Forty-one years ago John and I were married late morning in a room overlooking the sea in Sidney, on Saanich Peninsula. Our parents, my brothers, John’s sister, their partners, and John’s aunt and uncle were present. Friends came later, after lunch, for champagne and nice food. Who knew what the years would bring?
They brought everything. A house we built ourselves, 3 children, books we wrote and books we read, together and apart, a garden, friendships, some travel, lots of happiness and also some sorrow. In sickness and in health the old wedding vows asked you to promise and although that wasn’t part of our own ceremony, it’s been true. There’s been far more health than sickness, thank goodness, but you don’t get to choose.
This morning I’m in my small suite near the UBC Hospital where John is recovering from bilateral hip surgery. That’s the easy part, though having watched him take a few tentative steps on a walker, assisted by a physiotherapist, I know it’s not easy. The more difficult path ahead will be one he’ll have to walk with a paralyzed foot, the result of damage to his sciatic nerve during surgery. We are hopeful that the nerve will regenerate. The process takes 2 years and it’s not inevitable that it will be complete and successful. But we will continue to be hopeful and do what we need to do.
I think of Stanley Kunitz’s beautiful poem, “Touch Me”, the opening lines our lines:
Summer is late, my heart.
Words plucked out of the air
some forty years ago
when I was wild with love
and torn almost in two
scatter like leaves this night
of whistling wind and rain.
Yesterday was warm, like summer, and in the night I kept waking to hear wind and rain against my window. We’ve celebrated our anniversary in many different places–Cox Bay, near Tofino, Vienna, Paris, a motel in Merritt–but mostly at home where we make a special meal and open a bottle of spectacular wine. This is the first time I’ll walk to a hospital with pastries and a book of Chinese poetry to wish my beloved another year of happiness. A few more days in the surgical ward, then the physiotherapist will help John into our car and we’ll drive home for the next chapter of this story.
So let the battered old willow
thrash against the windowpanes
and the house timbers creak.
Yes, let the timbers creak. They’re strong. We know that because we built the house ourselves