On a recent Sunday morning, my husband and I had the joy of standing under the chuppah and renewing our wedding vows. There are many reasons why this was significant to us. Yes, we were celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary but there was more to it than that. When we were married, we eloped and were married by a Justice of the Peace. Because we were blending our combined family of seven children, aged 6 to 17, the dynamics just seemed too complex. And then there was the issue of our differing religious backgrounds which made a civil ceremony the only way to proceed.
In our first year or two of marriage we talked about having a party, bringing our friends and family together to celebrate our union. But we had kids in college, busy schedules and so many other obligations. What had seemed a “must do” slipped to the level of “would have been nice.”
Two years ago my husband surprised me with his decision to convert to Judaism. It was not something I asked him to do and had, truly, never been an issue in our lives. He took part in all of our holidays, attended services with me and fully embraced our traditions. Yet he chose to go beyond that and spent nearly a year in study with a wonderful Conservative rabbi, and ultimately converted.
When our 20th anniversary approached, we began to talk about renewing our vows and, more so, to renewing our vows in front of a rabbi. We were thrilled to gather our family and closest friends to be a part of our day and the highlight was having both my mother-in-law and our grandchildren present, with four generations together.
While all of that was wonderful and truly the stuff of memories, what was more important, I think, was the act of renewal. Renewal means continuation and, of course, it can also mean repair. Renewal for us, thankfully, is about continuation and about looking forward and building on a strong foundation. It was also a chance for us to think about the last 20 years and to pay tribute to those years, to all the ups and downs they represented, to the journey we are on together.
There is no question that life is complicated, no question that challenges come our way unexpectedly and sometimes more often than we can imagine. We have dealt with much together—from the agony of traumatic loss of people we love to the joy of new life and the gift of grandchildren. We have had, as everyone has, times of laughter and times when there are no words and all you can do is hold on. It is the human experience.
Renewing our vows has led me to think more about renewal in a broader sense, about renewing relationships in our lives, both those relationships that are important to me to continue as well as those that are important to repair. Relationships need attention, they need to be valued and they need to be nurtured. And that applies to all relationships—with our parents, our children and the rest of our family as well as with friends and with the people who matter in our lives. When we take those relationships for granted, when we neglect them, when we assume that nothing will change as time goes on, we lose an opportunity, an opportunity that is unique and non-repeatable. We never know what tomorrow will bring, what next week or next month will hold. Life changes, as we know, in the space between one heartbeat and the next.
What if we made the effort to renew our relationships? What if we made the effort to define all those relationships that matter to us and thought about where they stand and how they might be renewed—whether repaired or continued? Would that change the quality of our lives and the lives of those who matter to us? I think we all know the answer to that.