Today marks a different sort of anniversary. Today is the 6th anniversary of when I said “yes” to Tom. Not before an altar and a priest, not with a diamond sparkling in front of me. In my heart and with God.
Six years and a week ago, Tom and I weren’t dating. We had dated, and broken up, two times at this point in our love story (those tales are for other times!). So when I received a box from him the week before my senior spring break, I wasn’t expecting it. I was expecting even less what was inside.
Sixty-three handwritten letters addressed to me over the last two months were packed into this little box, each sealed with wax. There were also pictures of the good memories we had shared together when we dated, before Tom had graduated and moved out to Wisconsin, before we had decided to break it off that fall. There was a CD mixtape of songs.
But mostly, there were those letters!
My first reaction was to be completely overwhelmed (a reaction my husband has grown to expect in response to his romantic overtures). I was upset and angry, actually. “Why did he send these to me?! And right before spring break!
What does he think, I will just read these letters and fall in love with him again, easy as that?”
My roommates swooned and said it was something out of a movie, out of a love story. I was still sore about being what I felt was suffocated by this abundant display. After I cooled down a bit, I hesitatingly read through the first few. When he had started, he hadn’t meant to send them at all. He had no hope that communication between us would pick up a little here a little there in the weeks after he starting writing the secret letters, one each day.
I took the letters with me on my spring break trip: a service trip down to New Orleans with the Catholic Student Association. I spent much of my free time reading the letters, talking through my thoughts in hushed tones with a couple of close friends on the trip with me. I remember some of the younger girls asking about what I was reading, wanting to know the story.
I remember being utterly serious and skeptical as I read those letters. (I guess I’m not the swooning type!) But little by little they letters showed me a version of Tom who had grown up during our time apart from one another. He was showing me the ways he had matured, the ways he had changed, the things he had learned through prayer and reflection. I was reluctant to believe too readily that he had changed much, that we could make it work this time, but if his words were convincing, the dedication and care proven by this gesture were even more so.
Over time, as I read the letters, I began to soften. I began to open to the possibility that this young man, who I had loved deeply and the relationship which I had mourned the loss of could be part of my life again. I started to believe in Tom’s love from me as I read letter after letter.
Then came Wednesday, March 25th, 2009. The Feast of the Annunciation. The day on which the Church celebrates the “Yes” of Mary to God when the angel invites her to be the mother of the Messiah.
The priest chaplain with us on the service trip gave a simple, moving homily summed up like this:
Mary didn’t know all of what saying Yes would mean for her life in that moment, but she knew God was involved and she knew that where God was was where she wanted to be. Thus she said Yes.
I pondered over this Yes of Mary for a long time during that day as we worked painting houses affected by Katrina. There’s nothing like manual labor to give your mind time to wander.
I pondered what saying “yes” to Tom’s proposition would mean. This would be the third time we would try dating. I was getting ready to graduate from college. At this point, dating would be headed toward engagement, toward marriage. It wasn’t a done deal, of course, but it was a strong possibility.
I thought of Tom’s letters and the amount of prayer and thought he had put into examining who he was, who I was, who we could be. I thought of his care in preparing the letters and his courage in sending them.
And I prayed. Was God a part of this? Yes, my heart told me, God was all over this proposition. So, though I didn’t know all that it would entail, I looked to Mary, took courage in her Yes, and said my own.
On the day Tom asked me to marry him, almost two years after this secret Yes in my heart, I remember thinking back to March 25th. I had a feeling Tom would propose that afternoon and as we took some time in prayer together in a chapel in downtown Boston, I thought, “Will I say ‘Yes’?” Of course, my heart responded. You already have.