Twenty-one Years

Plus one week. That’s how long we have been married. We celebrated last week by camping for two days at a quiet state park that was so beautiful that we couldn’t believe it wasn’t packed out. The Simon B. Elliot State Park has no water features, which is likely the reason the cabins weren’t filled, but in this season of brilliant foliage it was breathtaking, completely quiet except for the rustle of leaves floating loose when the breezes blew.

I got up early one morning to trek to the bathroom watch the sun rise as mist swirled over the sphagnum bog in the field behind the cabin. The bog was ringed by the crimson of maples and the scarlet of sweetgums, with a brushy circle of burgundy blueberry bushes and within that circle there were the cottongrasses lifting tufted silvery seed heads around the very center where the cattails grow. I didn’t dare to walk across the spongy turf, but I stood at the edge while the bluejays scolded and the grey squirrels nearly choked on their acorns. I thought about how fast twenty-one years can move along, and how an onlooker could think that we have some charmed secret for living together so long in relative harmony. (…Anyway… clears throat…)

We don’t have a charmed secret. If there is any secret, it is the vow never to quit, never to give up on each other or on our marriage or on becoming more one. I saw a sweet motto at Hobby Lobby one day, “Together they made a life they loved.” It is what we all want, I thought, and it is not a simple thing to meld two people with ideas and opinions and feelings into one life. But on this anniversary trip I felt like that is where we are: in a life we love.

It isn’t everybody’s idea of fun: staying in a ninety-year-old CCC cabin, pushing the bunkbeds together to form a bigger bed, reading by the fireplace, cooking our own steak and potatoes, hauling water from the pump with a bucket.

This- I thought- this is what it means to dwell together in knowledge. When you put in the time, you figure out what fills each other’s soul and what nourishes the both of you. You learn to avoid the things that do not make the other feel cared for. My husband, who is just a bit of an adrenaline junkie, does not suggest bungee jumping or paragliding as a fun couple’s activity on our anniversary. I love words and writing down what is processing in my head, but I do not insist that he compose me a sonnet. Nor do I ask him to play Fast Scrabble, which he loathes.

We played Canasta instead, late at night, round after round. The first game I trounced him (a rare occasion) and the second round he routed me by a mile. He humored me with a round of “state of the marriage” questions that I found online. We ate peanut butter cereal for breakfast and took a long drive to look for elk. I may have seen one lying in the weeds under a power line cut, or it might have been a brown barrel. In the afternoon we traced the story of the park on their marked history trail, strolled under chestnut trees to look for some spikey nuts to take home for the children. We marveled at the ethereal quality of the light filtering through the birch leaves, reflecting sunshine off the bracken ferns so that the entire woods glowed golden.

We slept a lot on the foam mattresses or in the hammock, or in our z-gravity chairs. I know- tame, middle-aged pursuits and where are the passions of youth? the big ideas? the grand plans? I don’t even know what to do with that question anymore. Something about living life faithfully, day after day doing what is given one to do… it saps one! It takes a firm commitment to do that for years and years, to look out for each other and for the people in our world. We put in the time. We commit our work to God, humble as it is. We offer each other our best years, our dying to self, our willingness to bend and give when the strong winds blow.

I guess that is how it happens.

Together we make a life we love.

3 thoughts on “Twenty-one Years

  1. This resonated with me deeply. Especially because when I first read it, we had just returned from a few days away to celebrate our own 10th anniversary. And yes- with time you do learn to choose activities that you will both look back upon fondly. 😉
    I’m curious what “state of the marriage” questions you used. I looked around online and didn’t find exactly what I wanted. We ended up doing the marriage assessment from Focus on the Family and it worked fine. We did it separately then put our results side by side and analyzed the areas where we came out differently. We also found some fun [spicy] marriage podcasts to listen to during our driving time.
    Ironic that you mention that motto from Hobby Lobby. In the past year I took pictures of that item to show to my husband, and I told him the longer we are married the more I understand what it means- “And so together, they built a life they loved”. It has sort of been our mantra this year.
    Last summer we stopped at Simon B. Elliot Park for a windy picnic on a road trip to MI. It was very quiet and basically deserted that day. We would never have found it were it not for our PA State Passport Book, and wanting to get a few more stamps from the northwest part of the state. So glad you had a good time!
    And congratulations on 21 years.

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