Yesterday was my parents’ forty-ninth wedding anniversary. They were high school sweethearts and were married when they were only nineteen years old. About thirteen and a half months later, my brother was born. Five more years later, and I was there.
Forty-nine years. They lived in at least three different countries, have traveled across hemispheres together, hiked and climbed on mountain ranges that span the western European continent. They have traveled through countries together, walked one another through history, and literally saved one another’s life.
They are perfection.
They are symmetrical planes juxtaposed next to one another.
They are parallel lines that match one another into infinity.
They are the integers that have defined my universe.
My parents are not the best people. I haven’t met the best people, so I am pretty comfortable saying, though, that my parents rank as the top people I have known. And I have been blessed to meet some pretty stellar people.
But when Pat and I were scraping by, my parents sent us enough money to make sure we could have both of our kids in the same child care center. When I found out that what I thought was going to be a routine cavity was expected to be yet another root canal with an expensive crown to boot, my parents sent me their yearly tithe money because that was serving God.
My father taught me how to ski. Curled up between his legs, both of us making tandem snow-plow triangles, he coaxed and guided me down the ski slopes in Bertchesgarden. Almost thirty years later, I was doing the same thing with my daughter.
And it hurt like hell when we both fell over. I can only imagine my father’s agony given that he is at least four inches taller than me.
My father taught me how to play soccer, how to throw a frisbee, how to fish. My father taught me how to canoe, how to string a line in a fishing pole, and how to take a fish off the hook.
My mother taught me how to cook, how to clean, how to budget, how to trim out luxuries so that necessities can be bought. She taught me how to look at art and find my own meaning and then she taught me how to have the courage to believe that my interpretation was just as right as the most famous art critics in the world.
Because of my mother, I met President Jimmy Carter. Because of my mother, I met I.M. Pei. Because of my mother, I have walked through the halls of the Vatican, under the historic eaves of the Sistine Chapel, and across the alms of distant mountains that still sing to my heart.
Because of my father, I stopped being afraid and took my courage in both of my hands and started writing.
Because of my mother, I became a teacher. And next week, I will have the honor of attending a Teacher of the Year Gala…which feels really weird. I’ve never been to a gala. But I have two cute black dresses for them.
My mom didn’t teach me about make-up and fancy clothing. She taught me how to live my life with self-integrity and self-worth and dignity. I don’t really know much about what forks and knives to use other than what I gleaned from Pretty Woman.
But I have learned how to speak to men and women of authority without demeaning myself or seeing myself as a complete and utter subordinate.
My parents are neurotic and forgetful. My father is a bit crude. He knows more fart and burp jokes than my mother would care to imagine and I have learned the art of burping and talking from my father. Yeah..I’m really classy.
My parents are a bit hyper-critical, at times, and my dad doesn’t always know when is the best time to knit his lips together and let a compliment be a compliment because he likes to qualify what he is saying and that makes the compliment a really horrid insult.
Mom’s anxieties have nearly sent her to the emergency room. Dad’s heart gave out on him and my mother did CPR on him to the tune of “I will glorify the king of kings. I will glorify the lamb.”
My mother led me to know Christ. Both of my parents have lived their testimonies, though. And both of them continue to inspire me to come closer to God because too often I let down my self-discipline and slack-line my way into sin. And boy, I’m a good sinner.
My parents, together, have shown me love. Because they know each other’s rhythms so well and know how to care for one another. Yeah, Mom’s a bit bossy and Dad’s a bit obtuse. But when you’re nearing seventy and lived as rich a life as they have, I think you have have earned the right to be a bit bossy and to be a bit obtuse.
Mom’s crazy about things being clean. And then she bought a beautiful white carpet and my dad likes to bring home the fish he caught and clean them. Not a great thing when your home is decorated with plush, wall-to-wall carpet.
But I can’t help but love them. I bought them an iPod so they could see my children through video chat. But I call them more often than not. Because I love the sounds of their voices. I love just smiling at them and letting them see and know that I love them.
I have been told that I was horrible as a teenager. And it pains me that I have brought grief to my family, especially my parents. Because, yeah, they annoyed me. But I apparently put them through their paces, for which I am powerfully regretful.
I regret causing them pain.
I regret the mean and angry things I have said.
Because I can still feel the furious flush of my anger and the horrible words that spilled out of my mouth because I was stupid and self-righteous and thought I knew better.
And my parents…they have no memory of it. I have implored them to forgive me and they keep on saying, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
They act like I have invented those memories. But I haven’t. And I can’t believe they have forgotten those moments when they still spin themselves out in perfect little echoes across my mind.
My parents love one another. Completely and utterly. And after forty-nine years of marriage together, they likely have no idea what the traditional gifts are they are supposed to give one another. Instead, this year, they gave each other cards. And my mom took my dad out for an ice cream cone. Because love doesn’t have to be defined by a diamond ring or gold jewelry.
For my parents, love is a quiet walk to the beach and casting out lines together while the water slips around their ankles or sluices against their legs while they walk out into the surf together. Love is those quiet moments at night when Mom is asleep on the corner of the couch and Dad protectively keeps the television set quiet and tells me he can’t talk because he doesn’t want to disturb her.
Love is the special coffee they’ll buy one another. Or the fact that my dad used to vacuum the carpet right before Mom came home from work so that she would see the vacuum tracks and know that the house was clean. Not because she was picky. But because a clean home was soothing to her.
Love is in the fact that they still hold hands and will still hold each other and will even (ew) kiss each other. In public.
Love is in how my mom stares at my father’s kayak when he’s out by the crab pots fishing because her love is enough of a tether to keep him in the boat in case his heart decides to give out on him again (even though he has a pacemaker).
Love is how my father calls my mom “Diane-y” and Mom calls my dad “Luke.” They have pet names for each other. And they never stop using them.
Love is in the id bracelets they gave each other when they were going steady. Those bracelets are still in Mom’s jewelry box and, someday, in the distant future, I will have them. And will cherish them.
The inheritance I have received from my parents has nothing to do with material wealth and financial assets.
The inheritance I have received is truly seeing, constantly, what it means to love one’s spouse/partner whole-heartedly. And to ignore or at least let bypass all those quirks that drive one mad.
Because today is precious. Tomorrow isn’t promised. And yesterday is always a day away. So, for now, cherish what is here before us. And love powerfully and passionately.
Happy anniversary Mom and Dad. Thank you for everything you have given me.