Do you remember the year that Queen Elizabeth II referred to as the annus horribilis? It was 1992, I think, and there were dissolving royal marriages, scandals in the British press, and a fire that gutted Windsor Castle.
For my family, the annus horribilis was the following year, when my father died after a forty-two day stay in the intensive care unit following an elective coronary artery bypass graft, an experience that bookended the Easter season and mercilessly ground my family down into splinters and shards. I remember sitting in my father's car after the June funeral, waiting to drive my mother to the cemetery, and hearing the bagpipes play "Amazing Grace" to a weeping crowd under a gentle Spring sun, and not being able to contemplate moving beyond the tragedy and pain of that moment.
"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways," saith the Lord.
In April of 1994, I was a second year medical student in Albany, New York and my sister was attending a small Catholic college in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania. I had a few days of vacation, and I went down to visit her so that we could spend some time together. She had always been the closest of my siblings to my father, and now she lived the farthest away. The wound was still so raw and we were moving through the healing process at such an agonizingly slow pace that I sometimes thought being in Pennsylvania might be a profound blessing for her. So down I drove on the 8th of April, a lovely Friday under a brilliant early Spring sky, to spend time with her, take her out to eat, and go on a trip to Gettysburg on Saturday.
Eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard, what God has ready for those who love Him.
It was hard not to notice Aimee when I entered my sister's dorm room: tall, pretty, not afraid to speak her mind (ask her about Princess Leia someday), and so sweet to me, a total stranger. I invited her to dinner as a matter of courtesy, having eaten my share of Grade D but edible college cafeteria dinners; I invited her to Gettysburg with us, praying that she would say yes.
We spent hours the next day walking over the field (I had recently re-read The Killer Angels, and the folds and contours of the hills were fresh in my mind) and then fell upon dinner at the Gettysburg Friendly's with gusto. When my sister succumbed to a sugar-induced coma fueled by the ill-advised consumption of an entire Jim Dandy sundae, Aimee and I had two hours to ourselves on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and we did not waste it.
I could not, even on the drive home later to New York, have told you a single thing about which we talked, but I could tell you that our conversation was that of a pair of friends who have not seen each other in years yet, upon becoming reacquainted, speak as if no time had elapsed. I resolved, through subterfuge or daring, that I would see her again.
For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.
The opportunity arose shortly thereafter, when Alan Jackson came to the Knickerbocker Arena (really. I can't make that up) and I asked my sister if she--and any of her friends--would like to go, on my dime. My as-subtle-as-a-bull-in-a-china-shop ploy, though obviously transparent, worked and my sister, her friend, and my future wife came to see the concert and spend a short day in Albany. The time was swift, but the message in my mind and heart and soul was clear: Although you have never dated anyone before, and although you have spent but a few brief days with this woman, and although she lives five hours away and you don't know her family and you don't know if she is interested in you and you don't know where the U.S. Navy is planning on stationing you in 2 years and a thousand other and's, listen carefully to the joining of your will with God's:
You have looked into the eyes of your children's mother.
It sounds odd to write it that way, but later, after we had written hundreds of letters to each other, and I studied Shakespeare with her on the telephone while I was doing my clinical rotations, and we had returned to Gettysburg (alone and without a Jim Dandy), and I had met her family (they were wonderful), and I had realized that 5 hours is not that long to drive, Aimee and I talked about when we knew that this was it. We both said that there was no "aha" moment, no fireworks, no crisis of confidence; we knew we would get married and have a life together for as long as we can both remember.
So, after my annus horribilis in 1993, the Good Lord returned with an annus mirabilis in 1994. I sometimes think about the song "Something Good" from The Sound of Music--coincidentally, one of my parents' favorite songs--when I think about Aimee and me, but the truth of the matter is that I don't deserve her, not at all. That, I think, is what makes it a miraculum.
P.S.: I said "I love you" first, but she kissed me first, so I call that even.