Three Gold Rings: "Yes, I Do, I Will"
Marisa Guerin, PhD – April 30, 2020
Week seven of life in coronavirus lock-down. Mike and I are still healthy, we have some new masks, and I am grateful that my Spanish relatives who were ill have recovered from the virus. We have developed a rather ordinary stay-at-home routine punctuated by daily walks, phone calls, and expeditions to a grocery every week or two.
On the surface, it feels like a quiet version of old-fashioned retirement life. Underneath, because of our age and health conditions, we can’t escape the awareness that we must be vigilant every day if we are going to hide successfully from the virus that could kill us. We also feel the heartbreak and worry affecting friends and strangers who are sick, grieving the death of loved ones, out of work, or stretched to the breaking point by the whole mess. The undercurrent of anxiety often keeps me up at night.
Like most people, I’ve been trying to make sense of things and wondering when our life as we used to know it will return – if it even can return. With consternation, I have begun registering that perhaps that will be a long, long time. The part that bothers me is the need to keep distance from family and friends. I started to feel sorry for myself as I sadly contemplated not seeing my dear ones “up close and personal” for weeks, or months, or – heavens! – perhaps a year.
Questions filled my mind. Will we be able to attend our niece’s wedding in Missouri this summer? Will it be possible to get together at our annual Guerin clan Beach Week in August? When can once again I visit my good friends in senior residences? What about simple cookouts and brunches and birthdays and baby showers? What about Thanksgiving? And Christmas? I remember thinking, “It’s as if everyone I loved was suddenly transported to Mars.”
And with that sorrowful thought, I was unexpectedly seized by a dawning realization. It struck me, perhaps for the first time, what it really must have felt like for my Spanish mother to decide in 1951 to marry an American and leave her country, her family and her friends – and for my American father to take his new bride with him to a teaching job far from his own hometown. The magnitude of the emotional price that my mother willingly paid became palpable to me this week; I imagined my grief over the prospect of a year’s separation, multiplied many times over.
Abruptly, the little black-and-white picture of my mother and father in Dayton came to life for me, colored with empathy. They were joyfully in love, but they were lonely, too. Their “I do” meant “I will make a life with you, even if I must be far from others that I also love.” They weren’t in lock-down, but they didn’t have the money to be elsewhere. And even if they did, a visit is not the same thing as the daily emotional support that comes from the woven fabric of interconnected lives.
Yet, they made it work. “Yes, I do, I will.”
After a year, my parents – with new baby, me – moved back to Philadelphia and to the welcome embrace of my Dad’s enormous clan. But Spain remained far away. Back then there was no internet, no Facebook, no Zoom. Plane tickets and phone calls cost a fortune. I remember our whole family crowding around the telephone each year for a few expensive, precious minutes to wish a Merry Christmas to our grandmother in Spain, Abuelita Mercedes. We were blessed that she could come twice for long visits over my childhood years.
Eventually, when I was eleven years old, my parents must have begged and borrowed every possible cent they could find in order to pay for a summer-long visit to Spain for the whole family, all nine of us. I know it was a wonderful experience for us kids, but I was clueless then about its importance to my mother. Only now, as an adult, can I imagine how it must have felt to her. I think it must have been like water in a parched desert, to once again be with her family and friends in the familiar places and language of her youth.
My mother’s sister, my Tia Maria Luisa, also left her homeland and family when she became a vowed religious sister. She spent the last 45 years of her life in ministry in Cali, Colombia, a teacher, friend and mentor to the poor of the shanty hillsides. In her elder years, she was able to come periodically to visit my parents in the US; I know my mother treasured these times together.
My Abuelita abided these losses with strength and composure. She, who was separated as a child from her own mother in the Philippines, was especially close to her two daughters. It must have been heartache for her to lose one to North America and the other to South America.
I feel close to all three of these women in a special way. I often wear on a thin chain around my neck three gold rings: my mother’s wedding ring, my aunt Maria Luisa’s consecration ring, and my grandmother’s wedding ring. In these days of the virus, I take courage and inspiration from the way these women dealt with separation. My husband Mike made the same kind of sacrifice when he moved to Philadelphia to marry me. I have endless gratitude for his generosity, and I am reminded of it every time I look at my own wedding ring, on my hand.
If all of these whom I love and admire could bear losing the company of family because love required it, I hope that I can too. I guess "social distance" is the practical demonstration of love these days. It will have to be borne if I am to take care of Mike’s health and my own, and to contribute to the common good of our community. Others -- especially health care workers and those who keep the lifelines of our economy running -- are already shouldering much heavier burdens to safeguard our well-being. I am deeply grateful and in their debt.
Yes, commitments have a cost, a risk, and much that is unknown. But love does carry us through.
“Yes, I do, I will.”