Anniversary anticipation

I’ve been having fun conversations with a young couple. They have set their wedding day for June and are excited about planning their ceremony. I met them at our church where they have become active, volunteering and participating in small groups. The bride to be is in one of the small groups that I facilitate and I have made it a practice to write a prayer for each meeting of the group. She asked me if I would write a prayer for their wedding, and I was honored and happy to say, “Yes!” to her request. Last night, the soon to be groom was helping run the sound board for a variety show at the church and he lingered after the show was finished to help with cleaning and picking up before we headed home.

Their story is very different from mine. They have been together for 12 years and they have been planning to marry for quite some time, but it took a while for them to find the right combination of available time, health of family members, a sense of financial security, and other factors. Then the covid pandemic put a damper on all public gatherings and they decided to wait. Now, in less than a month, the day will come. They’ve arranged for the use of an historic house that is now owned by the city park district and rented for such special occasions. They’ve invited their family and friends to gather, they’ve planned for refreshments. It is going to be a wonderful celebration.

The announcement of their wedding reminds me of something that happened to us the summer that we were married. Not long after our wedding ceremony we attended the 50th anniversary of a couple who were members of our church. There was a bit of attention paid to us because we were newly wed and they had been married for 50 years. At one point in the celebration they asked the husband of the couple the key to the success of their marriage. He replied, “The trick is to decide that you will stay together - no matter what - all the way through the initial adjustment period.” When asked how long the initial adjustment period was he said, “As near as I can figure, it is somewhere longer than 50 years!” It was a joke that got a laugh from the assembled crowd.

Now it is 50 years later. A few days after this young couple celebrate their wedding, we will celebrate our 50th anniversary. If asked about the key to our long and happy marriage, I’m not sure what answer I could give. I don’t have a joke like the husband in that long ago celebration. And I certainly don’t have any wisdom that will help this couple as they navigate all of the ups and down of a life together.

What I do know is that there is a fair amount of good fortune - luck - involved. We were lucky to have found each other when we were young. We have been lucky and blessed with good health. My parents had a wonderful marriage, but my father’s cancer ended his life before his 60th birthday. They didn’t get 50 years. I’ve known a lot of couples whose stories are similar. There is nothing about our marriage that is stronger or more compatible than theirs. We simply have been blessed with good health to live together for a long time.

Quality, of course, is not measured by the number of years. There are very good marriages that have lasted much shorter lengths of time. There are plenty of widows and widowers who are left alone through no fault of theirs or of their partners.

It happens that I also know a couple in our church who are celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary in June this year. I laugh a bit when I think of our 25th anniversary. We didn’t have a big celebration on the day. In fact, the members of our congregation had a cake made for the coffee hour after church in our honor and Susan was not there when the surprise was revealed. She and our children were out of town visiting her parents. We had different work schedules in those days and she was working part time. We’ve always found special ways to mark our anniversary, but haven’t always held our celebration on the exact day of our anniversary. This year our children and we are hosting a gathering of friends and family, but it will be a bit earlier than our actual anniversary day. Our daughter’s husband’s parents were married the day after we were wed and so she and her husband have two 50th celebrations to attend. One is in Washington the other in Virginia - not far from Washington, DC. Had we insisted on our celebration being the actual day, it would have been nearly impossible for them to make the distance between the two locations in time. It was easy for us to coordinate with his parents to come up with a schedule that works for their family.

I’m looking forward to the gathering. I want to make sure that we have some family pictures taken to join the gallery of photographs on our living room wall. We will want to remember the occasion and savor those memories. Part of the preparations has been the purchase of a new ice cream maker. We had homemade ice cream for our wedding reception - made by Susan’s father. We’ll have homemade ice cream following the same recipe for our 50th anniversary party. This time I’ll have the assistance of our grandchildren in making the ice cream.

At our party, however, I’d rather not have anyone ask me about wisdom about a successful marriage. I’m not sure I have any wisdom to offer other than to love each other and treasure each day because each day is precious. We’ve been lucky to have been able to share so much. We’ve always worked together professionally as well as working side by side in making a home and raising children. We’ve had the support of wonderful family and friends. in the end the length of our marriage has not been determined by wisdom. In fact, I’ve been very fortunate that Susan has been tolerant of my folly. And I know that the young couple in our church who will soon be married have their own wisdom that is worth noting. In some ways they may be more wise than we. I pray they will be as fortunate as the years pass.

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