No one in my life has demonstrated to me the best of what love and marriage can be more than my friends, Barry and Denise Williams. In a hundred ways, they’ve given me something to reach for. They have no idea of the impact that they have had on my life and they also have no clue that I am writing this about them. On purpose, I did not ask permission to use them as an example. So, before I go on too far… I want to apologize to them for calling them out in front of anyone who will read this.
So here is the story…
It was 1982. It was the start of another year of college and I was moving into dorm four on the campus of Liberty University. I was nervous, as always, about who my roommates were going to be. I walked with some reluctance down the hall to my assigned room because I had a bad experience the previous year and I was hoping to get a good roommate for that upcoming school year.
I cautiously opened the door and stepped into the room. It was dark and there was a small desk lamp on at one the desks in the room. I could see that someone was sitting there writing a letter. He didn’t immediately look up when the door swung open but he continued to write for a few seconds more before putting the pen down and introducing himself to me. I introduced myself and waited for his story to be told.
The first few days in the dorm is always a time of filtering. What do I mean by this? I have always found it very interesting during my college experience I would often hear inflated stories of how great someone was in sports. Not all, but I was always amazed at how many of my fellow dorm-mates claimed they were “All-State” athletes or some other champion of grandeur that was supposed to impress me. I had heard it all over the years. I would assume it is tied to some people’s attempt to re-invent themselves after high school.
So, as I stood there in my dorm room, I would always ask the two important questions. “Where are you from?” and “Did you play sports in High School?” Yes…these were the all important questions that needed to be answered as early as possible because it would be these two answers you would have to deal with for the remainder of the year. The previous year my room mates were from Florida and I was immediately separated from the conversation for the most part. Apparently the people from Florida never really had room for someone from Ohio.
I asked the important questions and Barry proceeded to answer them. To my surprise he was from Ohio… I was immediately relieved. Also he was a Cleveland sports fan and I slowly began to think that this year’s room-mate would turn out a lot better than last year. I then pressed him about where he went to high school and if he played sports or what was his claim to fame. Barry was reluctant to say anything but I continued to press him for answers and then he finally told me he played baseball and also was a pretty good golfer and boxer. AND…there it was… he didn’t “look” like an athlete to me but hey I was used to the stories and at least he was from Ohio. That was the beginning of a friendship that has lasted from that very first day until this very day…well at least until he reads this and changes his mind.
In time, Barry proved that his athletic talent was not a lie or an exaggeration. He truly was a great ball player and golfer. I never wanted to take the risk to find out if he was a great boxer.
In those first few days of getting to know each other, I found out something else about my new-found friend. Each and every day I would come back to my room and there Barry would be sitting at his desk writing a letter. Every night when we went to eat dinner he would mail this letter. I don’t mean most days, I mean EVERY DAY this happened. After a week or so, I asked what was up with the letter writing. I was wondering if he was writing his mommy everyday or what. I think at first he was a little reluctant to tell me but that is when I found out about Denise.
He wrote her every day. I could not figure out what he possibly could say to her in a letter everyday. For the record these were not “notes”, these were two and three page letters. He was faithful and consistent. Every day was that same process and as far as I know it continued up until the day they were married.
Fast forward fifteen years later and I found myself in the mess of a divorce. Barry knew what was going on with me but he did not know my reasoning.
Whether I asked for them or not, I knew I was about to get some answers, so I was honest with him. I unloaded all of my issues and problems of my marriage on him and at the end, I asked him (trying to justify my actions), “How can you be sure you and Denise will last forever?”
Barry responded, “I can’t. You can only be sure it’s going to last forever a day at a time. You make it to forever bit by bit.”
Good answer, but not good enough. “Okay, but how can you trust that who she is today is who she’ll be down the road? How do you know she won’t destroy your heart someday…or that you won’t destroy hers?”
“That’s the wrong question, David. That question will keep you from ever fully trusting or committing, in or out of marriage. You should be asking, ‘Can I trust her today? Can she trust me today?’. Then do what it takes to be able to answer yes. You ask today, and again tomorrow and the day after that… That’s how you get to forever.”
The next words out of Barry’s mouth have become a compass for me.
They’re simple, so don’t miss the gift they carry.
He said, “David, 100% of the time that marriages get in trouble, it starts with people saying to themselves, ‘My needs aren’t being met. She’s overlooking me. He’s not doing enough. I deserve better.’ Once you start looking at things in terms of what you are or aren’t getting, you’re on a dangerous road.”
“You wanna know why Denise and I have something few people have? Here’s our secret. Every day I wake up and I ask myself, ‘How can I serve her today? What does she need? What can I do to make her life better?’ Something always comes to mind, and I do it.”
But the thing is, she does the same thing. She wakes up and asks herself, ‘How can I serve him today? What does he need? What can I do to make his life better?’ Something comes to mind and she does it.”
“Everyday?” I asked as the memories came flooding back of the letters written everyday to the love of his life.
“Every single day, both of us make sure our needs are being met. Neither one of us are focused on getting what we want or deserve. There’s no need to fight for it if someone else is fighting the battle for you. And neither of us keeps a list of all the ways the other has dropped the ball. As long as you’re focused on what you’re owed, you’re not focused enough on what you’re there to give.”
It took me a few years to get beyond the surface of his words, because I did indeed get divorced and paid the price for the actions that I did not do in my first marriage.
Today I have been happily remarried now for 15 years and Barry’s words filter through my mind often. I have applied his logic and I wish I could say that I get this right all the time. The truth is I still mess up and forget the important advice Barry gave me all those years ago.
I have so far to go. But I won’t stop working on it.
My wife is worth it. We’re worth it.
Now… I know that Barry and Denise are not perfect. I am sure that they struggle at times like all of us do, but I have no doubts that they will last forever. As they close in on 30 years of marriage, their example is something to emulate and the wisdom needs passed on to all who are married or considering marriage.
Married, single, among friends or with our families, what if we let each other off the hook and started fresh, this time considering each other as more important than ourselves? What if each of us woke up tomorrow asking what we could do for those we love the most?
What if we fought to see each others’ needs met instead of our own? What would life look like if we abandoned the thought that we are owed something or deserve something better?
What if we made it our mission to make something better of the beautiful thing we have?
These are some of the questions that create our happily ever after.
These are the questions that begin to get us to forever… one day at a time.