattle to get my teaching certification. Fortunately for me with a simple twist of fate, he ended up in Seattle working as well. So, we have never really been apart for the last 34 years.
Our wedding story is one of my favorite memories. We were married at Our Lady of Sorrow. That should have given us a clue as to how the year would unfold. I was going to Seattle U at the time and working graveyard admitting in an emergency room. Going to school, working and planning a wedding was stressful. Fortunately, my sisters and stepmom were there to help. I remember one day I was particularly overwhelmed. My younger sister took me aside and wisely said, “This day is going to happen one time. It is going to come and then it is going be gone. It’s not going to be perfect. But it is going to be ruined if you worry constantly and forget to enjoy the moment.” It was great advice and I took it to heart. The first challenge was dealing with the Church’s mandatory counseling requirement. We had a difficult time scheduling it with school and work. Luckily my priest took mercy on us and agreed to meet with us privately. The first time we showed up at the rectory, we were met by my priest who introduced himself to my husband and then said, “So, you are one of those P religions right? Protestant. Presbyterian.” I am grateful he didn’t add “Pagan”. It just got better from there. We sat uncomfortably at a small table in the sitting room. Absentmindedly, the priest looked at his notes and looked up at us and then back down. His words seemed to be stuck in his mouth somewhere. He would start to speak and then swallow the words half-formed. His eyes moved up and to the right like he was testing each phrase out. Finally, he announced, “I’m not really sure why they have me do this. I’m celibate, you know. What do I know about marriage?” We were at a loss for words. I was mortified when the laughed I was choking back escaped in a rush. In an odd way, it relaxed us all. He truly did not know what marriage was like. But my husband and I had been together for 5 years. We had weathered the daily challenges of sharing your life with another person. Some were the mundane things that moved through your life like a tide rolling in and out, heavy and on schedule, like cooking or grocery shopping. Some things were punctuated and jarring like accidents or the illness of parents. We had spent many nights in the wilderness, alone together. There wasn’t much we hadn’t talked about by then. So I quickly realized this test was not for us. We had, after all, passed it already. We knew what we were getting into. We were in love and not in the theoretical sense. It did not take long for the priest to realize that as well. And so, we slipped into this brief period of meeting where he got to know us as we were.
With all the preparations for the wedding complete, the day finally arrived. We were getting ready at my father’s home where he had a nursery. The Japanese Maples he grew were a beautiful backdrop for family pictures. It was a very hot day in July. After much begging, my oldest sister consented to take us all up to get cold drinks. We got in the car where I immediately attempted to roll down the window. That is when I got my second-best piece of advice. I was mid-crank, when my sister told me to roll it back up. I whined, “It is so hot!” Without missing a beat, she replied, “It hurts to be beautiful. Roll up the window.” She wasn’t wrong. It did hurt, but I felt like a princess. After a tortuous hour of photographs, which our black cat repeatedly photobombed, we were off to the church. I was so glad to be sequestered in the cool basement with my dad. We sat there in comfortable silence for several minutes. Suddenly my dad sat bolt upright in his chair and said, “I think I am going to be sick.” He ran out of the basement before I could utter even one word. When the time came, I opened the box holding my bouquet. Taking it in hand, I walked tentatively up the stairs unsure if I my dad would be waiting for me. As I turned the corner, I was relieved to find him standing there. He took one look at me and said, “What is that?” It was at that moment that I discovered that the smell of gardenias made my father physically ill. This would have been good information about 6 months earlier. But there we stood, so I did what he taught me to do and told him to “Buck up because I am getting married.” And I did. Twenty-nine years later, I can still feel the smile on my face, the tears in my eyes and the swell of my heart that I had as I looked into my husband’s eyes and said, “I do”.
Despite the oppressive heat, mischievous black cat, gardenia aversion, quirky priest and ominous ‘Our Lady of Sorrow’, that day was perfect to me. When I think back on the last 34 years, there have been far more perfect days than not. Thirty-four years. It is hard to believe so much time has passed – so much shared history lived. We’ve shared 68 birthdays between us. We have held each other as grandparents, parents, and friends have passed. We celebrated milestones and weathered disappointments hand in hand. We have picked up the slack and given each other grace. We held hands when our child was born. We have argued and made up. We have laughed until we cried. We have done all the mundane yet stressful work of living and raising a family. Coming through the not-so-perfect days together is bliss itself. Marriage isn’t always easy. In my experience, it’s not endless days of wine and roses. It is knowing someone knows you better than anyone else and loves you for everything you are – everything. It is knowing that person has your back – always. It is knowing that love shared, in the end, will always dwarf the stress, fear, grief, and pain inevitable in this life. It is knowing that you are linked together and part of a greater chain connecting you to your greater family, your children and your community of friends. All of that is wedded bliss, truly.