Last Thursday my beloved parents celebrated their sixty-fifth wedding anniversary. That they are still together for this milestone is nothing short of a miracle. We did not think Dad would live to see that day since he is 88 years old and only three weeks ago his heart was failing rapidly. But clearly, God knows and numbers our days.
My husband Mark and I recently travelled to England to visit my parents for what was likely the last time. We found my father very weak, bedridden and hardly able to eat or talk. However, he was perfectly lucid, peaceful, and joyful, looking forward to entering the world beyond. By his side was my dear mother, 85 years old, still active and caring for him with the support of many others, including grandchildren and great grandchildren.
During the ten days we were with them, Dad seemed to defy the odds, gaining strength day by day as we celebrated joy in life. Then, on May 22, it was time for us to take leave of my parents and head home. The day began with a farewell breakfast, Dad sitting at the table enjoying the food and drink with the rest of us. Before leaving for the airport we gave a last embrace – not without tears of course – but also with deep joy at seeing them so at peace and surrounded by love and care.
We were travelling on our own wedding anniversary, our thirty-sixth. Mark and I had been looking forward to this day with great anticipation. Several months ago Mark underwent surgery for an aggressive cancer. Thinking that this might be our last anniversary together, we had envisioned spending the day with family and friends, not on the road or in the air.
But clouds can have silver linings, even if you are above them. We ended up commemorating our anniversary in a very unique way, flying home on a Virgin Atlantic Jumbo and enjoying a bonus five hours added to our day, thanks to time-zone crossings. For the occasion we wore red hearts on our jackets announcing, “Married 36 Years.”
When we entered the terminal at Heathrow Airport, we were amazed at the many nods and smiles we received as we walked towards the check-in counter. Some fellow travelers congratulated us with warm handshakes, and the airline staff was all smiles as we checked in. The recognition of our anniversary continued during lunch in an airport restaurant, and wherever we went in the terminal.
As we boarded, the cabin crew gave us a special welcome and during the flight went out of their way to help us celebrate, even presenting us with goblets of champagne.
Shortly after takeoff the entertainment system malfunctioned. Since we’d brought violins along (both Mark and I play and teach), we told the head steward we’d be glad to provide live entertainment for our fellow passengers. He thanked us and said he’d “keep that in mind.” During the flight we had other meaningful encounters with passengers and crew. We were reminded how all people, regardless of background, wish for relationships grounded in commitment and faithfulness.
Near the end of the flight the steward returned and asked if upon arrival we would play as the passengers exited the plane. We readily agreed. Prior to landing he announced, “We have a couple on board today who are celebrating their 36th wedding anniversary. They are violin teachers and have agreed to play for you as you disembark.”
So there we were, playing folk melodies in simple, two-part harmony as a seemingly endless stream of passengers filed past us. Most broke into spontaneous smiles, and it was heartwarming for us to exchange greetings, even if all we could give them was eye contact, a smile, and our music.
In this age of isolating electronic communication, experiencing the simple joy of human connection in this way was the day’s special gift to us. Of course, Mark and I have no idea what filled the heart of each person we met on our anniversary – was it happiness, or pain? But we hope and pray that the moments of “community” we experienced during our flight together meant they walked away encouraged. We know we did.
Today, we thank God for the gift of love he planted in our hearts thirty-six years ago and in my parents’ hearts sixty-five years ago. And we thank, too, that it was possible to share that gift with others, in a way we would never have imagined.