Dearest Rachel –
My parents celebrated their sixty-first wedding anniversary last Friday. It’s a difficult number for me to wrap my head around. Of course, they’ve always been married for seven and a half years longer than I’ve been alive, but the longer I live, the larger their number gets, to the point where it’s downright extraordinary.
At Dad’s urging, I’ve gotten a present for the both of them a couple weeks ago. But since I wasn’t likely to see them until Sunday (although, now that I think about it, I could’ve had it all together by Thursday when the three of us ate over at their place, but it hadn’t occurred to me at that point), I hadn’t gotten a card for them until yesterday.
The plan, as you might expect, is to hand it off to them in church; in older, brighter days, the family would’ve gotten together after the service at some restaurant to celebrate. My brother-in-law and I would pick up the tab for everybody, and we’d present out gifts to them then.
But Bill and Jenn are out of town this weekend, and Dad still is physically unable to eat. He doesn’t seem to mind going to restaurants, but he doesn’t get anything out of it like he used to. He and Mom will stop at home, where they go about their process of feeding him that Glucerna stuff via a gastrointestinal tube, and then join us wherever.
It’s not the same as it used to be. But of course, these days, nothing will ever be the same as it used to be. Even if he somehow eventually does regain his ability to swallow and eat, there’s always gonna be that empty place at the table, isn’t there?
And this is where things get dark and difficult. I made a point of texting them on Friday, wishing them a happy anniversary, and many more years to come. And I truly mean that; if anyone on earth has the right to live a long and happy life together, it’s the two of them.
But, as the king of Sparta once observed, it all comes down to one little word: ‘if.’
Because none of us has the right to anything. There is nothing on earth that we deserve, no matter how good or bad we might be. Too often we forget that. We don’t even have the right to our next breath or heartbeat.
Don’t brag about tomorrow; you don’t know what ·may happen then [L the day may bear/ bring forth].Proverbs 27:1, Expanded Bible
Certainly, you brought that home to us this year.
I mentioned all this because, when I texted my greetings to the folks, wishing them many more years together, I initially added something along the lines of how they needed to “make up for the years that [you] and I will never have.” I meant it sincerely, but when I looked at it in print, I quickly deleted it, as it clearly looked bitter and resentful.
Because I know better than to think I had the right to a ‘happily ever after’ with you. And conversely, I don’t have the right to be upset that the folks may well still have that ‘happily ever after.’ The Lord gives life those those He pleases, and takes it from others. To be sure, it’s not exactly a zero-sum game, but it’s not as if we’ll ever necessarily see the rhyme or reason in this lifetime.
Just because it’s not going to happen to me doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t wish happiness for them; it’s still in their grasp, after all. And from a human perspective, if anyone had the right to a happily ever after, it’s them.
Dad would occasionally tell me the story about how, when I was young and (at the time) their only child, we lived in a different suburb, across the street from a Catholic rectory that basically covered the entire block. He and Mom got along well with their neighbors across the street, to the point where one of the fathers (possibly the abbot himself; I’m not entirely sure, and I guess that in many ways, it doesn’t really matter) straight-up told him that, when his time came, he wouldn’t have to worry about Purgatory; “You’re going straight to heaven, Mr. Larson.”
Knowing my Dad, he was probably too diplomatic to give a Han Soloesque “I know” in response; I’m sure he let it suffice with a simple “thank you.” I mean, it’s always nice to get a professional opinion on such matters, isn’t it? Even more so, the idea of a professional Catholic allowing that a filthy Protestant is not only going to heaven, but bypassing Purgatory as well? Back then, that sort of acknowledgement would have been considered beyond high praise, and I’m certain that my Dad accepted it in the spirit in which it was given.
But of course, the abbot was only human himself, every bit as much as you or I, and with regard to such determinations as to where one would be sorted after this life, he had no more right to make that call than anyone else. We on earth have given that authority to certain people (and the abbot was one such person that had been granted such by others than my Dad), but it isn’t as if we have the right to do even that: the authority isn’t ours to grant.
And just as we have no right to assert that are given individual is entitled to eternal – or even temporal – bliss, so too do I have no right to be bitter or resentful about those who might have it. And I really, truly am happy for them, and I want them to stick around together for a long time yet to come. If nothing else, they are this wonderful example that challenges anybody who knows them to follow, and the longer they’re around, the more people get to see that example. We all need to see how it’s done right – every bit as much as we need to bad examples to avoid.
And sure, you and I – individually – have and have had questions about whether we were following adequately in their footsteps. We wouldn’t have been the example that they were and are. So maybe it’s just as well. In any event, I’m in no place to understand why, or complain. I just don’t have that right.
I just wish I didn’t have those feelings from time to time.
Wish me luck in dealing with them, honey. I’m still going to need it.