First of all, a disclaimer. I am NOT the one of us who is eloquent with words of love. By a long shot. Pete is the romantic of the two of us. I have the emotions, but for some reason, I'm definitely not as good at putting them into written words as he is. But here goes.
Since yesterday was our 40th anniversary, and, really, this whole month-long trip was designed to celebrate this milestone, I've been doing a lot of thinking about being married for 40 years. Now, I know there are many others who have been married much longer, and others who have had more challenges than we have, but nevertheless, this is my experience I'm writing about. I'm not sure if it will be helpful to anyone else, but I still feel the need to record it.
Maybe I'll get better with my words as we go along.
It's hard to believe.
In the beginning, I believe we took marriage as seriously as every young couple does, which is to say, not that seriously at all. Of course we were in love, whatever we understood that to mean, and of course that shaped our lives, our decisions and our future. But I'm not sure we really understood what it all meant at the time. We just lived our lives together, day by day, without giving our marriage a lot of thought. In other words, I think we took each other for granted.
I've already written about how I've been a brat all my life. When I reflect on this time – our early marriage – now, I see it as a gradual giving up of my brattiness. Pete is – always has been – the rock in our relationship, full of good sense, grace, fairness, kindness. I've said many times that the reason we've been married so long (and so happily) is less because of me, and much more because of him.
I was the nearly-only beloved child of indulgent older parents. As my only sibling was both 13 years older than me and a bit of a wild child, my parents were delighted to have such a compliant, intelligent but not genius (my older sister qualified as one), engaging little dynamo to offset their sullen, brilliant, rebellious and disobedient teenager. I grew up with my parents smoothing all kinds of paths in front of me. Seldom did I ask for something that my wish was not granted – however, I also seldom asked for anything outrageous, having an intuitive sense of the limits. Nevertheless, this engendered in me a worldview that what I wanted should happen.
Not really a good marriage strategy.
Pete was lovely. From the beginning he put up with me, helped me figure real life out, and upheld me in all kinds of ways. As I lived through the early years of our marriage and learned it wasn't all about me, he was gracious and tread a brilliant and compassionate line between letting me win, and letting me know I wasn't going to. All in all, he set the tone, and it was a marvelous one.
Life happened. Two sons happened. Six dogs. We were busy. Isn't everyone?
Somewhere in there, we realized that we needed to make accommodations for our marriage, not just our family, so we instituted date nights once a week (we also had family night once a week, but this I not about that). We began to consider our lifetime marriage instead of our day-to-day living one.
That's when we started to travel.
Traveling, and planning our traveling, is the thread that continues to stitch our marriage tighter and tighter. Being together in Pennsylvania is great. Being together all over the world is marvelous.
We've had our challenges, that's for sure. In December 2014, following a disastrous gall-bladder operation, Pete developed necrotizing pancreatitis, and nearly died (I've been told 60% of people do). He spent 3+ months in a major medical center, much of that in ICU. It was a tense time, and a scary one, for both of us. I remember thinking that the constant fear, worry and illness would be our lifetime companion. Even when he returned home (by the grace of God), he was a sick man who required constant care for months. He wasn't actually able to return to work full-time for nearly a year, and our relationship changed from husband/wife to patient/caretaker.
We had to work, again, on reversing that trend. Pete's illness was extremely hard on both of us, for different reasons, and the healing process was not only physical, but emotional and mental as well.
In August 2016 when we finally resumed travel, neither of us was able to look at life the same again. We'd been given a second chance at life and love and we were grateful and not about to take things for granted again. We determined to make our time count – however we had to do that – and to enjoy each moment to the full.
So that's what 40 years is like – ups and downs, special times and not-so special times. Difficulties, but victories, too. It's love in the real world.