FAITH MATTERS: How does a marriage last half a century

It was early this year that a parishioner spoke to me about the overwhelming joy that brought her to tears when she recently rediscovered the speech her daughter had written for their 50th wedding anniversary celebrations four years earlier.

The Second Vatican Council brought much richness to the Church, one of the changes saw the introduction of a three-year cycle of readings in the lectionary opposed to just the one that previously existed. This was established to put more emphasis on the Word of God and open the treasures of the Bible encouraging us to interpret the stories and relate them to our lives.

It was during this year’s Eastertide that is the 50-day period beginning on Easter Sunday and ending on Pentecost that we heard The Road to Emmaus story. This piece of scripture is familiar to most Christians and a lived reality as often a veil is lifted from our eyes and the truth is revealed to us. An interpretation of the story which I had never considered was who were the disciples that Jesus journeyed with. We know that one of the disciples who encounter the mysterious figure on the road was Cleopas, the other disciple could have been Cleopas’ wife Mary. As they walked along the married couple discussed or some may interpret as argued these things which each other and together they recognised Jesus in their home through the breaking of the bread.

It was early this year that a parishioner spoke to me about the overwhelming joy that brought her to tears when she recently rediscovered the speech her daughter had written for their 50th wedding anniversary celebrations four years earlier. The parishioner expressed that she felt the words articulate the values her daughter grew up with and the love of her parents. The speech offers an amusing, historical and loving interpretation of how she viewed her parents’ lasting marriage.                           

“How does a marriage last half a century?  This marriage lasted 438,000 hours even though for about 60 of those hours mum was in excruciating pain in 1968,1970,72,76,79 and 1982, giving birth to James, Kathie, Lisa, Sharon, Michael and Marguerite. 

Many more hospital hours followed due to Sharon with pneumonia, Margie who used to have strange fits; Michael who ripped his leg open and would routinely fly out of the back of cars. But given it was the 70’s and 80’s, with 8 of us crammed into a station wagon and before seatbelt laws, and when you could ride bikes without helmets, or when there was an earthquake in Newcastle - given those times there were few accidents really. 

I can prove that none of us were accidents, as mum made dad commit in writing to having 6 kids before she would marry him.

Mum and Dad spent many of those 438,000 hours moving house.  From Sydney to Wagga in 1969, and from there to Charlestown in 1971 where they rented for a while before building their first home in Hallam Street in 1975. Then to Kotara in 1980, Maitland in 1992, and finally back to Newcastle in 2017 just in time for the supercars.

They spent many hours in all these houses - our homes - crying, laughing, arguing, making up and just getting on with it.  They certainly had the poorest of times and the richest of times because we always felt rich even when the budget was very stretched. 

Of course, with 6 kids they spent many hours praying and their adventure into Christian community life had a lasting impact on our childhood. Whether you believe in God or not, this time instilled solid values of Christianity and a level of kindness in each of us - most of the time.

Mum and dad spent many hours travelling.  They shared this love for different reasons we think.  Returning from a trip Dad would soon have ready an album of photos and talk about the cities and landmarks they visited.  Mum would talk about the people they met, and the stories along the way.

They also spent much of those 438,000 hours working at their careers and ambitions.  I worked out they both had 5 key roles.

Mum started out as a teacher, then Docs case manager, Disability volunteer coordinator, CEO Lifeline and above all, a mother.  Dad - as a schoolteacher, university lecturer, Federal Senator, Government relations consultant and above all, a father.   Their careers sometimes separated them for many hours - but maybe that’s the secret.

Their work ethic and commitment to continual learning instilled in us these virtues.  When I was a student at Newcastle University I’d steal into my Dad’s office while he was lecturing to enjoy the quiet, and sometimes pinch the staffroom biscuits. 

There in Dad’s office I would try to study, but always began by reading the quote he had framed on his office wall, which was all about persistence being the secret to success, and how nothing takes its place.  This was written by Calvin Coolidge, a small businessman from a US town, who later became the 30th President of the United States.

It is persistence that also kept this flame burning for 50 years.  This couple taught us to not give up, to keep going and make the most of your short life on this earth.  When Dad recently scared us all with a problematic kidney and he was lying in a hospital bed totally out of it, Mum put her hand in his.

Fifty years of persistent love broke through the general anaesthetic, and he curled his hand around hers.  Mum called that the power of love.  I think though the true secret of their success is that for each and every one of those 438,00 hours Mum was in love with Dad, and Dad was in love with Mum.

Mum and Dad, you are our family compass, our true north.  You are what we will always come home to, and we all love you.

Congratulations on your 50 years of married life together.”

(Submitted courtesy of Pam and John Tierney)

Image by Meg Jenson-Unsplash

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