The Beginning of a Big Life
It is difficult to realize how much one single life can hold. Double that when you think about two lives together. When I was teaching at Warren Wilson College, a dear friend, 90 years old at the time, spoke to my “Women in Global Religions” class. Her name was Julia and she had the most beautiful southern accent, elegant, smart, and sweet. She began her talk to my class by saying (please hear the beautiful accent): “I am an old, old woman, but I am a joyful woman.” For 80 minutes she proceeded to tell my students and me the story of her life. She covered marrying right after WWII, raising four sons, having miscarriages, losing her husband after 52 years, finding love again at the age of 65, losing a son to a car accident on Christmas Eve, burying her second husband after 25 years of marriage with him, the second of her true loves. At the end of her presentation, we were silent. Questions anyone? We were stunned. She thought perhaps she had not done well with her talk. “No,” I told her. “I just don’t think any of us, including myself, could have imagined just how much one life could hold.”
When we are young and the world appears to be ahead of us, we focus on the now and the future looms vaguely in the background, ironically, of our thoughts. If you are like me, you don’t want to think about some of the things that can happen, especially the tragic ones, lest they actually happen. So, I repress and live day to day hoping that one day I too will be an “old, old woman” but not having a clue, really, as to what that entails. Each day stands before us as a mystery, and the future, if we are fortunate enough to have one–since no days are guaranteed–will inevitably bring us joys and sorrows we cannot even imagine.
When we are engaged, we focus on happy thoughts; and we should! Some of those thoughts are rather mundane, e.g. what color should our napkins be; do we need a vegan option for just 10 or all of our guests, etc. And, some of our thoughts are more profound, e.g. what will it really be like to rear a child with this person; do we have what it takes to make it through anything? Not even the most thoughtful and wise among us could ever predict exactly what tomorrow will bring, when we stop and really think about it, let alone what 10-30+ years could bring to our lives. Life itself is a grand adventure. This is true for our lives alone. Now double that when you add your life to another person’s with their history, hopes, family, fragility, and beauty. We can expect, with certainty, that the thrills and the suffering of our lives will be multiplied. There’s really no equation that can adequately quantify the truth of what happens when we ally ourselves with another human being, their history and dreams. Just this week, two lovely women (Claire and Megan Aarnio-Peterson) who were married on October 14, 2016 at Hidden River, wrote me to tell me about what life has been like for them just 2.5 years into marriage. I loved what they wrote, and they have given me permission to share it with you here. What follows is just 2.5 years of a big life together. Imagine what 50+ will hold for them.
…It was not at all random that we chose your venue. We knew we wanted to get married in the Asheville area and had narrowed down our venues to three including HRE. Fortunately, I happened to mention our plans to a colleague at work who is also part of a same sex couple. I work in Cincinnati so it was even more incredulous that my colleague happened to have gotten married at HRE earlier that year! She knew that Hidden River was on my list and strongly recommended you to us. As part of a same sex couple, and with Marriage Equality only recently passing the Supreme Court in 2015, she understood that we were concerned with where we got married in terms of support and acceptance. After hearing about her experience and how LGBTQ friendly you were, we wanted to see it in person. We fell in love again. Hidden River was just what we were looking for and we knew from talking to our friends that we would be welcomed there and not have to worry about judgment or uncertainties (e.g., vendors not understanding, asking us ‘wait there are two brides?’). We asked you to officiate our wedding and you met with us and got to know us before the big day. Several of our wedding guests commented about how genuine and unique our wedding ceremony was. It was the best way to start off our marriage: genuinely accepted and supported.
I’m writing to tell you a bit about what’s been happening these last 2.5 years. We recently had our first child (born in January). Reflecting back on the last 2.5 years, there have been many ups and downs. We were still doing long distance at the start of our marriage, with me in Cincinnati and Megan in Athens, GA finishing up her PhD. Thankfully, the distance came to an end and Megan moved to Cincinnati to begin her postdoctoral fellowship. That summer we took a belated honeymoon to Europe and traveled to Prague, Rome, and the Greek isles. We had saved enough miles actually to fly for free from all of our long distance traveling. We savored wine, food, and time together to just be. When we got back home we actually started talking about having a child that first summer we lived together, 2017. One year after being married we conceived using donor sperm and also bought our first house together in November 2017.
As thrilling and joyous as this experience was, we soon experienced tremendous loss when my mother died after complications from a serious car accident in December 2017. I was so thankful to have Megan by my side as I had to say goodbye to her. Reflecting back on our wedding day, I remember how we talked about wanting to share life’s beauties but also its tragedies. I can’t imagine having gotten through such an event without the support of my wife. As we worked to overcome the loss of my mother, we continued to work on getting pregnant, a challenge as a same sex couple. There were ups and downs throughout this process but in May 2018 we became pregnant! We then decided that Megan should get surgery done on her foot, something she had been putting off due to there never really being a good time. We wanted it done and for her to be feeling better before the arrival of our little one.
You can imagine the scene: a first trimester pregnant woman nauseated, exhausted, and having bizarre food cravings (hello McDonalds, olives, and cereal) coupled with a woman recovering from foot surgery who cannot walk. That summer of 2018 we were a mess. We bickered and compared who was worse off as we languished on the couch in our respective conditions. We made it through, however, and by August 2018 both of us were feeling better: Megan’s foot had healed and I made it to the 2nd trimester. It was at this time that Megan started a new job that she really enjoyed. Fast forward to January 2019 and we welcomed Leo to the family! Our first few weeks as new mothers were challenging to say the least, but we got through that time together. As a family of three we couldn’t be happier, and we are even considering growing our number to four. We reflect often on our wedding and are very thankful that our happily ever after began at Hidden River.
I hope you can take a deep breath and take it all in, as did I, and hold these two amazing women in your hearts as they continue their rich journeys together. Thank you, Claire and Megan, for sharing your story with us. Welcome to the world, Leo and we hope to meet you soon at Hidden River! ~ Jeanne Sommer “Hidden River Events Owner”