Columnist Valerie Schultz

The number 40 in the Bible is used to signify a really long time before something important happens: 40 days and nights of unrelenting rain for Noah keeping the faith in his ark, 40 years of wandering for God’s chosen people before they get to the Promised Land, 40 days of fasting for Jesus in the desert. I am especially aware of this big number today, because it is our 40th wedding anniversary. I am not suggesting that anything important is about to happen, but it does feel like a really long time. In a good way.

I remember going to a party for my grandparents’ 40th anniversary. They were very old and except for my cousins, a lot of old people had gathered to wish them well. I remember Great-Aunt Sue looking like a toad and my brother saying under his breath, “Ribbit.” Forty years was obviously a ridiculously long time to be alive, let alone to be married.

And here we are. Me and this guy.

Isn’t it one of the ironic parts of aging that we find ourselves at the advanced stages of life where we thought we’d be totally different when we reached them, but we are not? Today I inhabit my grandmother’s skin, wondering how I got here, just as I now realize she must have been feeling at the time, too. It was 40 years ago today that I stood at the altar in my off-white wedding gown with the blue ribbon and promised this handsome young man in his formal morning coat that I’d stick with him through all those unimaginable opposites, better or worse, rich or poor, healthy or sick. He promised the same things.

And here we are. This guy and me. We’ve experienced all of those extremes together, and then some.

We can’t complain about this life we’ve shared. We raised four fantastic daughters. We’ve added a daughter-in-law, a son-in-law, a fiancé and two grandchildren, all of them fantastic as well. We are reasonably healthy. We are recently retired. We still like each other. We still love each other. We still do the things that people in love do. So as not to mortify my children — “MOM!” — I’ll stop there.

But, man, 40 is a huge number. It seems far more ominous and possibly terminal than 39. Maybe it’s the age of COVID we’re living in that makes me ponder how much longer we may have together on God’s green earth. Of course we could be looking at another 20 or 30 years of marriage, but the odds surely worsen as the years pile up.

Morbid, I know. But we can hardly deny the cycles of life.

My grandmother was at my wedding, possibly remembering the vows she’d made so many decades ago. She was habitually irritated with my grandfather until the day he died, whereupon he became a saint. Marriage was different in those days: I know she never thought of herself as a full partner in anything they did or decided to do. Wives were subservient and compliant and often secretly resentful. Marriage, thank our lucky stars, has come a long way.

And here we are. This guy and I have decisions ahead, as well as curves and forks in the road that we can’t anticipate. But I wouldn’t want to be traveling it with anyone else. My husband is kind and smart and funny and supportive and romantic. Sometimes he worries too much, but sometimes so do I. Our marriage has a rhythm that I can only attribute to God’s grace, because we have bad days on different days. One of us is strong when the other is weak. One of us is hopeful when the other is despondent. One of us is unwavering when the other is full of doubt. One of us is cheerful when the other is blue. One of us is balanced when the other is too close to the edge. We’ve managed this marriage for 40 years. I think it’s going to last.

Our first kiss happened on Sept. 13, 1978, when we were in college. We got married two years later on the same date because it was a Saturday. On this Sept. 13, the world is a completely different proposition, many of our loved ones are gone, our bones creak and we say “What?” a lot, we cannot gather with family or have a party, but all is well. We’ll look through our wedding photo album and Zoom with our family and watch the sunset and immerse ourselves in blessed gratitude.

Because here we are.

Email contributing columnist Valerie Schultz at vschultz22@gmail.com. The views expressed here are her own.

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