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. 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 she is now when I said, “I do” for the first time. In those days, two decades nearly measured the span of my entire life. Today, looking back, my bride and I are on the verge of spending more time together than we lived apart. That feels like a monumental tipping point… something worth celebrating.
What I could have told that cashier, but didn’t, because she needs to learn it on her own … is that measuring the years is only something you do one time every trip around the sun. To measure a life together, you have to count the days. Investing yourself, every day deciding to “I do” all over again. That’s how a person can “be with anyone that long.” As far as I can tell, that’s the only way it works.
It’s not because it’s “easy” or because you “found the right person” or because you “just fit.” That’s RomCom nonsense. Good for selling popcorn and a couple hour’s entertainment, but no good when Real Life smacks you in the face… which happens with disturbing frequency. You get sick. You get tired. You get sick and tired… of struggles, of frustrations… of each other. In those moments, you have to choose, you have to embrace the person so tightly there’s no room between you for the circumstances.
Over 21 years, you grow, emotionally and … believe me here … geographically. You grow as a person. Ideas change and perspectives shifts. You grow in your wants and in your needs. And then there’s the stuff you never see in a Hallmark card. Stuff grows on you. Weird stuff in weird places. With all that going on, if you don’t choose, you drift. It happens gradually, and it will surprise you just how far you can go without even realizing it. 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 to stay close. To hold fast and refuse to drift.
So, as I sit here, flipping through photographs, letting my mind drift back over 21 years, I’m doing my best to catch hold of 7,670. That’s what we’ve invested so far, and that’s worth celebrating. There’s a story in those photos… but not the whole story. Those are just the high points: births, vacations, parties … maybe the occasional hurricane. We don’t often take photos of the days we dragged ourselves out of bed and stumbled downstairs to make the coffee. We don’t snap pics of the mornings the kids forgot their lunch or tried to wear yesterday’s dirty shirt because it’s their favorite. Of the arguing and the stomping and the slammed doors.
We don’t really talk about the days we just got up and went to work, hoping we would have enough cash at the end of the week for a fast food date night. The days she taught preschool, then elementary and middle school. When I was baking, slinging sheetrock, building decks, or framing room additions… She would spend her evenings immersed in lesson plans, while I worked on stories I hoped to sell. Those were the days when we truly knew the value of a few quiet moments together sipping coffee on the porch swing.
Those days are every bit as important as the moments captured in the photo albums. Together, they all add up to a life well lived. To raising one boy who’s grown into a man who has the character to look for ways to help rather than asking for it. Those days also add up to another round as parents, raising a pair of natural wonders with piratical nerve and insatiable curiosity. Boys learning to love like their mama and fight like their dad.
There are a lot of ways to count 7,670 days, but I always come back to something John Lennon said about life. He said it’s “what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” I’ve always thought there’s a lot of truth in that statement. We build our lives out of the individual choices we make every day. I can’t say how many choices I’ve made in the last 7,670 days. Apparently, more than my new friend at the grocery store feels ready to make. And, in her defense, if you look at them all at once, it does seem impossible.
I wonder what she would say if I told her that first “I do,” so many years ago, feels like yesterday. Could she wrap her brain around that? I probably couldn’t at her age. Thinking about it now, I figure, if I just keep choosing, the next 7,670 will feel the same. Sure, the guy making that accounting will be a little older, a little grayer, and probably spend too much time looking for his lost car keys… And I’m sure the choices that guy makes every day will be different than the choices he’s faced with today…
But I hope that guy’s wise enough to keep making the choice that matters most… because it’s the best choice he ever made. 7,670 times… and counting.
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