This morning I woke up feeling inexplicably happy. I don’t believe that I’ve heard a recommended time limit for widows to stop memorializing their wedding anniversary. Our wedding itself I have described in an earlier anniversary blog. I clearly remember several other special anniversary celebrations – our fifteenth in the backyard of our home in Red Hook N.Y. was a particularly joyful one with our older daughter and her cousins dashing around, and the one where Richard and I renewed our vows to one another inside the circle of hemlock bushes that were barely knee high in back in 1970. When we held a private recommitment ceremony, climbing back up the familiar wooded hillside in Shady, NY, the hemlocks were towering over us in their frothy greenery. Our fortieth was when we introduced our new son-in-law to our friends who didn’t attend the Texas wedding….well, there were all the other parties and special dinners on this date in August. I was always sure we’d at least reach our sixtieth anniversary, given that we were so young when we were married.
And that was not to be. Today is what would have been our fifty-first anniversary. I look at Richard’s photo taken in his fifties on the summit of Mt. Blanc straddling France, Italy, and Switzerland and I summon his visceral warmth through seeing his intensely present gaze. Dutch friends of ours had invited us to stay with them in their vacation home in France to celebrate their twenty-fifth anniversary and this picture I have on my bedside table was snapped by our friend Daphne on a daytrip to the mountain overlooking the entire area. It was our last big vacation and a joyful occasion to celebrate relationships.
Today, I am reflecting on the nature of love. The intimate dance of a marriage over years of sincere hard work tracks the growth of us as individuals and how we nurtured both of us within the partnership. To have been schooled in that university with Richard was such a gift. We received from and gave to each another in equal measure. Our strengths and weaknesses became less and less the focus of how to love and be loved. We cultivated the belief that love between us could become less conditional based on our behaviors, and more of a constant anchor, a given mutual well of sweet water always available to draw upon. As I was more and more challenged by my chronic declining health, we learned to navigate some rough roads. Parenting two very different daughters pulled us together as our priorities shifted as a family. When it was Richard who developed life threatening cancer, it was another huge lesson of how to stay in love, day to day, moment to moment, right up until his death.
During the periods of isolation during this pandemic, I am acutely aware of the loss of the deep and easy companionship that Richard and I had co-created. There is no one else in the world who can remember events and episodes the two of us shared over those many years. No one can ever walk with me again who could hold the depth of understanding of who and what I am becoming as I continue aging which he never will. No one else remembers our treasured private jokes and personal triumphs. I have dear old friends who knew Richard and me together from our early days, but theirs is still an outside perspective. Memories of that past life are now mine alone.
Today I am beginning to understand that the intimacy of love that I remember is still available to me. It Is not just based on shared life experiences. It is not just in relationship with another single human being, but within the single human being that I am. When I summon the love that I felt for and from Richard, it sets up a resonance within my body/mind/spirit. I had such very good training in the best of conditional human love, that exploring unconditional love leads me on, and takes my hand, my mind, and my breath away. I find that this love is not as confined nor is it dependent on anything or anyone else. It is often unnamed, simply showing up inside my room this morning or when I was outside looking at one of Kendal’s many ponds smelling so sweet after a rain-washed night. It is in my ninety-eight-year-old neighbor’s struggle to rise up out of her chair, the high school aged dining servers bringing me my dinner tray as we once again are unable to dine with others during the latest shutdown. Love is in the faces of the overworked short-staffed nurses as they are back to COVID testing us twice a week among all of their many other duties. We are united in love by hoping that no one else at Kendal tests positive. Love is listening to sad news reports as I sip my morning tea. Love is when I am wide open to living fully all that life entails.