I was at the grocery buying an anniversary card, because that’s what you do when the Hallmark next door has vanished without a trace. In line, the cashier snuck a peak at the card and her eyes went wide. “Happy Anniversary! How many years.”
“Wow. Uh … I don’t know if I could be with anyone that long…”
I smiled. I know what she means. I was younger than her when I said, “I do,” and at the time, nearly two decades seemed like an eternity. In a few years, we will have been together longer than we lived apart. There’s something monumental about that particular tipping point.
What I could have told that cashier, but didn’t, because she needs to learn it on her own … is that you don’t measure the years except in cards and carefully arranged roses left where they will bring a smile. What you measure … is the days. Because that’s how you “be with anyone that long.” You don’t count the years, you invest the days. Each day, every day, you decide, “I do” again. That’s the only way it works. The only way it ever works.
It’s not because it’s “easy” or because you “found the right person” or because you “just fit.” Because you’ll grow in those years, emotionally and … trust me on this one … geographically. If you don’t choose, you drift. And each day of drift makes it harder to come back.
When you’re learning boating in open water, one of the first things a competent teacher will tell you is never swim away from the boat without testing the anchor. If both of you are drifting, swim all you want, but no matter what you’ve seen in the movies, you’re apt to exhaust yourself before you make it back. Marriage can be like that. You have to choose. Both of you. Sometimes, it’s not like that. More than half the time, the census takers tell us.
So, as I look back on 19 years, I try to remember 6,940. That’s what we’ve invested so far, and that’s what we’re celebrating. The photo albums don’t tell that story. Those are just the highest points: births, vacations, parties … and the occasional hurricane. All those days we just got up and got to work matter just as much, maybe more. When she was teaching preschool, then elementary and middle school. When I was baking or slinging sheetrock or throwing tile, framing rooms, selling stories or building magazines. Those early years of two jobs and trying to sneak a few quiet moments with coffee on the porch swing. Raising one strong young man with the heart of a hero … then starting all over again with a pair of pirate explorers who love like their mama and fight like their dad.
John Lennon said life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans, and there’s a lot of truth in that statement. Life, the way I figure it, is also what you choose every day. 6,940 seems like a lot of choices. More than my friend at the grocery feels ready to make. But, as I sit here looking back … it feels like yesterday … and I know if I keep choosing, it will feel just like that in another 19 years.