I remember with fondness some long-ago but very special family days, like the golden wedding anniversary of my grandparents.
I remember it because my sister and I were allowed to leave school early that day; because infrequently seen uncles and aunts and cousins came from everywhere; because the cigar smoke was so pungent, I think it lingers in my nostrils still; because there was merriment and drinks to sip and sweet pastry to chew.
But I remember it especially because that whole great company of descendants was in one place, happy together, gathered around a pair of aging human beings without whose wedded life there would have been no celebration.
Celebrations, national or personal, accent our relatedness, express the joy of our unity, and renew the strength that comes from belonging.
Celebrations are communal expressions of gratitude.
Maybe that’s why they’re so important.
For what is a nation without its Independence or Freedom Day; what is a community without its festival; what is a Christian Church without Christmas and Easter?
And what is a family without its birthday, anniversary, and holiday celebrations?
Taking celebration out of life is like leaving the yeast out of your bread or taking the yolk out of your egg or leaving the spices out of your pizza: you don’t have much left but a flat taste on your tongue.
Sometimes celebrations get a bit extra special, like golden or even silver wedding anniversaries.
Strange, now, to think that we’ve already passed both of those plateaus.
But yes, it was on August 7 55 years ago that a young bride looked up at the boyish face of her groom and promised to be his loving wife.
And my, how she has kept that promise!
The journey that began on that stormy, rainy August 7 day has scaled mountains of adventure and challenge, and wandered its way through valleys of stress and strain. Somehow, we never stayed lost; we always found each other again.
And, thankfully, it’s not done.
Though, we admit, these are the sunset years.
But I’ve always savored the pensive moments that come when watching the sun sinking into the horizon while splashing the heavenly canvas above with its palette’s most brilliant colors. The best sunsets “do not go gentle into that goodnight.”
Fifty-five years accumulate a lot of memories.
Much more is forgotten, of course. And we’re getting painfully good at forgetting.
But we rarely forget those experiences that made deep imprints.
And we are blessed when most of those continue to give more pleasure than pain.
We are blessed when on such special occasions we can gather our children and grandchildren around us and joyously celebrate the goodness of God for giving fifty-five years of life and love and well-being.
As we did at 25, and 40, and 50, and will do again at 55.
A wedding anniversary is, of course, especially a celebration of human love.
I have no special insight into that subject.
Even after 55 years, love is still largely a mystery to me.
Maybe it is better so.
Maybe the best celebrations always honor what is at its core a mystery, like God’s love for a sinner, or a soldier’s love for his country, or a woman’s love for a man.
But I think I have learned something of human love: it is not always passionate, nor is it ever perfect, though true love matures and becomes more precious as the years turn.
Still, when Shakespeare wrote Sonnet 116, it is highly doubtful that he had just been gazing at Anne Hathaway or reminiscing on his many years of married life.
But a wedding anniversary of any color or metal deserves something like a sonnet.
I therefore offer, with obligatory apologies to Shakespeare, my Revised Version of Sonnet 116:
Let me not on the marriage of two lives
Impose perfection. But love is love still,
Though shaken by the changes in the wife’s
Appearance, or the husband’s moody will.
It’s true that love is frail, a flick’ring light,
Trembling through tempests, swayed by many fears;
It is no star which, in solitary height,
Remains unmoved by human pain and tears.
Love is not constant, like the love of God,
But through God’s love and grace it does mature;
In five-and-fifty years it’s been well taught
To give and to forgive, and thus endure.
If this be false, then I would say on oath
We never loved, nor pledged each other troth.