Our marriage counselor cost $200 for the first and only session we attended. I wasn’t the one who found Veronica, but I trusted her the moment we shook hands, mainly because she was plump. Her soft, chubby face and round body signaled that she has plenty of love in her life and might be able to help us. Anyone with a healthy appetite is giving and receiving love in some form. I didn’t even notice that she was unmarried until forty minutes into the session, but I’d rather she was unmarried than skinny. Take it from me, a person who holds multiple degrees from the School of Real Life: A fat trainer shouldn’t consult you on how to lose weight, and a very skinny person doesn’t know a thing about being happy.
The foundation where I’m employed holds a “town hall” meeting for the entire staff on a monthly basis. We’re expected to arrive early on those mornings. Each meeting is booked on our calendars for the entire year, meaning no one should be surprised when they roll around at the start of each month. But for some deep, divine reason I’m always running late on those mornings. The train runs late, I forget to pack breakfast, the normally empty coffee shop has a long line and each of them wants a cappuccino instead of plain joe. I panic when I’m caught at a red light, and I use that time to decide which side of the conference room I’ll try to enter in. I would rather call in sick than be the only one who arrives late. I slowly approach the building door—
—and notice four of my colleagues with the same panic and sweat on their foreheads reaching for the elevator button, just like me. And I’m so relieved that I’m not the only one. I am comforted, and chatty, and so relieved to not be the only one.
And that’s why I just told you that ten months into our marriage we had to go see a counselor. God forbid you think you’re the only one. There’s nothing worse than living with that thought.
We’ll discuss what led us there in detail later on, as I’d rather focus on how this fits into the bigger picture. In the same way that a few low notes punctuate a song without defining it, so it is with our beautiful, challenging, and loving marriage that turned one year old yesterday. If I were to only focus on the low notes, instead of the 365 total notes that formed our first song I would be discouraged. Thankfully there were plenty of highs too, and plenty of harmony.
But my duet partner is and forever will be Amber, my former roommate. Amber has owned a guitar for years, but never learned to play. When I received a gorgeous acoustic guitar in February for my birthday – from my husband, lest you thought we were doomed – , I called her up and told her we were taking lessons.
“It’s the year of the bucket list, so we’re doing this,” I said. “I’m running the marathon and growing a ministry and learning how to play the guitar because this is THE YEAR OF THE BUCKET LIST.”
And indeed it is, and indeed we are. Each Tuesday I bring my guitar, Mahalia, to my office and then I take her to a dusty midtown office for an hour of strumming. I named her after my great-great-great-grandmother who was a slave, set free a few years before her death. Mahalia was most likely in her forties when she was made free and travelled with her 11-year old daughter Mariah (my great-great-grandmother) to Alabama. They settled, and then she died. But not before she experienced the ultimate bucket list item, freedom; for her and for her family. When I hold this guitar I think of her, and I am grateful, and I am eager to travel to an unknown place and make history just like she did.
Everyone should travel. For instance, I just came back from Jamaica – with my husband, lest you thought we wouldn’t make it a second year – and it was a nearly perfect trip. Clear skies and a dangerously hot sun appeared each day, and each day we saluted it from the outdoor table where we had breakfast and mimosas. From that same table we could observe the life-size chess board only steps from the beach. When it was unoccupied we would rush to it and play. Brandon would sit and study the board, and I probably lost both of our long games because I couldn’t stand still with reggae music in the background. We never fully explored the resort, opting to explore the employees instead. Men and women with American names and thick Jamaican accents talked to us about everything: music, government, and mysterious things that you never fully understand unless they are the lyrics to a Bob Marley song. These are the things that happen when you go to an island as special as Jamaica.