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75 Years of Grace

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A Date Worth Remembering

The date this essay will be published is May 20th. As it turns out that is the date of my parents’ anniversary. This year would have been their 80th. wedding anniversary. 2024 also marks the 100th year since their birth. These are memorable dates for our family to be sure.  As it turns out they lived long enough to celebrate their 75th anniversary together.  That is nearly the life span for an average American.  More than simple longevity, that number and the relationship contained within those years is a part of what I have previously labeled “visible grace”.  Visible grace is when you can see Christ at work in the world and be reminded that not everything is shit in our fallen creation.  It is important to remember that we have not made a hash of everything.   

Still, That’s a Loooooong Time

Nonetheless, 75 years is a massively long time to be in an intimate relationship with the same person.  It is difficult to grasp an anniversary number that large, the same way it is to mentally get your mind around the size of the federal budget.  It just does not compute easily.

First, to be married that long means you must get married at a really young age.  In my parents’ case my dad was 20, and my mom 19.  Today, that age for marriage strikes most as totally insane.  It would have been nuts for me, for certain.  Forget the fact that at age 20 I was a raging drunk.  Even if I had been sober, there was no way in hell I was emotionally, or financially ready to enter such a relationship.  True, it was 1944, and wartime, and it was a vastly different culture.  But still, 20 and 19!

So, what must it take besides marrying young?  It takes genuine love for one.  If that is not the basis of the relationship in the first place, it would be all for naught.  At the end of her life my mother (my dad had died 8 months earlier) commented on what it must be like to be in a 75-year bad marriage.  My response was that it would have not gone that long if it was bad; death or divorce would have intervened.  It sounds corny, all this talk of love, but really can you imagine a 75-year marriage to someone you did not profoundly love?

To find someone you love that much means that either Jesus took the wheel and steered you toward the other, or you got really lucky.  I’ll leave it to your theological inclination to decide which way God works in the universe.  It takes good fortune for both to live that long after you find each other, that cannot be gainsaid.

What it really takes, I think, is perseverance.  Just basic gut-level perseverance.  Life is not a wedding reception.  Much of life is grinding it out, day after dull-ass day.  You may look back in a nostalgic moment and see only the high points, but the reality is that there were plenty of valleys in there as well.  To live a life of visible grace does not mean you float through the world with no pain, and no effort.  This kind of grace is not in any way perfect, it is just edifying, and that is enough.

What makes it uplifting is that two people undertook to put in the effort to make it work.  In many ways they did lead a charmed life, and they started with many advantages.  Yet, they took some hard knocks along the way.  They lost their first child to what today would be called sudden infant death syndrome.  My mom suffered several other miscarriages along the way to delivering the remaining 8 of us.  It was not easy juggling a family that large, and managing a household, even with material prosperity.

There were moments of difficulty for both.  My dad traveled extensively as he built his business, that was hard for my mom.  She was emotional in a way he often did not understand, that was difficult for him.  Yet, through all of that, and much more that 96 years of life throw at you, they persevered.  They simply did not quit on one another, the love they shared, nor the life they committed to living together.  That, in any age, or culture is extraordinary.

If Only I should Live That Long

So, what is the takeaway here.  As in all cases of visible grace the lesson is in the example.  We can rise above the shittiness of this world.  We can aspire to something more sublime and beautiful than most of what passes for life around us.  These moments of visible grace can give us a target to aim for in response to the gifts we have been given.  They show us that it is possible to live a more fully human life, right here, right now.

So, I ask myself can I make it 75 years in a marriage?  Well, I have made it 30, so just 45 more to go!  Yes, I think I can, if only I should live so long.  It is not statistically likely given I married 10 years older than my dad, but I plan on making it to the end of this plane of existence.  If that is the case it is in no small part because of the example my parents set.  Their example of loving, faithful perseverance, and quite visible grace has imprinted itself so indelibly upon my soul that it has strengthened me for this amazing journey.  My older sister commented that the greatest gift our parents gave us was their love for one another.  So true!  There were many aspects to that gift but none more so than the overarching one of how to live a life filled with visible grace.

Praise Be to God

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