My great-grandparents married during the Great Depression.
Legend has it that my great-grandpa purchased a ‘lunch basket for two’ that my great-grandma had prepared for a church fundraiser. She was the baker of any man’s dreams, but — as fate would have it — the man who purchased her donated basket would eventually become the man of her dreams… and her husband of 49 years.
Life wasn’t all picnics and sunshine, though; as a child, my great-grandma wore hand-sewn clothing made from burlap animal feed sacks because they couldn’t afford fabric.
My great-grandpa was fortunate enough to be employed during such economically challenging times, but his wages at the local plant still fell short of affording luxuries like fancy clothes and precious jewelry (as was the case for many Americans in the 1930s). When they married on Valentine’s Day of 1931, my great-grandma sported one small ruby on her hand — a ruby set in a brass ring thinly-coated with gold because solid gold was far too expensive and unavailable for working-class wages.
Resources needed to thrive in civilized society were scarce, and fear of the unknown was rampant. The only thing my great-grandparents knew for certain after the financial panic of 1929 was that nothing was certain — not the fruition of crops, not the fate of the stock market, not the future of the economy. Nothin’.
Life was being lived one day at a time.
Fast-forward to today, and the coronavirus pandemic has forced us to adjust our lives a new (though eerily familiar) pattern: taking things one day at a time.
This rapid turn of events has shut down working-class jobs and severed the income of millions — including us. My fiancé and I may not be wearing seed sacks for clothing, but losing our jobs as fitness instructors has already forced us to make sacrifices we never imagined we’d have to make.
…like canceling our wedding.
The unprecedented closure of hotels — including the Las Vegas venue where we planned to hold the most spectacular day of our lives — felt like a shot to the heart. We had spent months planning, saving, and getting excited for exchanging heartfelt vows in front of our loved ones and then…it was suddenly over before it even started. We went from discussing seating arrangements and champagne to simply hoping our guests have the food and supplies to stay safe in self-quarantine.
The panic, heartbreak, and fear brought on by this global pandemic has forced us to swallow the humbling truth my great-grandparents faced while falling in love all those years ago: uncertainty is the only certainty.
Like my great-grandparents, my fiancé and I (and the rest of the world) are currently living in a constant state of not-knowing. Who knows when it will be safe to gather our loved ones once again? Who knows if we will have the opportunity to gather our loved ones ever again?
Beyond the personal frustrations of our canceled wedding, we are facing worldwide panic and fear. Elderly loved ones are dying, friends are suffering, children are starving, economies are crashing, offices are closing, and resources are dwindling
…but here’s the kicker:
We have always lived this way.
From the dawn of time, human beings have lived in a world of uncertain futures and unknown adversity. Our great-grandparents didn’t know if they would wake up in the morning or make it through the day. There was no guarantee that they would make it through a famine or survive complications of an infected wound, just like there is no guarantee that we won’t get into a fatal car accident on the way to the grocery store or receive news that our child has developed an aggressive brain tumor.
We were born into a state of uncertainty; it’s what we’re built for.
We came into this world equipped with instincts designed to help us survive. Instilled inside each of us is an innate drive to extrapolate meaning from experience, make connections, and take action in order to navigate uncertainty and overcome adversity.
We are designed by nature to persevere.
Through fast, famine, depression, or pandemic, humans are built to survive.
I wish I could say that I tapped into the innate, animalistic part of me built to preserve and snapped into action to protect and provide for the ones I love instead of dwelling on the disappointment of our canceled wedding.
I wish I could say that I conjured up the collective consciousness of my ancestors who persevered through prehistoric challenges, pandemics, and depressions to realize how fortunate I am to simply be alive — with access to resources — during such uncertain times. I wish I could say the current death toll of this crisis made me forget all about my fantasy of the “big moment” in a beautiful dress and, instead, I sprung into action to promote health and safety.
…but, in reality, I cried.
I denied that a global pandemic would reach us in the safety of our country, our state, our city; I looked up other venues and pleaded the universe to find a way to make it happen. Once the CDC released guidelines on social distancing — and I knew the wedding was canceled for good — I wallowed in self-pity about the unfairness of it all. I envied couples who had experienced the wedding day of their dreams without a thick layer of panic and uncertainty hanging heavy in the air.
