My grandparents, Jim and Bobbie Baker, recently celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary. It is an event that they had spoken about regularly for much longer than the year leading up to that April day. To reach seventy years of marriage is a feat of persistence in the face of the challenges of personal health, career decisions, and caregiving for the generations that come before and after.
My grandparents love telling stories. At each meal, we hear the old favorites (like the stories about my grandfather’s time at Cass Tech, about the pets they had when they were a young family, about their trips abroad—there are so many). As a family life counselor who only just retired in the last couple of years, my grandmother knows that listening to people’s stories can bring a kind of healing. Some people just need to tell their stories; some just want to listen to know that what they experience is something shared by many.
Recently, my grandmother shared this story with me, and asked me to share it with you.
A Christmas Blessing
It was Tuesday, December 1, 2020. It had snowed the night before. The ground was covered with a beautiful blanket of white, putting us in the Christmas mood. I had a doctor’s appointment that day, and my husband, Jim, was a little anxious about driving because of the snow and getting to the doctor’s office on time.
The driving was not bad, and we reached the doctor’s office in plenty of time. We walked into the office; because of the pandemic, there were not a lot of chairs in the waiting room. We registered and looked for two chairs together. There were two on the front wall, two on the side wall, two on the back wall, and two in the middle of the room. Jim and I chose to sit in the two chairs in the middle. We began to chat with one another and with a young woman sitting across from us and her little boy with crutches. A man walked into the office. He was casually dressed, wearing Bermuda shorts on this cold, snowy day. He sat down in a chair behind us.
A few minutes later I heard a voice behind me. I turned around and smiled at the gentleman when he asked if Jim and I were married.
“Yes,” I replied.
“I have never seen two married people talk to each other like you are.”
I smiled. He asked how long we were married and looked at me in surprise when I replied, “We will be married seventy years in April of ’21.”
“My gosh! Where did you two meet?”
I explained that we grew up down the street from each other.
“It must have been destiny,” he replied.
“I never thought of it that way, but you may be right.” Just then, we were called back into the examination room.
We had our meeting with the doctor, and when we began to leave, I noticed the man I had spoken with was still seated in the waiting room. Jim went ahead of me to open the door, and as I walked past the man, I said, “Have a blessed Christmas.”
He replied, “You have already given me a gift.”
I walked through the door to leave, and I could not help wondering, where did the gift come from?
Really, this story represents a kind of typical day for my grandparents right now. They go to doctor’s appointments, and they enjoy sharing with others they meet how much they love each other, how long this journey has been for them. The love they feel for each other has always been apparent. And what is important to me about my grandma’s story is that they were able to demonstrate something about that relationship to a stranger in a doctor’s waiting room through a simple conversation. We can imagine that the man in the waiting room spent his time there reflecting on the work it must take to sustain a marriage for seventy years. Perhaps his heart was moved to convey, through his actions, his love for someone with whom he has a familial relationship. Perhaps it gave him hope that he might find and work to sustain that kind of relationship with someone else. Maybe he reflected on how humility or forgiveness might strengthen a relationship that was hurting. And we can wonder what might have happened if that conversation had the time to develop: How did you make it work for so long? What got you through hard times? What is it that gives you each a deep sense of joy and purpose in working through each day together?
Of course, the message in my grandma’s story is implicit. Just like she wonders at the end of the vignette, we don’t get to know what “gift” the man experienced through that short interaction. But what we can take away from the retelling is a reminder that Christian marriage is a witness and a gift to others through what it demonstrates: that sustaining that relationship through humility, grace, forgiveness, and daily action is part of a couple’s work to witness Christ’s love to each other.
Photo © Monika Stawowy/Unsplash