Two lives, astounding and rich

By Brian Doyle | October 16, 2015


Today is the day my mother and father were married, 72 years ago. Yes, you read that right. They were married during the war. He was about to enter it, and she was about to endure his absence with the almost sure knowledge that she would be a widow by the time the war ended. This did not happen, although my dad says it was a near thing in the waters off Bougainville Island near Papua New Guinea. He made it home unscathed physically and they had many children and led long and colorful and entertaining and complicated and painful and joyous lives. Now they live together in a small apartment in the tropics, where it feels very much like Bougainville Island, without the gunfire at night, says my dad. Now they are 94 years old each. I stand in their bedroom and look at their walls, where their whole long colorful hard holy lives are told. Here is the poem he wrote to her from Australia in 1944. He was a sergeant then. He was 22 years old. Here is a photograph of them in college, right after he got his Army uniform for the first time and she is laughing at his discomfiture. Here is a statue of Miryam, the mother of Yeshuah ben Joseph. My mom and dad have always been close to Miryam. They turn to her quietly when they are troubled. Here is a statue of Saint Patrick, a man of courage and tenderness and grace beyond any words that we know yet, as my dad says. Here is a statue of Yesuah ben Joseph, better known as Jesus, the Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah. He is sprawled on a cross made of wood. That is how he died. Suffering is endemic, says my dad, and we should never forget that we are here to ameliorate suffering, and that is why the crucifix is there, to remind us. This is how my dad talks, gently and eloquently and piercingly. There is a palm frond from Palm Sunday behind Yesuah’s feet on the cross, because it is an ancient Catholic custom to keep the fronds for a year until the next Palm Sunday, for they are signs of peace, and may confer peace. That could be. On my dad’s bureau there is a wooden box with all his important papers. That box has been on that bureau my entire life. When I was a small boy, my brothers and I would pull out the drawers of the bureau to serve as steps for us to climb up and see what magic things were in the box. There is his press pass from his long career as a journalist. There is his rosary. There are the telephone numbers in case of emergencies, written in his precise hand. There is a small sheaf of bills of various denominations, as he is in the habit of slipping his children a 20 when they leave the house, even when they are in their 50s and 60s themselves. It is an ancient dad custom to do this, and if you do not take the money he will mail it to you the next day with a brief note signed, Love, Da. He has signed his notes Love, Da, for as long as I have known him. There are photographs everywhere of their children and grandchildren. There are books on the nightstands. Their beds are separated by the narrowest of spaces so that they can while abed reach out and hold hands. I have seen them do this at night before they go to bed and during the afternoon when they take their afternoon nap. They draw up their covers and turn out the lights and get settled and murmur quietly to each other in a private language they have been speaking for 72 years and then if you look closely you see their hands reach for each other and then they hold hands for a few seconds. I have seen many astounding and extraordinary things in life and that is one of them. You would think that people who have been married for 72 years might not still hold hands like they did when they were lanky kids, but you would be wrong about that. Sometimes, in the middle of the day for no reason that I can tell, I suddenly find myself thinking about their hands reaching for each other and I smile and think that any time you think that there are no such things as miracles, yes there are.


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