The Gifts of a Quarter Century

My husband gave me packs of Kleenex for our 25th wedding anniversary. While this may not seem like much for a silver anniversary, it speaks volumes of his kindness.

James noted that I asked for a tissue a few weeks ago when I was driving in his car. He went online, found Kleenex packs that had a cool design and ordered them in time for our special day. I couldn’t believe that he remembered this seemingly insignificant need but that’s just the kind of guy he is. That is just the kind of relationship that we’ve created over this past quarter century.

Accepting of the past. Rooted in the present. Hopeful for the future. 

These words are written on the back of my business card. These words are the basis for my marriage.

As I celebrated our anniversary this week, I felt a deep satisfaction in getting this far, surviving the ups and downs and navigating successes and failures. I know from past experience that marriage is not an easy path. I saw my mother marry and divorce four times and my father three. There are many ways to explore and experience the institution of marriage.

Our wedded bliss includes the raising of two healthy daughters, national and international moves and the start of a dozen companies. We celebrated first days of kindergarten, middle school, high school and college as well as graduations. We learned to ride horses as a family. We created a ranch with my father—“Grandad”—and learned to incorporate animals, weather and the outdoors. We have experienced hundreds of family dinners and family meetings. We have learned to appreciate and love each other, resulting in a high level of intimacy.

There has been suffering and loss as well: being with my father as he underwent 20 operations within ten years and then died. Seeing companies fail and going without paychecks for extended periods. Witnessing horses and other animals move on in one way or another. Grieving friendships as they have come and gone. Letting go of the hope of mending a relationship with my older brother. Endings and beginnings, the cycles of life have created a flexible structure for us to explore what it is to be human.

Through it all, we’ve been The Riley-Adams’. Us as a family and us as a couple, James and Renée. We have remained committed to each other and to the ideal of family. Our commitment keeps our willingness alive, allowing us to make time where there is none, to show up when we would really rather not. We make the choice to see clearly and to embrace whatever comes up, one day at a time. We support each other. We are kind to each other.

We focus on the good and we remember appreciation and gratitude. We know we have something special in our marriage and we protect our relationship. We nurture what we have built and we honor our union both privately and publicly. We are cheerleaders for each other.

Our relationship is an island of refuge from the hurly-burly of life, an oasis of calm where we can be our higher selves and we can relax, throwing on a soft cotton tee-shirt and sweat pants. We can feel settled in the knowledge that we have done the work. We have taken the classes on communication and reflected on how to keep love alive. We consistently find ways to show each other who we are, keeping current with our passions, longings and emotions.

I know there are a lot of people who throw in the towel at this point, after the kids have gone. Many focus on the kids as the glue that keeps things together. I know too that there are many who cling to marriage because they are scared to be alone. They are unhappy but don’t have the energy to see other possibilities.

We choose to see the family as the fruit that comes from the vine of our relationship, a vine we have consistently watered over time with vacations once a year just for us, weekly “date nights,” support and opportunities for growth and development.

Yesterday at lunch I announced our anniversary at my weekly Rotary meeting. As is customary at our club, I paid a fine (donation) to share this happy news. I asked anyone else who has been married for 25 years or more to stand and be recognized. I paid $5 more per person that will go towards Rotary scholarships. I was surprised and pleased to count 24 Rotarians (out of the 70 or so present)! I appreciate seeing that others hold dear this tradition of partnership. These men and women act as mirrors for me, giving me reassurance that sustainable intimacy is real.

I unexpectedly stumbled upon the perfect anniversary gift for my husband a few days ago in Cottage Grove. Years ago we saw one together in West Virginia and we have always regretted that we didn’t buy it. When I teased James that his present was something we should have bought long ago, he knew instantly that it was a vintage gas pump. I’m sure others might think my present to James is just as odd as his gift of Kleenex to me. I love that we have these shared confidences though, that we have created our own codes and memories.

In my anniversary card, I invited my husband to spend another 25 years with me. If we make it that far, I will be 80 and he’ll be 89.

I am hopeful for the future, accepting of the past and rooted in the present.

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