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20 Years On

Sonnet 116 William Shakespeare

Let me not to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments, love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds, Or bends with the remover to remove. O No! it is an ever-fixed mark That looks on tempests and is never shaken; It is the star to every wand'ring bark, Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken. Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks Within his bending sickle's compass come; Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, But bears it out even to the edge of doom: If this be error and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

I've always joked that I'd like to write the 'real' wedding vows, the ones you figure out along the way. The ones about who picks out the next dog, who replaces the toilet paper, who decides where the vegetable garden is planted— you know, the nitty-gritty of daily life. We exchanged the traditional ones 20 years ago (we skipped the obey part since I'm a bit of an anarchist at heart) and as I thought about what I'd vow to Ted after many years together, there weren't as many revisions as I initially thought. The essence of the vows would remain the same— love, comfort and honor through all the sticky, messy, joyous and beautiful times we've walked through together and towards all that is waiting in the wings. The dog picking, garden planting and toilet paper placement will work themselves out.

One of my favorite women in the world gave us a card on our wedding day with Shakespeare's 116th sonnet, written in her hand, on the front cover. I remember reading it as a 23-year-old woman and thinking, 'well, that's nice' but didn't quite catch Ann's or Shakespeare's drift. I just ran across her card in one of my cookbooks a few weeks ago (that's where I put all the good stuff— cards, feathers, kid's artwork) and re-read those wise words as a 43-year-old woman. Not only did I catch Shakespeare's drift, I realized how prophetic that sonnet was when Ann gave it us all those years ago—  Ted has been my 'ever-fixed mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken' for over twenty years and trust me, that's no small feat.

We met on a bus going to the University of Minnesota when I was a freshman. He tried to catch my eye but I was very invested in being a 'college student' and was listening to my Walkman (remember those?), reading a book (something collegiate, I'm sure) and pointedly ignored him. He approached my table in Coffman Union, asked if he could join me and the rest, as they say, is history.

We dated for about 4 years and just when I was wondering where this train was headed, we went to lunch at the Choo-Choo Bar in Superior and for a walk on Moccasin Mike Beach on Valentine's Day 1993 and he asked 'the' question. Except his question was 'where do you see yourself in 20 years? 'and I answered,  'in an old farmhouse with a Newfoundland.' Not quite the answer he was expecting so he re-phrased it to something like— what if we got married? I asked him if he was serious and then said, absolutely, let's do it....the dog and farmhouse can wait.

Our life have been full since our wedding day in 1993— Jack was born eleven days before our first anniversary, we've moved seven times, had more jobs than I can count, hosted more parties than I want to count, bought our sailboat before we owned a house, traveled thousands of miles back and forth to Lake Superior, drove through a blizzard to pick up our Newfoundland Guinness, watched our family grow with the addition of Will, Sadie, Charlie and Meghan, took Talikser all over western Lake Superior, tried to be a two Newfie family but decided against it, spent many nights with a baby sleeping between us, acquired a MG Midget with a sordid past, drove more country roads near Cumberland than I can remember, decided to be a 4 dog family and finally bought our home in Bayfield. We've lived, loved, fought, stumbled, cried and laughed our way through the past 20 years together and I wouldn't have done it any differently (except maybe tried harder at the two Newfie family bit).

A new marriage is like a sapling, not much in the way of roots or canopy, but as the marriage grows and takes on the patina that only messy, loving and complicated living can provide— the roots grow deeper, the canopy expands and the gnarled trunk develops into the core that holds the two together. It's been a ride to remember and there is only one man I wanted at my side and thank God, 20 years later, he still is.

Ted's dad, Frank, gave me the book A Gift From The Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh in 1990 and it was another, 'well, that's nice' experience but Lindbergh's wise words didn't fully resonant with me until I had five kids, a marriage and the blessed respite of the beaches of Lake Superior. She likens the middle years of a marriage, when it's all about the untidy and sprawling business of building a family, to an oyster shell. She says, 'It suggests the struggle of life itself. The oyster has fought to have a place on the rock to which it clings tenaciously'. Oysters don't have the prettiest shells but they form a formidable home around a tender, living being— similar to the marriage that grows around the initial bright light of new love.

She described our marriage, 20 year on,  perfectly, 'The web is fashioned of love. Yes, but many kinds of love: romantic love at first, then a slow-growing devotion and, playing through these, a constantly rippling companionship. It is made of loyalties, and interdependencies, and shared experiences. It is woven of memories of meetings and conflicts; of triumphs and disappointments.' I know we'll move beyond our oyster shell towards quieter times but, right here right now, we are exactly where we should be— encased in the shell of the life we are creating.

Every love story worth telling needs a soundtrack and since I'm a big believer in theme songs for all of our milestones, it was up to me to set our marriage to music.  A marriage theme song is a big deal and required some serious thought on my part (Ted wasn't as into personal theme songs so there was the added pressure of the surprise element). I settled on These Are Days by 10,000 Maniacs and, like Sonnet 116, that song has proved to be incredibly prophetic. There is a line in the song that says, 'you are blessed and lucky. It’s true that you are touched by something that will grow and bloom in you' and it couldn't be more right on as I look back on the past 20 years. We've been blessed with a life full of realized dreams bigger and better than the ones we had dreamt for ourselves. It's complicated, the business of marriage, but as Saint-Exupery said, 'love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward in the same direction.' During our best and worst times, Ted and I have always gazed in the same direction— towards our children, the Lake and each other. We have indeed been blessed.

These Are Days10,000 Maniacs

These are the days These are days you’ll remember Never before and never since, I promise Will the whole world be warm as this And as you feel it, You’ll know it’s true That you are blessed and lucky It’s true that you Are touched by something That will grow and bloom in you

These are days that you’ll remember When May is rushing over you With desire to be part of the miracles You see in every hour You’ll know it’s true That you are blessed and lucky It’s true that you are touched By something that will grow and bloom in you

These are days These are the days you might fill With laughter until you break These days you might feel A shaft of light Make its way across your face And when you do Then you’ll know how it was meant to be See the signs and know their meaning It’s true Then you’ll know how it was meant to be Hear the signs and know they’re speaking To you, to you