(The Mythic Tale of My Family)
Bob spent his tour of duty in World War II flying over England and North Africa. He’d been lucky during the war and returned unscathed to his hometown in Southwestern Missouri. Shortly after his homecoming, he met Dorothy. Dorothy was slender and beautiful with a vibrant wit and eyes that lit up when she laughed. The first time he met her he was overcome. He couldn’t help himself. It was love at first sight. “Dorothy,” he said, “one day I’m going to marry you.”
The war hadn’t been kind to Dorothy. Her fiancé had gone to war with the intention of marrying her upon his return. But instead of a wedding band, Dorothy had received devastating news: her fiancé had been killed in action. In her grief, Dorothy vowed that she was through with love. It wasn’t worth the pain of loss, wasn’t worth the heartache. She would be better off alone. When Bob announced his intentions after their first meeting, all she could do was laugh. Who did this strange young man think he was?
Bob courted Dorothy with calm determination. They went for sodas and talked about the exotic locales he had seen while overseas. He took her roller-skating and discovered they both had a knack for ballroom dancing on wheels. As time went by, his occasional date turned into a regular dance partner; he’d whirl her around the rink while the local children watched in awe. And through it all, though not an inherently pushy man, Bob ended every day by calmly stating, “Dorothy, one day I’m going to marry you.”
His persistence paid off. In December of 1947 they were married. Life took them many places, from the lows of the Great Depression to the highs of raising four children and eight grandchildren. When adversity struck, they handled every situation with the same calm determination that Bob had during their courting days. Jobs came and went and money was usually tight, but they rode each wave together and, more often than not, they were happy. This happiness was bred into their children, creating a legacy in its own right.
In the 1990’s Bob’s health started to fail him. A heart attack led to bypass surgery and then Parkinson’s disease began to shake his frame. With every tremor, Dorothy stood by him, mirroring the persistent care he showed her so many years prior. As family funds swirled down the whirlpool of prescription bills, she took on an extra job as bookkeeper, all the while tending him with loving calm. When she was no longer able to handle the physical requirements of work or his care, her daughter Pam stepped to the plate, moved back in and practiced the persistent love her parents had taught her. Similarly, their other children helped as they were able, combining their strengths and efforts to support their parents and one another.
On a Saturday in August of 2000, Bob had a second heart attack. He spent the night in the local hospital, Dorothy at his side whenever the doctors would allow it. The next morning, when he would usually have been watching Dr. Schuller’s Hour of Power, a powerful second cardiac arrest took his life. The doctor entered the waiting room and sorrowfully told Dorothy that Bob was gone. The attack was too quick, too powerful, too unexpected. She sat with family, soaking in the reality of the situation: her partner in persistence was dead.
Half an hour later, she still sat in the waiting room. As children and grandchildren grieved around her, she saw the ICU door open. The doctor ran to her in a state of shocked disbelief. “I can’t explain it. Not enough time. Come with me.” He grabbed her hand, pulled her into the room where Bob had died, and broke the news: after being dead for thirty minutes, Bob had inexplicably returned. There was no rational way to explain it. He simply wasn’t going to leave this world without saying goodbye to her. She sat with him, holding his hand for nearly fifteen minutes. While he couldn’t speak, his eyes did all the talking. They said their “I love you’s,” said their goodbyes and then, peacefully, he was gone again.
It is easy to lose faith in the existence of love that truly lasts. So many voices whisper to us that true, enduring love does not exist. But I know those voices lie. I have seen true love because I knew Bob and Dorothy. I witnessed the last years of their life, grew up with the legacy of their love, and learned the most important lesson from them that a granddaughter could ever learn: True love does not just happen and enduring love takes more than mere work. In the end, true and enduring love takes that quality that Bob and Dorothy had: persistence.