Why My 30th Wedding Anniversary Made Me Sad

We said, “I do,” 30 years ago this week.

I was 23. My wife, Kathy, was 21—and only a few weeks out of college. We had no idea what we were in for.

30 years, 3 kids, 2 dogs, half a dozen apartments, a house, more cars than I can count, and a handful of adventures and crises later, we are still here. There have been tears. And laughter. Some kisses. A few fights. Early on, we thought we might not make it.

But we hung in there, and joy found a way.

For the most part, this week has been fabulous. The kids made us dinner on Monday the 4th, which was our actual anniversary date. We went out to see a movie. Told a few old stories.

Like the one about our friend, Pete Mueller, who showed up at the wedding in a Panama hat right after all the bridesmaids had walked down the aisle. Everyone was standing and looking at him as he tried to sneak in and cut off the bride. Awesome.

Still, I’m a bit sad.

The years have not been so kind to a dear friend of ours. Actually, two friends who were there at the wedding—a pastor and his wife. I’ve known them since I was a teenager. They’d been a model for Kathy and I, showing us how to have a good marriage.

Now they are barely hanging on. He had a long-term affair and was found out. They lost everything—his job, their church, and many of their friends. Now they are strangers who live together, all alone.

I wish things had turned out differently. But life is a mess. People are always one dumb move away from a train wreck.

There have been lots of news lately of pastors like my friend. People who did a great thing, then lost their way. Some of them still refused to admit their fault. Others may still be hiding their wrongdoing. No one knows how things will turn out. Sometimes good people do bad things and never recover. Some make amends. Others change their ways but are still haunted by the past, like Doug Parkhurt.

Fifty years ago, Parkhust got drunk and decided to go for a drive in his Buick Special on Halloween in the small town of Fulton, New York.

A little girl named Carolee Ashby was out with her sister. The two had gone to the store to get candles for a birthday cake and were headed home so Carolee could dress up and go trick-or-treating. They crossed the street at the same time Parkhurt came barreling along. He hit Ashby and killed her. He never stopped.

Police question Parkhust, who said he’d hit a pole, according to the Post-Standard newspaper in Syracuse. Then he went off to Vietnam and the trial went cold. The case remained unsolved for years. Then a retired investigator posted a note about the case on social media and a new witness came forward.

Parkhurst confessed. He apologized for the pain he had caused and for the guilt he carried for taking Carolee’s life. But he was not prosecuted because the statute of limitations had run out.

It was case of “imperfect justice,” the Post Standard reported.

Parkhurst later moved to Maine. Not long ago, he went out to watch a ballgame at Goodall Park in Sanford, Maine. That night, it appears a woman named Carol Sharrow decided to go for a ride. It’s not clear she was under the influence—though she had past convictions for operating under the influence.

She wound up at Goodall Park and drove her car of the field, barreling down toward some kids. Parkhurst pushed the kids out of the way then was struck and killed, according to the Portland Press Herald.

For a moment he was a hero. Then news about his past came out. And no one knew quite what to say or how to make sense of it.

“I am overwhelmed by it all,” Carolee’s sister, Darlene McCann told the Press-Herald. She still carried grief and pain from the loss of her sister. When she heard of that Parkhust had died in a hit-and-run, there was some relief.

“He left us all these years with nothing, not even an ‘I’m sorry,’ ” she said.
McCann said her parents died without knowing what happened to their daughter. She said her mom, at least, might have shown some mercy to Parkhust.

“I know my mom would have been grateful that children were saved. Sometime I may be able to forgive him, but not right now,” she told reporters.
Maybe that’s the best we can hope for when we mess up. Forgiveness may take a while.

Elizabeth Bruenig, a columnist at the Washington Post, was tweeting on this topic over the weekend. Bruenig, who is Catholic, often writes about theology and ethics. “The fact that people who do kind things and are nice people also do evil things and are inclined to do evil is one of those things I think is very important to parse,” she tweeted. “Until then I think you’re still a Manichean of some kind.”

That’s about right I think.

“We go crying, we come laughing, never understand the time we’re passing,” says the songwriter Bruce Cockburn. “Kill for money, die for love. Whatever was God thinking of?”

That’s right too. Most of us are a train wreck, a mix of good and bad and in between. Some of us hide it better than others. Some of us manage to avoid the stupid mistakes that would ruin our lives.

Or we get enough grace that when we make a mistake, the universe gives us a pass. And we don’t destroy our lives

This week I’m basking in the joy of 30 year of wedded bliss and am grateful that we’ve made it so far, hoping that the next 30 years will be full of adventures and enough forgiveness for us to get by. And I hope our friends find the same.

Most of all, I hope joy will still find a way.

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