Saturday, March 2, 2019

I Do, Again and Again

Having rushed over from work, I arrived late, which only increased the awkwardness I felt walking into a bar alone. As unobtrusively as possible, I passed through the open doorway.  I really needn't have worried.  The room was dark and all eyes were directed toward a wall that turned to my right and was just out of my line of sight. These people weren't interested in me in the least. Standing uncomfortably just inside the front door, I quickly scanned the crowd, searching for a familiar face. I could barely make out a group of people standing on the opposite side, one of whom was wearing a white dress and standing in front of a white backdrop. Since I had arrived at the bar for a vow renewal, I quickly deduced that this was the happy couple, my nephew and his wife, and the crowd's attention was focused on a video playing on the wall I could not see.  I thought I spotted my sister's upturned face, but seeing as how she was on the other side of the room right in the thick of things, I couldn't get to her without drawing unwanted attention to myself, so I remained where I stood, silently ruing my decision to wear high heeled boots to work that day.

At the conclusion of the video, which I imagined was a collection of photos of the two over the last 15 years, the lights came up and my suspicions were confirmed. There at the focal point of the room stood my nephew and his wife dressed in wedding attire. The ceremony continued and the two exchanged vows that spoke of years of struggle and triumph and a commitment to their love for each other, their children, and their family.

My feeling of awkwardness grew, standing there in the back of the room by myself surrounded by strangers. I imagined that some were casting sideways glances at me as if I were an intruder, a stranger myself who had just wandered into this intimate setting by accident, looking to unwind after a hard day at work with a cocktail and had failed to notice that this was a private affair and my presence was unwanted. I cast my own sideways glances and noticed that most people were standing in pairs, making me feel even more self-conscious to be at a vow renewal without my own husband by my side. Somehow it seemed like this was something we should be doing together.

As I listened to them exchange their vows that they had written themselves, I wondered if my husband and I had missed an opportunity to do the same. Last summer we had taken a cruise to Alaska with our two children. We were excited to return to the place where we had honeymooned. We had planned to return to Alaska for our fifth anniversary, but babies and daily struggles had put up significant roadblocks, so it had ended up taking us 20 years. What a perfect time it would have been to renew our vows, I thought. And we had let the opportunity pass us by.
20 years ago when we happily said "I do"

But now as I sit here, thinking about our 20 years of marriage, I think that, really, we have renewed our vows more times than I could possibly count. As anyone who has been married can tell you, marriage isn't always easy. The path you initially set out on twists and turns and can travel through some pretty dark territory. Some days the path is almost impossible to discern. Whether you travel that path together or go your separate ways depends in large part on renewing your vows, consciously or subconsciously, even if it is just to yourself.  My husband and I renewed our vows numerous times through our early years as we struggled to conceive a child. We renewed them with the birth of our son Jared and then again four and a half years later with the birth of his brother Jack. We renewed them with every trip to the ER with one of our sons. We renewed them when we held each other close in our shared pain at the loss of my father. We renewed them (and still do) every time we set the alarm for way too early in the morning because one of us needs to get up when the other one doesn't. Lately, my husband has renewed his vows to me many times over as we deal with my mother's health issues. Through the years there have even been times when I am certain our minds screamed "I don't," but our hearts, whether we wanted them to or not, held fast to "I do."

Witnessing a couple's public declaration of an undying commitment to each other was beautiful and heartwarming. Who knows, maybe someday my husband and I will decide to do the same, standing up in front of family and friends to say "I do" all over again. 

But it's okay if we don't. We will continue to renew our vows every single day, simply by getting up each morning, committed to returning home each night.

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