Written by Beverly Willett
We have a tradition at the Episcopalian parish I attend. Every Sunday after mass, parishioners and visitors gather in the parish hall to greet one another and snack on refreshments provided by the Hospitality Guild. A few minutes into the get-together Father Cullen, our priest, rings a bell on the wall next to the kitchen.
“Are there any birthdays this week?” he asks. Each celebrant steps forward, in turn, and Father Cullen asks whether they want the tempo “fast, medium or slow.” Everyone laughs, and then he cues one of the choir members for a pitch, and we all sing “Happy Birthday.”
One Sunday, several months ago, a little girl, no more than five or six, wandered up to Father Cullen. “Is it your birthday?” he asked, smiling and bending down to the little girl’s level. The girl, bashful, shook her head no.
“Whose birthday is it?” he asked. The girl pointed to a couple across the room.
“It’s our anniversary,” they said, walking up to join their daughter and take her hand.
“Fast, medium or slow?” our priest asked. “Medium,” they said. And with that Father Cullen lifted his arm like a baton, and we all sang “Happy Anniversary To You.”
I got a lump in my throat. Ten years ago the father of my children and the love of my life walked out on me and my daughters and never came back. This year we would have celebrated our thirtieth wedding anniversary. Somehow the wound of what might have been, though diminished over the years, has never entirely gone away.
This month is also another anniversary. It’s the one-year commemoration of the founding of the Coalition for Divorce Reform. A year ago The Huffington Post announced our formation with the headline, “The Most Pioneering Divorce Reform Effort in 40 Years.” Since then, legislators in about a dozen states have become interested in the model legislation we’ve crafted to reduce divorce in low-conflict marriages with minor children. Our popular website has grown to over a dozen bloggers — academics, lawyers, marriage educators and other writers and family professionals.
We’ve accomplished all this, without a budget, purely on the strength, good will and commitment of volunteers who care deeply about helping to make sure that more of our nation’s children grow up in happy, healthy – intact – homes. And to restoring to children the childhood that divorce robs from so many.
Despite the statistics and heartbreaking stories of the staggering negative consequences of divorce to men, women and children, denial of the immense ongoing suffering continues to pervade our divorce culture. And resistance to divorce reform remains high. Like the best marriages, however, we hope we can remain in this for the long haul. Because we can’t imagine anything more important today than preserving our families.
Two phrases kept running through my head that day at coffee hour. I’m sure we’ve all heard them: “A child shall lead them” and “out of the mouths of babes.”
I couldn’t help but think that little girl at my church already knew what so many adults in our country still don’t seem to. How she already knew how important – and precious – her family was. And how she intuitively understood that marriage was something special to be celebrated again and again. I hope that one day her parents don’t let her down.