In 1998, my church had an area conference, where everyone in Southern Nevada was invited to attend a massive meeting at our largest local stadium, the Thomas and Mack Center, and hear addresses from two of our highest ranking leaders: Russell M. Nelson, an Apostle, and Thomas S. Monson, then a counselor in the First Presidency to Gordon B. Hinckley.
Somehow, I got assigned to be an usher at the meeting, and was given the unglorious task of managing seating on the central section at the back of the upper level: the section of the arena furthest from the stage. I sat, entranced, in my extreme nosebleed seat, squinting to make out the tiny figures ahead of me.
I remember the moment that made the deepest impression on me. Elder Nelson was speaking, and in his remarks, he mentioned that he and his wife had celebrated their fifty year wedding anniversary a few years before. He also told us that they had nine children, a total of grandchildren that must have been about fifty, and a growing generation of great grandchildren.
But that wasn’t what touched me. As he said these things, I could see him turn a little and look at his wife, seated on the stage behind him with several other people. Even though I was well over a hundred feet away and I couldn’t make out distinct features on anybody’s face, I could still feel the love that radiated between these two gentle older people, partners for over half a century. Looking almost like dots didn’t stop the warmth of the brief, simple smile they shared from spreading out across the entire stadium.
I was amazed. Where I was perched, in the highest, furthest corner possible, the calm bliss these two so strongly created was still powerful enough to instantly soak my heart in the Spirit and move me to tears. Just as clearly as I remember that moment, I remember what it immediately made me think: This is what I want. This is the best thing any of us can get out of life. This is what life is for. Since then, I’ve tried to live so that I can become part of a couple like that, enjoying the sweet aura that slowly grows over decades of devoted companionship.
Ironically, my first wife and I split up the year after that meeting. Luckily, I was blessed after that to meet and marry my wonderful bride Theresa before I turned thirty. We’re still young enough that we can expect to live a long life together.
As much as I’ve ranted and raved about demography, divorce, and their related social ills here, I’ve neglected to bring up what may be the most heartbreaking loss we’ve suffered, the drastic drop in lifelong marriages. I suspect that none of us focuses on this because the thing we’ve lost would have been so far off in the future in its realization anyway, that we may never even notice the option is gone.
Like the impossibility of a blind person understanding color, too many of us will never be able to know what it is we’ve missed out on. What a sad testament to our short sighted obsession with youth and the narcissistic present that we’ve failed to even note the near extinction of perhaps life’s most rewarding achievement: a golden anniversary.
Will America see very many golden anniversaries in the 21st century? Our patterns of delaying marriage and then often getting remarried multiple times doesn’t bode well for it. You’ll never finish a marathon if you keep going back to the starting line.
The saddest thing about the loss of truly long term marriages is that it’s been entirely voluntary. If we cared more about enjoying the fruits of a marriage quietly cultivated over the whole course of our adulthood, we’d care for those marriages far better in the here and now. Maybe most people don’t think that payoff in the final stages of our lives is worth it. Maybe they don’t even think about it. But I’ll never forget Elder Nelson and his wife, and while I love every minute of raising a young family with my beautiful sweetheart, I can’t wait until we, too, are a little old couple holding hands on the porch and smiling as we wrap ourselves in the kind of love that must only flower after half a century.