Nov. 25, 2013
With the mounting concerns over the “debacle” of ObamaCare, with Iran given permission to retain their nuclear program provided they “freeze” just certain portions of it, the world looks like a threatening place. So, who would want to marry and bring children into such a world, beset by economic worries, dogged by environmental concerns and living as we do under what President Kennedy called “a nuclear sword of Damocles”?
Well, things didn’t seem a whole lot brighter in 1978. Thirty-five years ago, my fiancee and I prepared for our wedding in San Francisco. The weather that entire week was gray and menacing. So somber was the mood. Hundreds of bodies were being returned to the Bay Area from Jonestown where people had been forced to drink poison Kool-Aid. The aftermath of that suicide cult hung over the city like a pall. Then, too the day after we exchanged our vows in dear old St. Paulus Evangelical Lutheran Church, we began our honeymoon in an Alpine village in Southern California’s San Bernardino Mountains. It was there we saw the news. San Francisco’s Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk had been assassinated.
The first good news we had from the outside world came on the third day of our getaway. We sat at a picnic table surrounded by snow-covered mountains and saw the newspaper headlines: “Pope on a Slope.” Pope John Paul II had been elected just six weeks earlier. There was great excitement around the world for this dynamic new leader on the world stage. Even as non-Catholics, we shared in the enthusiasm for the Polish Pope. Whoever heard of a Pope who skiied?
In the thirty-five years since that wedding day, we have had the usual portion of joys and sorrows. We have endured the loss of beloved parents and the death of a 16-year old cousin. We have had to cope with financial gains and losses. Was there something in those vows about for “not-so-richer or poorer”?
I had always been taught that a man should lay down his life for his wife. And I was prepared to do just that.
So imagine my surprise when I found my wife saving my life. I had just turned forty when I was stricken with a violent headache. It felt as if there were nine-inch nails being driven into my skull.
Rushed to the Emergency Room at Bethesda Naval Hospital, my wife, an officer in the Medical Service Corps, waited in the ER with our two small children for long hours for a diagnosis. Despite the lateness and the children crying in the summer’s heat, my wife pressed them to give me a spinal tap. The test results confirmed that I had viral meningitis.
Told there were no beds available for me at the hospital, my wife stubbornly refused to let me be taken to a local civilian hospital. She has often said that she wasn’t sure we had insurance for such treatment, but I know she did not want me taken to a place where she did not know the medical staff and their reputations. Emphatically, she told them she was a staff officer and knew there had to be a bed somewhere in the giant facility.
I awoke several days later in the Neuro Step-Down Unit. I was surrounded by dying patients. Naturally, I assumed I was one of them. It’s an experience you tend to remember.
Some time later, when I was out immediate danger, the navy doctors and my wife crowded around my hospital bed in their crisp, starched whites.
“He’ll have short-term memory lapses. He’ll be emotional. And irritable,” they told her. Not skipping a beat, my beloved shot back: “And the difference I am supposed to notice in him is what?” One of the best ways to cross that threshold back from death’s door, I submit, is a good laugh.
Throughout our marriage — when children and grandchildren came and when we were earnestly praying for their safety — we remembered the words of that Polish Pope when he was first brought out onto the balcony of St. Peter’s in Rome. I had not heard the words, but read them from the clickety-clack of a teletype machine as it printed its message on a roll of yellow paper. I was on board our Coast Guard cutter, in the middle of the Bering Sea, about as far away from Rome as you can get.
The Pope spoke to the City and to the World and said:
Be Not Afraid!
Those words sustained us in our marriage. After four hundred twenty months of marriage, those are words I would still share with today’s young people: Trust in God and trust in your love for each other. Go ahead boldly and be not afraid.