Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Oh Happy Days - 15,330 of them so far

Forty-two years ago today, Mr Neff and I publicly vowed to love and cherish one another "for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death us do part." At dinner last Saturday night we joked about what we'd be doing in another 42 years, when he's 104 and I'm 103. In spite of the fact that his grandmother and several of my great-aunts made it past 100, we decided to plan our really big celebration for our 75th anniversary, just in case we're too tired on our 84th.

But then we learned about Herbert and Zelmyra Fisher. He's 104 and she's 102, and on May 13--the day after our daughter Molly and son-in-law Byron celebrate their 20th anniversary--Mr and Mrs Fisher will celebrate their 86th. Theirs is not yet the world's longest recorded marriage--three or four other couples are ahead of them--but they are the longest married of any living couple. And they are certainly the hippest. On Valentine's Day they answered questions about their enduring marriage on their Twitter account.

Stay married long enough, and people start asking about the secret of your lengthy marriage. I'll defer to the Fishers, who are 44 years ahead of us.

How did they know they were right for each other? "We grew up together and were best friends before we married. A friend is for life - our marriage has lasted a lifetime."

What was their marriage like? "With each day that passed, our relationship was more solid and secure. Divorce was NEVER an option - or even a thought."

There you have it. A good marriage begins with friendship, is based on commitment, and grows stronger as the years go by.

Yes it does. As the Fishers pointed out, "The children are grown, so we talk more now." Also, we eat more interesting food, and we have more time to spend with adult friends. Last night while chatting with friends before dinner we discovered that all of us love the song "Oh Happy Day." Apparently based on an 18th-century hymn sung to the tune of "How Dry I Am," it took on new life as a gospel song in 1969 performed by the Edwin Hawkins Singers (and may have been the inspiration for George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord").

My very favorite version of "Oh Happy Day," though, is the 1987 cover by Aretha Franklin and Mavis Staples. Never have I heard so much gutsy joy packed into eight sweet minutes. Theirs is the happiness of a mature faith or a ripe old marriage, an ecstasy greater than newlyweds can imagine, a truly aspirational ardor. So of course I immediately played the CD for our friends, and then this morning I linked to it on You Tube as part of my Facebook update.

And then I discovered another version of the song that I offer to people who are new to commitment, people who aren't sure if they're going to make it, and people who are friends of those people. It's from Sister Act 2, and unless your boss is in the next cubicle, go ahead and watch it now. See the kid grow in confidence and enthusiasm. Notice the huge supporting cast--Sister Whoopi, of course, and also the choir, the nuns, the congregation. That boy can sing "Oh Happy Day" because he's part of a community that wants him to succeed.

Mr and Mrs Fisher know how that goes. “Everyone who plants a seed and harvests the crop celebrates together,” they twittered. "We are individuals, but accomplish more together."

Mr Neff and I know how that goes too. Thanks to our friends, families, and communities that have been and continue to be our supporting cast. Today is our happy day because of you.

And Mr Neff, try not to work late tonight.

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