I have the honor of calling Irene Holan my Nana and Thomas Holan my Papa. They are my dad's parents, and I grew up in Nana's daycare, learning everything from how to play Duck Hunter like a pro to why it's never a good idea to fake being sick to get out of eating something you don't like (because then you'll sit at the window watching all of the other kids play outside, while your bowl of soup congeals on the table).
Something else my grandparents taught me was how precious and real true love can be.
My grandparents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary this year on October 20th. They didn't have a grand party or posh trip. They simply went to dinner, like they have thousands of times. You would think that after 50 years, having dinner with the same person would get old, but just the contrary. When I asked Nana if dinner was romantic, she exclaimed, "Yes! Of course it was!", as if there couldn't possibly be any other answer. When I asked her how it felt to be married for 50 years, she responded, "Like it's our 25th anniversary. I love him even more than before, it just gets better with age. The more you know someone, the better it gets."
This answer was so beautiful and stood out to me, since I work and live in a society that often looks at marriage as something so easily thrown away. Marriage should be something permanent, uniting two people committed to a life of mutual self-giving love and sacrifice. Instead, marriage has become something that people begin with one foot in and one foot out (confusing it with the hokey pokey?). Lifelong commitment is a scary thing, no doubt about it. It's not easy or always pretty. But I have to believe that lifelong marriage is possible and worth every second. I've seen it.
When asking my Nana about how she's stayed in a marriage this long, despite our society's trends, she said, "Well, you have to have the three things: faith, trust and love. Without faith, you have nothing to stand on, you have nothing to go by."
I asked her about trust, saying it seems that might be the toughest part. She sighed and said, "Yes, it seems it's hard to trust in relationships these days." Oh so true. Trust is not an easy thing, but nothing worth it in this world usually comes easy, does it? Sigh, if only...
That brings us to Nana's third thing: love. Love is that anomaly that we all want, but none of us really understands. It's the topic of so many songs and movies and books, and yet we still don't really know what it means. But we know it when we feel it. And sometimes, it comes out of nowhere.
As Nana explained, she never intended to fall in love. She was discerning another life calling, and my Papa thought he was going to be the eternal bachelor. But that all changed on the night she saw him at a dance in Minnesota, "and it was all over". My Papa, fresh out of the Navy, danced with my Nana, then asked if he could give her a ride home. She declined because she was with her girlfriends, but that didn't stop her - Nana called Papa a little later, and the rest is history. She explained, "God had a plan for us, and had three kids waiting to be loved by us." She told me that it wasn't always easy, that there were times when they thought it was over, but they held on through it all. And now 50 years later, she laughs as she tells me, "You kinda get to start all over, just like you're dating again!"
My Nana and Papa have a beautiful relationship. He teases her mercilessly, but adores and dotes on her more. She pretends to get offended at his flirting, but giggles and adores him right back as if no time had passed since the day they were married. She once told me that he asked her what she wanted for Christmas, and she replied back confused, "I already have you - what more could I possibly want?"
I hope and pray that I can one day be as blessed as my grandparents are in love. And I hope that those of us called to this amazing commitment, will embrace it with courage, and a love that sets the world on fire.