My neighbor came over a few days ago and asked me for a favor. She is a petite woman, newly retired, and often shares with me wise or humorous childrearing tidbits that always seem to be spoken at the exact moment I need to hear them. After a gentle knock at the door, I smiled when I saw it was her through the window, eager to enjoy a few minutes in her company.
She held a blue envelope with both hands, and was gently pressing down the seal, stroking the softness of it.
“I’m going out of town this weekend to my daughter’s house, and will not be here on Saturday for my anniversary. Can you take this anniversary card for my husband and put it in my mailbox on Saturday?”
She handed me the card, and looked into my eyes deeply, as if to tell me without words the importance of its message.
“Of course I will. How sweet! How many years have you two been married?” I asked her. I had an idea in my head of how many years it could be. They have four grown children and a slew of grandchildren, so it knew had to be a big number.
“46 years!” she said with a chuckle and a can you even believe that? tone of voice.
“That’s ALMOST 50 YEARS!” I replied.
“I KNOW!” she giggled, like a school girl the morning after a middle school dance.
I just got home from taking the card down to her house and, like a secret Cupid on a mission, sneakily tucking it into her mailbox. While I strolled back home, I thought to myself, “How do you buy a card to say what 46 years of marriage means to you? What could a card like that actually say? Haven’t you said everything to each other already?”
Truthfully, it can’t say much. A generic card covered in flowers and loaded with sweet sayings cannot possibly convey what almost 50 years of marriage means. Sure, in that card there are probably plenty of “I love you’s, blessings, we’re so lucky, you’re my life partner….” but when I held it in my hand before delivering it, I thought about all the sentiments that card could honestly and genuinely say. Almost 50 years of a life shared has more than sweet nothings to represent it.
In that card there are decades of “Have a good day” kisses and long walks with hands entwined.
There are years spent living more like roommates than lovers, while you were rocking babies instead of rocking your marriage.
There are hundreds (hundreds!) of months reading bedtimes stories, doing book reports, science projects, sitting on bleachers for games and auditoriums for recitals.
There are small chunks of years spent hanging on to any shred of sanity you had, while you both attempted to comprehend adolescence, and the tornado that is a teenager.
There are days spent in grief, in silence, in despair, and in explosive arguments that nobody won and nobody will ever remember anyway.
There are moments of over the moon intimacy, followed by nights spent sleeping alone on the couch.
And there are the moments when you probably found yourself falling in love all over again, when you sent your last child out into the world, sighed, then looked at each other and the quiet empty house around you and thought, “Now what?”
And today, with your grown children all scattered around the country, and your retirement spent both enjoying some well deserved peace and quiet mixed in with frequent trips to dote on all your grandchildren, you still, STILL, think it important enough to surprise the person you married 46 years ago with an anniversary card.
That card? The one I just left in a mailbox for an unknowing husband to discover later today? It means nothing. And yet it means everything. And therein lies its true beauty. It means “I do” again, and “I would” again, and most importantly, “There’s still more for us.”
By comparison, my marriage is still young. We are almost at 20 years, not even half the length of her marriage, and the more that we have left to experience together is more than just exciting, it is my everything. The first 20 years of our marriage have been consumed with childrearing and growing roots. The next 20? That is when the sturdy roots push children out into the world, and when our marriage limbs stretch, grow, and bloom. That is also when we can sit under the solid tree of our marriage, the one that now provides shade and respite, and allows us to linger under its security, endlessly loving each other, ’til death us do part.
The years are long but the time is short, and that shortness of time left together, when husband and wife are knocking on the 50th anniversary door, is more precious than gold (there is a reason it is called “The Golden Anniversary.”) But I think the wife already knows that. She knows that the simple card she planned to have waiting today in the mailbox will mean everything, and I can’t help but agree.
I can only hope to still be their neighbors when the big 5-0 happens.
What an honor it would be to deliver THAT card.