“Did you ever imagine we would be here?” My mom asked my dad as we reclined on pillowed chaise lounges gazing out at the silhouetted desert landscape, the unusually humid September air blanketing our bare skin in the late evening hour. The question dangled momentarily, hovering over the glowing pool, dancing around the blue neon light sculptures my dad had recently created and installed. I knew the question was meant unambiguously, referring specifically to this exact location, this house in this corner of the California desert, looking at these particulars mountains on this perfect early fall night. But the brief space between the inquiry and the response allowed just enough time for the sort of free wheeling, existential rabbit holes of thought my mind liked to take me on. Imagine… Here I was, living, breathing, experiencing. Here we were, specks of sand along an infinite beach, our brief windows of consciousness merely the smallest moments ticked off by an endless clock. Here they were, my precious parents, still together after all these years, more than half their lives spent by each other’s sides. Imagine!
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Today, September 29th, 2014, is my parent’s 30th wedding anniversary. For three decades, my mom has put up with my dad’s snoring, tolerated his ridiculous burping songs (don’t ask), dealt with his sweat drenched laundry and boyish tendencies. For 30 years, my dad has struggled to figure out the female species, weathered many a PMS storm, attempted to keep up with my mom’s incredible passion for all things cultural. For almost a third of a century, they have trusted in each other, supported and relied on each other, laughed and cried and shared nearly every part of themselves with each other. It’s mind blowing, really, especially for someone who’s never done anything for 30 years, not even breathe. Marriage is a commitment indeed!
I remember the first time I heard the origins story. Not any specific details, like how old I was or where we were when they told it, but rather how I imagined it. My dad was this handsome young man, full of chivalrous intent and Prince Charming like charisma, my mom this fun-loving, insanely brilliant, 80s fringe haired goddess, and as fate would have it they both lived in Seattle. One sunny day (the Seattle of my imagination never experiences rain), my dad waltzed into my mom’s Marais-worthy frame shop, print in hand ready to be outfitted, and fireworks exploded. One single glance and the world shifted, catapulting them into each other’s lives. But not just quite yet, because even though it was love at first sight (of course), my dad was a gentleman and therefore shy and therefore waited until a few days later when he returned for the framed photo to ask my mother on a date. And then he showed up at her door on his white horse, threw her on the back, and rode off into the sunset. (Okay, maybe that last part didn’t happen, but everything else is true.)
Even though I’m grown up now, I still see my parent’s meeting as a fairy tale. It really was love at first sight, the kind you see in movies. After three months they were engaged, within a year married, and now, a little over 31 years later, they are leaving on a month and a half long Mediterranean vacation tomorrow. Happily ever after does exist! I’d say the big difference between how I viewed my parents as a child and how I view them at 28 is that I no longer take their marriage and happiness as givens. Back then, I just assumed all parents were the same- fated, healthily dependent, and together forever. I think maybe every child believes this, for some deeply rooted, shared DNA reason, until proven otherwise. And since my parents never actually have proven otherwise, I’ve only learned about the possibilities of failure and misery in marriage through outside sources, and through my own difficulties navigating relationships. What they managed to make look so easy and effortless – unconditional love, raising children, running a business together and owning a home – I now understand was anything but. They were my age when they met, and when I think about how far away I feel from those things, it makes me shudder. How did they do it?
Well, for one thing they recognized the things that were truly important to each of them, and saw that their values aligned. They honored and respected each other’s qualities and beliefs, and knew that at the heart of things they were well matched for this thing called marriage. They had differences – my dad could be content living off the wilderness in Alaska, my mom could spend the rest of her life in a museum – but they were willing to make compromises (and to a certain extent, honestly enjoyed them.) Instead of creating unsolvable equations, their variables were like pieces to the same puzzle, fitting together to make a more perfect whole, always adding up to one. And when conflicts did arise, the answer was never shouting (which I maybe heard once in 18 years sharing a roof), but fair discussion and resolution and forgiveness when needed. And finally, they’ve always supported each other in their spiritual journeys, my mom as an artist, expressing herself through her paintbrush, my dad in his communion with nature, leading him up mountains and across countries, from one trail to the next. They didn’t just sit there staring into each other’s eyes after “the glance;” no, they looked out and charged ahead, side by side.
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“It’s amazing, isn’t it?” The crescent moon hung low in the sky, enjoying its splendor alone with Venus before the other celestial beings joined them. I looked at my mom, my dad, their joy, their sense of wonder. The years had only served to strengthen them, bring them closer together, illuminate their best selves. I had asked them many months ago what their favorite age was, and they had both said “now.” (Elkhart Tolle would be proud.) I’ve thought about that a lot since then, as I move through my 20s, growing more and more aware of the one way path we all head down, and it’s filled me with hope. My parents’ road hasn’t always been easy- there have been struggles and heartaches and illness and loss, all of the elements of the human experience- but it’s led them here, to their own little piece of paradise, their own magical place in the universe. Imagine that.