70 Years Married

 

 

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Dear Mr. and Mrs. Wonderful,

Hello and hugs to you both!  How are you feeling?

I received a message from Wonderful Son this weekend, and it made my day!  He said you have settled in a place where you are both happy and getting the care you need.  You live near Wonderful Daughter, whom you see often, and everybody is happy and doing well.  I’m so glad!

More importantly, Son said the family will celebrate your 70th wedding anniversary soon!  He invited me to contribute a short video selfie to the well wishes.  Wow, what an honor.  I only got to serve as your primary care doctor a couple of years before you moved.  In that time I had the privilege of witnessing not just each of you as my patients, but you both as a couple, and your Wonderful family.  Please allow me to share my observations?  Here is my experience of you:

Ease.  Whenever I saw you two together, there was a peace and ease about your dynamic.  Patterns of relation were established long ago, and it worked.  I witnessed friction at times, but it was transient.  The vibe of our encounters was never agitated; it always felt to me that I had stepped respectfully into your well-oiled routine, and I tried my best to not disrupt it.

Patience.  Nobody rushed anybody when we were together.  Questions were answered, sometimes right away, sometimes after a while.  But you always gave each other the time and space to get where we were all going.

True Acceptance.  The Gottmans tell us that about 2/3 of marital problems are unsolvable.  This fall I will have been married half my life, 23 years.  This summer I think I may finally understand in my limbic brain, possibly, how to be in a marriage—something to do with really accepting the other person for who he is, like really, honestly, and wholeheartedly.  It was clear soon after meeting you both that you had figured this out long ago.  If I can get to 70 years, maybe I don’t have to feel bad that it took me 23+.

Devotion.  Medically, it has not been all lollipops and rainbows these few years, for either of you.  But whatever was happening for one of you, the other was right there, attending, caring, waiting, loving.  What more could any of us ask for?  And the Wonderful Children learned from your example; knowing them and seeing their devotion to you, their loving parents, inspires me deeply.

Learning, Growth, Adaptation.  Even at your age, there were things you did not know or understand.  Your bodies betrayed you in some ways we could not have predicted, and in others that you may have anticipated but were still a challenge to accept.  With the help of the medical team and your Wonderful Children, you have both managed to adapt to successive new normals with grace.

Loyalty and Commitment.  In it together.  That’s how you two roll.  I know it’s not easy, and we have discussed the challenges.  But you stick with each other through thick and thin, I’ve seen it.  You set the bar for the rest of us.

Love.  I think you, Mr. and Mrs. Wonderful, show us what true love lives like.  After 70 years I imagine you have some colorful stories to tell, some that belie all of the idealistic descriptions I write here.  But that is the point, no?  If we stick with it and do The Work, all of us hope to be rewarded with that deep, peaceful, reliable, and resonant love that transcends even what we innocently and earnestly vowed to each other at the altar.

Science, technology, and social convention have evolved beyond anyone’s imagination, and the pace only accelerates.  But the lifelong human need for love and belonging will never change.  Thank you for showing us how it’s done in a marriage.  Congratulations!

Sincerely, Cathy

Washi Tape Gratitude

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My friends, I have a new and serious obsession:  WASHI TAPE!

I have loved paper and stickers since I can remember, and I have hoarded pretty stationery, stickers, rubber stamps, ink pads and all kinds of other writing accessories for at least 30 years.  I left for college with 100 postage stamps and used all of them before returning home for summer.  I plan to single handedly keep the US Postal Service in business if I have to.  I LOVE SNAIL MAIL!!!

So imagine my joy and enthusiasm when the Gottman Institute published this article suggesting that instead of keeping a gratitude list or journal, we instead hand write thank you notes.  Specifically, write one every day for one year—365 hand written notes in 2019.  I read the piece and exclaimed with abandon, “Done!”

I started January 18 and it only gets better! I have connected with friends, just to say thanks for being my friend.  I have acknowledged people at work for going above and beyond.  I have sent cards to Chicago Streets and Sanitation for always being on top of our snow and working on nights and weekends, as well as JBJ Soul Kitchen for providing meals for federal workers during the partial government shutdown.

Best of all, I get to create stationery again.  My favorite hobby is making cards.  Tonight I wrote a card to my friend Audrey, who introduced me to rubber stamping during residency, almost 20 years ago.  Over the years I have used the kids’ art, my own photos, cut-outs from the Paper Source catalog, and of course, stickers.  I have a rolling drawer caddy full of stamps and tools—I could host my own workshop!  But washi tape can be expensive, and my deep-seated hoarder tendencies would never let me use it in large quantities, so I would never let myself buy any…  Until now!  I’m 45 years old, I make a good living, I love making cards, and they bring my friends and me much happiness, so I can afford to invest in my creativity, for all our sakes!

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These last few weeks I have pulled out cardstock and envelopes from the myriad stacks of cardboard boxes in the basement.  I have opened the giant plastic storage containers where I carefully organized and filed all different kinds of paper, labels, stickers, etc.  I have worked out my washi tape art style, and combined it with my favorite rubber stamps and inkpad—Peacock Gold by ColorBox (discontinued, but no worries, I hoarded at least two refill bottles!).  And, cosmically, last week a friend introduced me to another store here in Chicago that sells the most exquisite paper products: Bari Zaki Studio.  It was like heaven on earth.  When I checked out (after joyfully browsing at least 40 minutes in a space smaller than my bedroom) they packaged every piece in its own little envelope or bag, and closed them with—you guessed it—washi tape!  Even the receipt!

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In the month since I started this practice/commitment/challenge/discipline/excuse-to-play-with-paper-and-tape, I think it has actually elevated my mood and helped me feel more generous toward others.  I notice more small things that make me appreciative.  I have a lower threshold for expressing my gratitude, no matter how small, in writing.  I can share it in a tangible, concrete way, with small pieces of art, created with delight and love.  Even if they end up in the trash (cringe—I keep every piece of personal mail I receive), it will have been worth it if my card brightened someone’s day.  And bonus if it also helps them act generously and joyfully toward someone else!

Because that’s how gratitude works, I think—it starts with a positive observation, then an appreciative expression, generating new observations and expressions that connect us in shared humanity, ever pointing us toward what’s good.  I think we need as much of that as we can get these days, and it makes me happy to make even a small contribution.