So Many Selves

LJ&AIt was a hot and humid August weekend in 1987 at one of the Yohnke family reunions. We had gathered for this happy and momentous occasion from five different states and converged in a tiny town in Iowa for the dedication and baptism of one of my nieces. It was the decade of the ‘80s, and all my brothers and sisters were having babies one after another! Every year someone else was announcing their pregnancy. In fact, most of my parents’ 15 grandchildren were born within the span of a decade.

Aaron was just 10 months old and was on the verge of taking his first steps. In fact, it was just days later, after we returned home to Michigan, that on tottering, chubby legs he stumbled into his daddy’s outreached arms and never looked back!

I’m sharing this photo as part of our wedding anniversary week-long celebration. Now this little tow-headed, plump-cheeked cherub of ours, whom we called Aaron David, is expecting his first child with his wife, Adrienne, this fall. Next year at this time, they will be holding their very own baby boy of about 10 1/2 months!

I love looking at this photo and remembering who we were then. By looking at our youthful faces, I think maybe I can recapture, even just for a moment, what it was like to be just starting out. We were full of hopes and expectations for our family. Every day brought some new discovery for Aaron and for us, as we marveled at our child’s growth. Mostly, we had all the energy and vitality we needed for any given day. Sure, there were fears and what ifs, but those were drowned in a sea of trust and optimism and “everything is going to be just fine.”

Recently, I was reading about a woman whose grandmother told her that getting old was like carrying all these different selves inside you. I thought about my 13-year-old self, all awkward and self-conscious. She’s still in there. My 20-something-year-old self just burgeoning with optimism, self-discovery, and new love. She’s still there when I look for her. My 35-year-old-self engulfed and swallowed up with the little ones I am raising. I remember her. My 50-year-old self, releasing and letting those same children go with a gulp and a sigh, first one and then the other, and wondering, “What I am going to do now?”

This grandmother said you carry them around inside you, collecting them along the way, all these different selves. She likened them to those nesting Russian dolls that are stacked inside one another. You open up one and discover another and then another and yet another, all inside the one.

I believe it’s the same way for a couple united in marriage. We establish our own new identity with our vows. We are no longer two, but one. Then we go about exploring and expanding upon this newly founded entity of Mr. and Mrs. The experiences and memories build up year after year. The good times, the hard times, the impossible times. All meant to forge us into an unbreakable union.

And then there are the anniversaries. Those occasions when you look back and remember who you were when your union was just one year old and then 10 years old, 20, 30, 40, and if you are so blessed, even 50 years. You break out the photo albums and gaze into the faces of who you were and realize you are still all of them. You are the couple so passionately in love with each other you can’t stand to be apart even for an hour. You are the awe-struck couple studying every little detail of your first newborn. You are the couple surrounded by a sea of children and can hardly remember when it was “just the two of us” but wouldn’t trade it for anything. You are the couple so proud and so exhausted with graduation after graduation. You high-five each other and whisper, “We made it!”

Your faces show the signs of aging now with little cracks and crevices. You realize you’ve come too far to ever turn back, to turn away from who you have become. It’s your anniversary, and you say, “Honey, let’s take a picture.”

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