Afterward, as we settled back into our lives, one day a dozen long-stemmed red roses arrived at my office. "To Evan," said the handwritten card, "thanks for waiting for me and with me all these weeks; and thanks for waiting with me during the waiting. Love, Deborah."
I reached for the phone, but when she answered I couldn't speak through my tears.
Every morning I give thanks to God for my wife, Deborah. Usually it's while I'm walking the two blocks from the bus stop to the office. I include a prayer for her health and healing, then add a petition that we may have a long, healthy, happy, loving life together.
Actually we already have had such a life, and I'm thankful for that, too. We met across a university registration table when each of us was 18. It was storybook stuff, love at first sight. My heart went thumpa, thumpa, thumpa when I saw her—and today it still does when her eyes sparkle at me. We dated for four years, got married graduation week and this month will celebrate 40 years of marriage.
We've worked hard to keep our marriage fresh. In college, when I began to schedule my life around a pocket calendar, I learned quickly that conflicts with family events mattered little when people pulled out their calendars to schedule the next meeting of some group. Whoever had such a conflict was expected to skip the birthday party or the soccer game and attend the meeting. Other meetings, however, were something to be worked around. So if Deborah and I had a date scheduled when some group wanted me at a meeting, I simply said I had another meeting. Everyone nodded in understanding and the group chose a different time. The result? For more than four decades we've had a "date" or some special occasion at least once a week.
Sometimes one of us will surprise the other (this column, for example!), but usually we make decisions together. In the mid-'80s, after our family had vacationed in the Soviet Union and sneaked in material goods for Jewish "refuseniks," a rabbi hosting a TV talk show asked Deborah how she could have let her husband take her and her sons on such a trip. "First of all, Rabbi," she said to him and the camera, "I want to clarify that this was a family decision. Evan didn't take us anywhere!"
You might call ours a mixed marriage, since I'm an ordained Christian minister and she's not even a church member. But she has strong moral convictions and we agree on the basic issues. For 35 years she has worked hospital night shifts by choice, the last 21 as a critical care nurse, and is especially drawn to marginalized patients: people with AIDS, street people, prisoners, the aged.
When I think of Deborah, I still get that thumpa, thumpa, thumpa feeling as on that day we first met. We're spouses and lovers, friends and confidants. I couldn't be who I am today without her love and support.
As the gospel song puts it, "God has smiled on me." Deborah is one of the best examples.
The Rev. W. Evan Golder is editor of the national edition of United Church News.