At nearly 80, the past is long, often blurry, and when remembered filled with “the good, the bad, and sadly some ugly.”

  At nearly 80, the past is long, often blurry, and when remembered filled with “the good, the bad, and sadly some ugly.”  But on Thursday, my past was raised up in a most blessed way. I received in the mail a long letter, with accompanying photos and announcements, from a friend from my Air Force days, when I was 19. I must admit it was a shock, I had to work to recall some of what the letter related, but as I did, I was uplifted and enriched by a cherished moment between friends. My friend and I shared a basement apartment in the home of an Episcopal priest as two young airman stationed at Stewart Air Force Base in Newberg, N.Y.  As I did reach back into the fog, I remembered a rousing New Year’s Eve on Times Square where the two of us caroused, drank beer to near oblivion and kissed every young girl we could find. I must say that brought a smile. But most of all it was the generous memory of my friend that was most touching. He remembered, and reminded me, that I was the “best man and witness” at his wedding to his beloved Dotty. He recounted the less than hallowed ceremony with a local government official, but he then told of some of the joy he had lived sharing life and love with that beautiful lady for 60 years. He said she died shortly after their 60th anniversary. He described to me the depth, excitement, and growth of their love during six decades, and of his being so bereft of all meaning with her death. Obviously, it was a most powerful letter.  He allowed me to be but a part of his love story; a part I’ll always now cherish. The past can truly grace us at times.

Of course, my friend’s lyric and lament of love caused me to think about my own life and love; my relationship with my “heart’s desire” for some 35 years. I then read in the Hutchinson News a column describing how many divorces were now occurring between couples 50 years old or older; and that how many long term marriages were increasingly ending in divorce.  From these reports it seems “till death us do part” is now more of a vague hope than a solid commitment. Yet obviously there are many couples like Pat and Dotty that are defying the trends and are living a love that lasts a life time.   How do they do it?

 If you’re reading this, bear with me for a long stretch. Persons close to me know I abhor most television. That tube in the living room will someday be remembered as the primary cause of the corruption and demise of American decency. But, even the TV can occasionally display a redeeming virtue. One example is the oft repeated commercial for Cialis! Now I know what it is selling and why.   Yet even as it seeks to alleviate erectile dysfunction, its emphasis is upon genuine delight between a husband and wife. She hops in on one leg, and his smile at her charm and beauty is captivating; she dances to unheard music, and he revels in just observing her joy; she greets him on the porch with a smile and they sit, chat and share a hat, and both are idyllically happy.  Then in all these cases the couples end up holding hands, watching the sunset, in separate bath-tubs.  This “sales pitch” is ultimately not about dysfunction, but about mutual delight, joy, rapture and love. Being in each other’s presence, sharing each other’s joys, witnessing the playful exuberance of a beloved is what is important. Those are the ingredients that deepen love for a lifetime. That’s why I will love Suzanne until I die for I totally delight in her. I think from Pat’s letter that is why he and Dotty shared such love and joy; Pat delighted in his wife. That’s the quality I hope for all married couples: do they truly like each other; enjoy each other’s company; can they listen to each other, learn from each other, and laugh together.  Can they be very happy being together, holding hands, in separate bath-tubs. I know that I can with my Suzanne.

Then while I’m stretching far and wide there is one other redeeming commercial on television that I highly recommend.  It too has to do with love, but in a different direction. There is an ad proclaiming that men “don’t have to be powerful, to be a strong father.” So many ads depicting family life show Mom caring for the children; protecting them; teaching them; nurturing them, without a man in sight. I always ask, “Where are the Dads?” This wonderful call for men to be strong fathers is beautiful, timely, and true. It is also very personal, because I wasn’t a strong father. As my two daughters were growing up, I was too much preoccupied with my own budding political career to give them much time or thought. They both have survived and thrived without me, not because of me. I hope and pray they’ve forgiven me, and I believe they have. I give thanks for that every day.  How I wish I could do it again. So father’s, be strong for your children; be with them, talk with them, more importantly listen to them. Should you be blessed with daughters, open your heart to them even though they will be broken when they find someone to love more than you. Yet, no matter what, love them and be there for them.  You’ll ever give thanks you didn’t miss the chance to be a dad.

Well, I said it would be a stretch. Such meandering as this happens when an old friend from your youth opens up the past for wandering and wondering and even wishing.   He sure made me pause to cherish what I’ve lived and loved since we partied in Times Square, and shared in the beginning of his life with his love at his wedding. I’ll always be thankful for that letter. It surely enriched the years remembered and this day of remembering. Memories do light the corners of the mind and heart.

Father Bob Layne is a retired Episcopal priest – living in McPherson.