…and then I remembered the story of my great-grandparents.
I remembered the story of how they had married during what would later be deemed the “greatest” (largest) depression in modern history.
My great-grandparents had no idea if they were going to make it through the week, the month, or the season, yet they continued forging ahead with the greatest uncertainty of them all — marriage.
Instead of resisting or fearing uncertainty — and succumbing to the depression of the era — they leaned into uncertainty. Hell, they joined hands and lept into it with a giddy “I do!”
Instead of drafting doomsday narratives about the hopelessness of the future, they began writing a love story that would eventually span 49 years of memories, six children, and a handful of furry pets.
My great-grandma didn’t have diamonds in her wedding ring, but she wore her ruby with pride and joy. To her, it was a promise — not of a “perfect” marriage or a “certain” future, but of a promise that whatever uncertainty they were faced with, my great-grandparents would buckle down and persevere together.
That is, after all, what marriage is all about. Marriage is an agreement that each partner will show up in the face of uncertainty and do their best to persevere, overcome adversity, together, and experience as much joy as possible along the way.
Like life, there are no certainties in marriage.
We don’t know for certain if our partner will forget an anniversary date, get hit by a car on the way home from work, or choose a path different from our own; all we know for certain that we are willing to give it a shot.
All we know is that we love our partner so much that the benefit of experiencing life by their side outweighs the risk — the uncertainty — of getting hurt.
Experiencing the highs, lows, twists, and turns of the human experience on two-player mode with the person you love is like teaming up with your best friend to play the video game of life; you both win by simply showing up to play.
Marriage is about turning toward your partner in the face of uncertainty and proclaiming that “even though I have no idea what the outcome will be, I am willing to embark on this adventure if it means I get to adventure with you.”
It’s saying, “I am willing to lean into uncertainty and find joy wherever it takes us.”
After 49 years of loving memories, my great-grandpa passed away from a sudden heart attack in the driveway of their home. My great-grandma tried to revive him with CPR, but the chest compressions were futile and she soon became a grieving widow.
Instead of crumbling under the weight of watching her best friend die in her arms, the family matriarch persevered with courage, compassion, and an unrivaled zest for life.
Though she never remarried, she continued building a life filled with happiness. She knew firsthand that there are no certainties in life besides death, so she embraced every opportunity to find joy. She lived in the present instead of dwelling on the past by baking cakes for the elderly, picking blueberries for grandchildren, and taking long walks with her canine companions.
I never had a chance to meet my great-grandfather, but I was fortunate to have 18 years with my great-grandma before she passed. To this day, the smell of warm raisin bread brings me back to her tiny kitchen filled with baking ingredients, empty containers (a tribute to the scarcity mindset of the times), and unconditional love — the kind of love that has experienced deep-rooted sorrow and loss and came out on the other side understanding the noble truth that nothing lasts forever and all we have is right now. The kind of love that has been refined through heartbreak and hardship to know that nothing in life is ever certain, but it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.
The kind of love that looks uncertainty in the eye and says, “bring it on.”
My great-grandparents would be awe-struck by the gorgeous diamond-studded wedding ring I wear today. They would marvel at the luxury of our one-bedroom apartment, laugh at our cat drinking from a motorized fountain, and raise an eyebrow at our high-tech dental hygiene practices. I could imagine my great-grandpa distrusting the use of rideshare services (“you get in an automobile with a stranger?”) and my great-grandma ‘tsk’-ing our recycling bin (“full of perfectly good containers!”).
89 years after my great-grandparents exchanged vows and set off on the adventure of a lifetime in a state of uncertainty, I’m ready to do the same.
I’ve finally found the partner of my dreams, a man I would proudly wear feed sacks with as long as we could wear them together. We’ve exchanged promises that we are going to join hands and leap into the uncertainty of love and marriage in the midst of an epidemic.
Whatever happens — whether the state of the world improves and we are able to host an intimate wedding celebration or the economy tanks and we have to trade my wedding dress for canned beans — we’re in this together.
Our marriage may have been canceled, but our love story is pandemic-proof.