August 31, 2020
Our 42nd wedding anniversary slipped by last week as we recovered, slowly, from five days of house painting (walls, ceiling, baseboard) and another of electrical work. We had beat ourselves up hauling most of our furniture down to the basement. We lived out of boxes while the painters were here. So it was an anniversary like no other. Like any other, you only get to 42 once.
As we start year 43, we’re at an unsettled time, putting it mildly. On anniversary morning the house phone rang. It was a recorded message from Donald Trump Jr., just for me. I didn’t stay on the line long, but he must have been following up the red, white, and blue brochure from the Virginia Republican Party we received yesterday, the one with the big picture of Don Jr.’s dad. How did Don get my number? Probably the same way he got yours.
We said “Happy Anniversary” to each other and went to Mass, but we haven’t made a big deal out of anniversaries for a while. They seem to come up when we’re preoccupied with other things. That morning a friend helped me install a new closet door. I called him after I spent two hours on it.
We were restless, distracted. Other things are going on, the house still is full of paint dust, the electrical outlets still are uncovered, the kitchenware and most of our clothes are stashed. We’re feeling pressure to stay focused on the Move.
We talked about other anniversaries, as usual. Like most codgers, I wear listeners out with my “I remember when … .” shtick. We started off by getting married at St. Mary’s in Nashville, Tennessee’s oldest Catholic church. We recalled our 16th: we went to New York and stayed in a classy hotel along Central Park South. A while back, out of curiosity, I checked on the hotel, it’s been acquired by a chain. For our 20th the kids treated us to a Potomac dinner cruise. They arranged it as a surprise, picked us up and, in a feinting maneuver, drove us through parts of D.C. we never had seen before dropping us at the pier. Nice memory.
For our 25th we went to Rome. That was a big deal. We explored the ruins, the museums, took a train to Florence. We got standing room tickets to the Pope’s public audience (John Paul II) and got lucky, pushed by the crowd to the front. As his official Jeep passed us, I caught his eye as he scanned the Square. I imagined him thinking: this one needs work.
After that, though, memories of big wedding anniversary events trail off. For most we exchanged cards and went to dinner or lunch. These last few days I’ve been going through withdrawal on memories of our August 2018 U.S. 66 road trip. The day before the anniversary we arrived in Las Vegas after a sweltering drive from Flagstaff, Ariz., with a stop in Sedona. That anniversary, number 40, was the turnaround point on the trip. The next day we flew home to start my 18-month sentence of cancer therapies. Last year we perked up a bit—a quick overnight trip to Richmond.
I’ve recycled those last two in this space. Chances are I’ll mention them again next year, if I’m still posting, more to the point, if I make it to 43. Edwin Newman, the mild-mannered, brilliant grammar martinet for NBC and later PBS captured what I mean with his lighthearted, and immortal, “You know, you never know.”
We all feel that way, don’t we? Right now it’s hard to think far ahead. We’re transfixed by the prospect of a cataclysm this November. The Republicans had their convention last week, the Trump children and a battalion of grovelers and courtiers prepared the ground for a further avalanche of lies. Whether you are hoping the country returns to the rational world or continues on the current headlong slide into the Trump cesspool, you’re engaged. Everyone is engaged, but also exhausted and angry. Everyone is a pundit, no one is neutral on this one. And no one is thinking right now about what happens after election day.
It’s always fascinating, on wedding anniversaries, to resurrect memories of the Big Day. No matter the setting, elaborate or simple, rain or shine, you stood there with your about-to-be spouse and made all those promises, with absolutely no idea what was going to happen next. You never know, right? You didn’t know where you would be on anniversary One, never mind five, 10, etc. So you look back on all those years and ask yourself, how was it for her/him? What have I learned? What kind of a person was I then, who am I now?
You try to recall the things you did to mark anniversaries, depending on how many, and how sharp you are, until you land on today. And you ask yourself: if I had tried to guess on my wedding day where I’d be today, and who I am—how close was I to the truth?
This isn’t profound or complicated or just for married people. Anyone can pick a long-ago milestone and follow it to today.
The real point of all this is that today is just a stopping point, a way station. We’re still, as St. Thomas says, becoming. You’re not yet the person who will stand at the pearly gates and ask to get in. Recalling a common nugget of pre-Christian wisdom, the Greek historian Heraclitus advised us, or warned us, we never step in the same river twice.
We all know these things, somehow. Maybe that’s why we’re all nervous about the election. Bottom line: regardless of our politics, we’ll all march on, happy or unhappy on January 20, 2021. Then we’ll wake up, look back in joy or regret—like on any anniversary—and get ready for next year.