Sometimes, as I look through photos of my friends’ proposals/rings on Facebook, I realize I don’t know your engagement story. I feel a little guilty—isn’t this something all daughters should know, should have asked their mom for time and time again? Maybe.
I can’t think it was a huge production. I’d have heard about it, probably, if it involved skydiving or a Caribbean cruise or a mob of friends dancing and lipsyncing to whatever love song was popular way back then. (Sorry. I’ll stop those jokes right now.) Knowing the two of you, it was probably a simple thing, just a romantic setting and “Will you marry me?” and “Yes.”
You didn’t want a party for your thirtieth anniversary today. I feel a little guilty, though I’m not complaining. Planning is not my strength, so it would’ve been mostly Erika doing that anyway. Probably, I would have just contributed enthusiastic moral support (I’m good at that). Maybe decorations.
I could have made a speech, I guess, and hoped the guests would be interested and not wishing I’d hurry up so they can go eat cake and those little pastel mints.
What would I say, though? The amount I know about your courtship, engagement, and wedding is really limited. Why did I never ask?
I don’t think I could say, “Thank you for these decades of marriage. Let me tell you how they’ve shaped me,” and then follow with a nice three-point outline. One funny story, one serious one, one that would make everyone sigh, “Awwww.” Then…what? “Thanks, guys. Thirty years. Here’s to many more.”
And everyone would clap politely and go back to chatting and I would sit down feeling like it wasn’t quite enough. That if I went over to the box of cards and ripped open the envelopes, someone—a wiser family member or friend—would have put into words what I can’t.
By now, I know how to articulate what I love about you individually, which I write in birthday cards. And I understand what you’ve meant to me as parents, so Father’s Day and Mother’s Day are easy. But when I stare at an anniversary card with some sugar-froth calligraphied nonsense about two hearts becoming one, I don’t know what to write. I’ve tried, over the years, to put together a collage of general gratitude to write in your anniversary cards, but it’s never quite felt right.
I always end up saying something vague about commitment and how much I love you guys, which is true but not everything. Your marriage didn’t teach me that I love you.
Your marriage taught me faithfulness.
Not just about faithfulness—what it looks like in a distant definition sort of way. You have taught me how to be faithful.
Because that’s it, isn’t it? No matter what’s written in sugar-froth calligraphy on wedding cards, being married and staying married is not about being perfect, about being each other’s favorite person at every moment, about never disagreeing and always having exactly the right response to every situation. It’s about being faithful.
It’s not about that one day Dad proposed, whatever that looked like. It’s not even about the day you walked away from the church with big hair, big glasses, and big hopes and dreams for the future.
It’s about every single day since then.
The day Mom lay in the hospital and slurred, much relieved, “Two little girls,” before sleeping off nine long months of being pregnant with twins and then both of you took way too many pictures of us in matching outfits.
The day where you hugged each other before Dad went in for a surgery he might not come out of, and everyone was crying and I was eight hours away trying to work on my project about Robert E. Lee even though I did not care, because everything could change and I couldn’t picture the two of you not together.
The day just a few weeks ago when you Skyped me after getting your picture taken for the church directory…the first time in twenty-four years your two kids weren’t in it. And I wanted to tell you that you were the most adorable empty-nest couple in the whole world and that you’d rock that two-people-only photo and could I have copies to put on my fridge?
All of those days tell a story of faithfulness. But even the days I don’t remember or never saw—the decisions you made without the kids around, the arguments you had, the times you wanted to put two spirited little brunette twins up for adoption, or at least rent them out for a week or two to any chump that’d take ‘em…those days all mattered too. Because you worked together and worked it out. You didn’t give up.
This is good for me to remember, because I am not a naturally faithful person. None of us are, really, I guess. It’s the grace of God that got you this far. Maybe I should write some thanks to him, in that blank anniversary card. “We love because he first loved us.”
If I just wrote that in the card, just that one line, would you know what I meant? If that was the full text of my imaginary speech at the party you don’t want, would people cry like I’m crying now because it means so much, all the stories and songs and sleepless nights and sacrifices that fill in the margins of those words…or would they stare and wonder who this daughter is, who can’t even say something appropriately moving on her parents’ thirtieth anniversary?
I love you. You love each other. We love because he first loved us. A trinity of constants, the ones that made me grow up without fear and turned our house into a home and taught me how to be faithful, even on the hard days.
I don’t know what else to say.
Maybe there is nothing else. Maybe it’s enough.