In case you missed that…that’s SIXTY years.
I can’t imagine doing anything for sixty years. I have had four jobs in my lifetime, the last one lasting for a bit more than 9 years. I’ve been married for a mere 8 years. And for forty straight years the only thing I can say that I’ve done consistently is turn oxygen into carbon dioxide.
But in 60 years my parents have seen much. They’ve raised two children and lived through the disappointment of two miscarriages. My sister and I are 16 years apart and that had to be an interesting dynamic for my parents.
My father was drafted for Korea. I can only imagine my mother’s fear and my father’s bravery. Thankfully he flunked the physical because of rheumatism. I say thankfully because his four friends came home dead–giving their lives for their country. The army’s loss was my family’s gain as my dad worked for years as a school custodian, finishing that career as the chief custodian in a public school. He was the clear breadwinner in the family and he was able to send me to college somehow and my sister was able to return to school as an adult. Both of us ended up with master’s degrees.
My mother worked in the famed Yonkers carpet shop factory for sometime early in her marriage. After having my sister, she didn’t work anymore (or at least not much) and she was content to simply be mom. For most of my life, I remember Mom being sick and shuttling her to and from the hospital. As a child, the refrain of “My mother is in the hospital” became constant and the response was always an incredulous “AGAIN?” from my friends and teachers. Rheumatoid Arthritis (which is thankfully now getting much more attention as a deadly disease, a slow killer) was the big problem, along with a severe asthmatic condition and some angina. Later in life a colon rupture placed her life in serious jeopardy and somehow my tough mom has made it all this way. Look no further for the family hero.
Then again, my father is right there alongside her, never leaving her side with a dedication to her and to marriage that is simply inspiring. It would have been very easy for dad to give up, to let fear and his own discomfort get the best of him. But he hung in there and still serves as mom’s primary caretaker. I’ve only seen this man cry twice. Once when we thought mom was going to die and once again, when she survived.
Now that’s a dedicated husband.
When I asked them, in my own first few years of marriage how they were able to stay together all these years, their response was simple and almost identical:
Mom: “Well, you just do it. You stay together. You stick together and stay united and with that you can get through everything. Most people today run and look for a better deal. They don’t find it. They just keep better dealing everyone they marry.”
Dad: “Well the idea is really to be united, which doesn’t mean you have to agree all the time, but it does mean you have to live with the consequences of how you work that out. How will you try to come up with something that you can unite around and present that to those you love and meet? No matter what, you have to stay together and that unity makes the marriage work. So whatever you unite around, you stick with that. You LOVE each other–that’s the main thing and that love pushed you to stay together. How will I love her today? What will I have to deal with to love her more today? How did she love me today–whooo–that’s always a good reminder–and how does that make me feel about her?
In short, love can be enough. Come what may, commitment on the part of two people to each other takes a lot of work. It’s not always fun and games. My parent’s are close to being the last remaining relatives of their generation (In fact, my dad is on his side of the family. My mother has a younger brother and his wife who are still alive and well–and she was one of eight children).
Lastly, my parents were my first teachers of faith and I’ve come to the conclusion that the sociologists got it right when they claim that religion taught in the home is the biggest indicator of a child’s religious commitment. I know my parents were very dedicated Catholics. My father gave a good deal of his free time to the church in several ways. My mother has a great devotion to Therese of Lisieux, the little flower. And my sister teaches religious education and has served on her parish council and I have been a religious professional now for over 10 years. Religion was taught by my parents not merely through their example or even their practice but more formally, they’d make sure that I read things and watched movies and were shown what rituals were and made sure I was an active participant. My mom in particular made being an altar boy sound very exciting and my dad made sure that I got to my assignments. Even today they remind me to pray and I think it’s those prayers that have made me more closely united to them as well as to God.
We will celebrate as a family on Saturday. But the real celebration has already taken place. They’ve celebrated their marriage for 60 years.
And that is one hell of a party.