“every day is a celebration”

One morning last week, as I was thumbing through my paper and munching my English muffin, I came across an article that stuck with me.  Various parts of it have been playing through my mind ever since.  It is about a local couple who are celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary.  Yes, you read that right — 70 years of marriage to the same person.  That alone is mind-boggling in this day and age, but it is other aspects of the article that I find more poignant….  and perhaps those other aspects are the explanation to the time-honored question of “What’s their secret?!”

Before I go any further, I’d suggest you read the article, here.   It’s short and it will open in another tab, so you won’t lose me!  I’ll wait.

[Cue the on-hold Muzak version of The Captain and Tenille’s “Muskrat Love”…]

Okay, now that you’re back, let’s continue…

The first time I read the article, something tugged at me, but I turned the page and put it down to sentimentalism, plain and simple.  But it was more than that, and when I returned to the article later that night, I saw clearly and with amazement the pieces that are profound and precious to me in this article.

1.  Don carries a scrapbook in his briefcase of memories of their life together.

Sure, this is a little cutesy for most people, and most guys wouldn’t be comfortable putting together a scrapbook, let alone carrying it around for years.  But the point here is that it embodies his priorities.  Just from that one fact, do you have any doubts of where his personal priorities lie?  Do you suppose his children ever wondered if their parents loved each other?

2.  Don remembers particulars about Dorothy.

Most of us sketch our distant memories in broad strokes.  It is only the truly important moments that we lock away with all of our senses intact.  I, for instance, remember exactly how Sabrina felt and smelled when they first placed her in my arms — the weight of her, the color of her hair, the pain my body was still accommodating to from my emergency c-section, the tears in my husband’s eyes, the stuffiness of the room — all of it frozen in my memory.  But Don, it seems, has many, many memories of Dorthy that are like that.  I love that he remembered “how the humidity melted her hair” when she stepped off the plane.   I am lost in imagining him watching her, absorbing her, after missing her for a while.  Sigh.

3.  Don is proud of Dorothy’s accomplishments.

Before any of you start shaking your head and saying, “Well, of course he should be!” let me point out two very important things:  FIRST, let’s remember that they were married in 1942.  They are almost two generations removed from most of us.  Feminism was not even a word then, and women’s rights still referred to the suffragette’s successful battle to obtain the vote.  This was an era and a generation when most women did precisely and only what their husbands allowed them to do.   No kidding.  And look what Don allowed Dorothy to do — to live up to her potential as a human being.  She did amazing things, in an age when only men did such things.  And she did it with a husband.  Seriously wow.

SECOND, let’s to be truthful here:  this is still rare.  I hear story after story after sad story about women who bind their lives to men who are threatened by their potential or desire to be more than a wife and mother.  Being a good wife and a good mother are both laudable goals, to be sure, but for most of us, they are not the end of our aspirations.  When I was married, had I suggested that I was going to attend a civil rights march, my husband would have looked at me like I was crazy.  It was all fine and well for me to pursue my personal interests and causes, as long as it didn’t inconvenience him too much.  And I’m not alone in having lived that at the turn of the 20th Century.

So kudos to Don, for selecting an amazing woman and then supporting her dreams.  Nicely done.

4.  When Don describes Dorothy’s attributes, he lists aspects of who she is, not what she does for him or anyone else.

This is the part that makes the romantic in me want to cry.  Don says this about Dorothy:

“She’s a caring, kind, empathetic and a super good listener.  She says very little but she’s extremely effective. She charms people and gets groups together and makes things happen.”

This is who Dorothy is as a person; he sees her fully — her abilities and personality as they stand on their own, not simply in reference to him.  There is no mention of how good a cook she is or how she starched his shirts for 70 years or how she played with the kids when they were toddlers.  But this is how we usually reference our  love for our partners — based on what they do for us, not on who they are independent of us.  Listen closely the next time someone describes their husband or wife — “He’s a good provider.”  “She’s a good mom.”  “He mows the lawn every Saturday.” “She makes a great pot roast, and that’s my favorite.”  and so on and so forth.  At first glance, this sounds sweet — don’t we all hope that the people we care for and nurture will notice and appreciate that? — but it’s actually a failure to fully see each other.  Appreciation is important, but if you look at the kinds of things I just listed, you’ll see that those are appreciation for roles we fill in our partnerships and lives, they are jobs we do, and an acknowledgment that we do them well.  Those compliments are not an acknowledgment of who we fundamentally are inside — the special parts of us that we bring to the people whose lives we touch everyday.

