Although we celebrate anniversaries on wedding dates, I am not writing to celebrate a wedding. That would be like ending the baseball season right after President Obama throws out the first pitch on opening day.
No, I am writing to celebrate a marriage, one that, if they make it to next Monday, will have lasted fifty-two years. To give you an idea how long that is, it’s about 27,349,336 minutes, or 455,822 hours, or the amount of time you have to wait in line for a kidney in Canada.
My parents were married, January 23, 1960. Dwight D. Eisenhower was President of the United States; a gallon of gasoline was 25 cents; the average house cost $12,700; the average annual income was $5,200; Rawhide, Perry Mason, and the Twilight Zone were hit television shows. And the birthplace of our current president, Hawaii, had only been a state for five months.
There were, of course, no Internet, email, cell phones, lap top computers, or even cable television. Most U.S. adults in 1960 had known, or knew of, someone in their family or a friend’s family who had served in the Civil War. Many people alive in 1960 had made it through the Great Depression, the First and Second World Wars, and had personal experience of a world without electricity, telephones, airplanes, or teleprompters.
I mention all these things – not to make anyone feel old – but in order to remind you of something that we all know though rarely articulate: our identities as individuals cannot be isolated from our patrimony, which runs deeper than the discoveries, inventions, entertainments, and political events by which so many of us today mistakenly define ourselves.
January 23, 1960
To put it another way, each of us has been begotten, not made, which means that the genesis of each of us is a wedding of loves – that traverses the generations – without which none of us would have come into being.
Because this understanding is so deeply embedded in who and what we are, no one in the twilight of his life ever reflects on his past and says, “I wish I had watched more television or spent more hours surfing the Internet. If only I had shown less love, been less caring, or quicker to avoid sacrifice, honor, and time with family.”
These reflections seem perverse for one simple reason: we know that we measure the degree to which we live the virtues by principles whose quality is eternal and thus seem to transcend the flux of history, though history and its cast of characters cannot be understood without them.
It is these virtues that my parents, Harold (“Pat”) and Elizabeth (“Liz”) Beckwith, have exhibited in their marriage, how they have raised their children and the charity they have extended to family, friends, and even strangers. There was clearly something from the Catholic Church and its teachings that had been placed deeply in their hearts.
For example, whenever one of my cousins, Fiore or Charlie, or their mother, my Aunt Doris, needed a place to stay, my parents took them in, oftentimes for a few days, sometimes for months and even years! My parents treated Fiore and Charlie as if they were their own sons, and none of us ever felt deprived for that.
January 16, 2010
In fact, I’m confident that my parents’ spirit of generosity enhanced, rather than diminished, the love my brothers and sister had for one another. For this reason, my Uncle Ron would on occasion jokingly refer to our home as “Boys Town.”
We always seemed to have guests over for Sunday dinner, which consisted of my Italian mother’s pasta and meatballs. These dinner guests ranged from friends and relatives to the friends and acquaintances of friends and relatives.
Guests were entertained by (or forced to hear, depending on one’s sense of humor) my father and his many jokes and stories. A Korean War Veteran, he had done some emceeing and stand-up comedy while serving in the U. S. Army. Whatever comedic skills he acquired while working for Uncle Sam, they were not missing in action when he returned to the states. It made our home a wonderful place in which to grow up.
We live in an age in which the permanence and triumph of love is cynically challenged by the shrill voices of temporality and preference satisfaction. But I know better. Not merely because I have had the privilege of encountering the lessons of Scripture, or even the wisdom of St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and John Paul the Great.
Rather, it is primarily because I am the eldest son of Pat and Liz Beckwith, and have been a recipient of how that tradition, and all that it has imparted to them, has shaped their lives.