Now look again at Don’s list.  See the difference?  Hear the respect and admiration?  He sees her.  Fully.  And admires her.  Not for the roles she fills, but because she is those things, and she brings those things to everything she does and every role she fills because they are who she is.  It is possible that Dorothy was a terrible cook, and maybe Don would have liked a good pot roast once in a while, but how many of us want someone to choose us for our culinary skills?  Or for any particular role, in fact?  In all likelihood, she wasn’t a perfect mother (still looking for that animal…), but if she was “kind, caring, empathetic, and a good listener,” how bad a mom could she have been? Don’s description speaks of who Dorothy is in every role she fills, because it is simply who she is, period.

The difference is subtle, but very, very important, I think.  Because as we move through a lifetime together, roles may change.  Skills may be gained and even lost.  But I think what most of us want is to be loved for who we simply are, when the roles and academic degrees and accumulated professional accomplishments are stripped away.  We want to be loved for our sense of humor, our way with words, the gentleness of our caress.  Filling particular roles well can be rewarding and appreciation is always good, but to be appreciated without being fully seen is hollow at best and soul-crushing at worst.

Now, I will admit that Don is probably a bit of a romantic sentimentalist.  But the man is 90-years-old, so I am going to grant him the right to be gushy and mushy and over-the-top about the accomplishment of notching a 70-year marriage.  But really, how many of us are in a position to criticize his approach or his feelings?

Certainly not I.

So instead, I wish the Stonebrakers a very happy anniversary and many more scrapbook pages to come.

Not the Stonebrakers — but I looooove this photo! 🙂


Filed under happy endings, love, marriage, men, personal growth, relationships

9 responses to ““every day is a celebration”

  1. rascalfoxx

    great post kid, thanks 😀

  2. The piece of the newspaper article that jumped out at me was the third comment you made, about the husband being proud of his wife’s accomplishments… They were so very different in their interests and goals, and yet he supported her fully.

    That sounds simple but I know it was missing in my marriage and I can honestly say, it was a large contributing factor to our divorce. Sure, he supported me when I pursued an interest that he valued as well, like returning to teach part-time at our local university… I think it had a nice ring to it: “My wife teaches at CU.” But if it wasn’t important to him, I got no support, like when I started a direct-sales business a few years earlier as a stay-at-home mom. He saw no value in it – for him – and so he made it very clear that I was wasting my time. But actually, I was getting a lot of value out of it and wished that he could’ve realized that and supported my efforts, saying “I don’t get it, but she’s really enjoying it and so I’m happy for her to pursue this.”

    I guess this idea ties into the fourth comment you made, about describing what you like about someone… Is it just what they do for you? Or is it the person’s own characteristics that you like?

    Now back to the third comment: Do you support your significant other no matter what? Or only if it benefits you in some way?

    In the article, the husband clearly supported his wife and was proud of her accomplishments… even though they were so different from his at times that “he did all of the worrying.” And he loved her, not just what she did for him.

    That’s unconditional love… and it’s beautiful.

    • Exactly, Annie. How wonderful that she was able to pursue those dreams with him staunchly beside her, doing all the worrying. Sounds like a true partnership. I can’t even imagine what a lifetime of that feels like…..

      Obviously, they had to have had difficult times and bad arguments. But it seems like when you respect and admire someone so much, you’re more likely to find some common ground during those times, or compromise, or take turns getting needs met. Just good, old-fashioned, pulling together.

      Wish I knew these people. I’d love to just be in the company and soak it up. 🙂

  3. MysteryCoach

    And this is what I keep thinking and there you go, you’ve written it. Well done I love this… I have family friends who have been married for 61 years this past April and it’s the same as your article here. I look at the things they accomplished together, quite literally and it’s amazing. This is great precious thank you for sharing it.

    • I keep hoping that someday we will have some really good, solid, reliable advice for young people just starting out on how to be good partners to each other. It seems like for eternity, we’ve been winging it and getting lucky when we get it right. I wish my husband and I had known more when we married at 27… I wish we had had a better formula for how to be good to each other.

      Maybe someday….

      • MysteryCoach

        I really think it starts first with being good to ourselves and it gets all tangled from there and it’s also really important to be able to communicate. We start adding family backgrounds and hidden issues to things and it, quite sadly, becomes a mess.

        I think it’s about … not only being good to ourselves but just being good to others and all that stuff requires us to know US and then we tell people what we need or what we’d like and then hopefully come to a happy middle ground… for each other.

        Believe me, I understand about wishing I knew then what I know now and even now at times it can feel difficult to implement the good things we do know.

        I love this couple you wrote about that’s for sure. And I love my friends up state… I wouldn’t have exactly done things the same way but the best thing is the comittment level they have to one another. It’s really, really heart warming. They’re adorable. 🙂

  4. Ahhh….the salve I needed today. The reassurance that love like this exists beyond cinema. 🙂 Even when I think all my innocence has been used up, I find such hope in stories like theirs. And now I’m smiling as I head off to bed, a little bit of hope replenished. Thank you,

  5. Pingback: Single Moms Connecting With Single Moms « Single Mothers of Mary

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