As Richard Nixon was being named co-conspirator in Watergate, Randolph and Catherine Hearst were pleading for Patty’s release – two grueling months after her abduction. Hank Aaron was rounding his 715th homer, surpassing Babe Ruth’s legendary record. Chet Huntley died and Golda Meir resigned… (both as mutually exclusive events… lol). A gasoline shortage coincided with an overabundance of feel-good TV sitcoms – including Happy Days and The Waltons. Who knew that all of these 1974 events could be trumped by something even more historically significant: the marriage of Richard W. Berlinger to Nora J. Land!
Now, I was only fifteen years old in 1974.
For several years prior (to which some might refer as my “impressionable years”), I had steadfastly pinned my ear to the heater vent in my bedroom, hoping to hear the physical manifestations from the juicy relationship of my (MUCH) older sister (of eleven years) coming forth from her room which was two floors directly below mine. She had dated Richard for a number of years – and (YIKES!) he was even OLDER than she was! As it turned out, I was not influenced at all by what I heard… which is either unfortunate for me or laudable for them (I know, you need to think about that one); Richard and Nora did (or didn’t do) things the “right” way… and then they got married.
This coming April 6th will be their 40th anniversary and, while I didn’t follow in all of their footsteps, I have been around to witness their abiding love and devotion to one another for more than two score (as Abraham Lincoln would say), so I felt it was an appropriate time to point out a few of the observations I’ve enjoyed during that very long stretch of time. Clearly, this is a risky proposition; by doing so, I reveal my true age (55) which differs from the youthful 30 I know my readers assumed I was. In addition, I know I run the risk of completely embarrassing their son (my nephew) Eric, who fully believes he was immaculately conceived. I also risk confessing my humility and my reverence to my sister and her husband; from this day forward Richard will fully leverage his age, experience and intelligence upon me, even more than he does already. Oh well. He’s still bald and I’m still thin. That should even things out, regardless of all else. Here goes.
Nora and Richard met when Nora was the organist and choir director at the Germantown Presbyterian Church. Richard was the (OLD) guy with the buzz cut in the choir that she thought was cute (PSHHHH)… just about the same time I was dating guys with long hair and Marlboros in their back pockets. He was an attorney with a law firm in Philadelphia and, together, they began to discover that they made beautiful music together – quite literally. Since that time, over the past forty years, however, they have discovered much, much more. They have discovered that they have a deep devotion to one another and respect for one another to which many people can only aspire. In forty years, I have never known either to use a foul word toward the other. Neither have they ever fundamentally lied or deceived one another – or those around them. What I believed to be stodgy, boring and stuffy about Richard ( in those teenage years), I matured to recognize as tolerant, honest, humble and refreshingly simple (in my adult life). The sister with whom I once fought over closet space, became the sister I tried to emulate in my own marriage, decades later. Nora and Richard have something very special: a real partnership. Their marriage is a model to many.
And, Eric, as your own marriage looms nigh, I am here to be the aunt who reminds you that you would do well to take more than just a page from your mom and dad’s example. Take their example of fighting fair. (Notice that I didn’t say not fighting at all.) When differences of opinion or perspective present themselves, be the gentleman your father has always been to your mother. Further, anticipate and fully expect that Louisa will love you as Nora has always loved your dad – with fierce loyalty, unyielding forgiveness, and with a deep understanding about the character that always lies below the surface of each and every little thing he does. You and Louisa are so incredibly blessed to have them in your life. Never forget that. Never take that for granted. I so wish I had had your grandmother and grandfather (my mom and dad) in my married life. Nora and Richard have given you so many gifts but, most of all, I believe the best gift of all was the one they jointly gave you almost 33 years ago – their trust of you to God and their belief in you as an individual. I encourage you and Louisa to look to Nora and Richard as two of the finest examples of a married couple, and as parents, there is. I also know that, as challenges arise, they will continue to always be there for you.
Nora and Richard have also been there as a couple for others. That is, perhaps, a much-overlooked quality of a great marriage. They reach out to those who are sick. Nora always has time to lend a hand, a kind word, to make a meal for someone who is hurting or to lift someone up who needs love. Despite the fact that he is a LAWYER…. (joke there!), Richard also uses his gift of intellect and deep thinking to be kind and thoughtful; recently, as I was diagnosed with cancer, he offered some wise words of advice, having been through the cancer journey himself. After I chose to ignore his suggestion that we could be bald, together (through chemo), I actually have heeded his loving invitation to read the 23rd psalm in my moments of anxiety. Unlike some, Richard does not try and wear religion so all can see it. He lives it in a deeper, more authentic way that counts for much, much more.
In recent months, Nora and Richard have been challenged by circumstances regarding some personal and professional matters that have deeply impacted and hurt them. Certainly, we all face troubled waters from time to time. The mark of great character, however, is how we tread those waters when we are in them. Life can seem unfair and petty people can act in evil or vindictive ways. It need not change our spirit, our resolve or our faith. Nora and Richard’s strength as a couple and love for one another cannot be daunted or dashed by the ill-will of those who are filled with anger, resentment, animosity or hate. Richard is too good a sailor to get swept up in waves of mediocrity. Nora is too forgiving and faithful to let her heart be poisoned by a drop of antagonism in a sea of human kindness. Love trumps all of that. Love conquers all. Nora and Richard know love.
So, Nora and Richard, as you celebrate your 40th, I am sure you will be toasting to your many blessings… but, as you do, many will be toasting you. Many will be thanking you for your example, your love as a couple, and the legacy you leave to others.
While I can truly say that I never learned anything of real use by listening through that heater vent from two floors up, I have learned a lot since then. I learned many things from the two of you that has made my own marriage wonderful and lasting. I’ve learned about the force that a real marriage can be, each and every day, through better and worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. I’ve learned that what God puts together, no mere man can ever put asunder. I’ve learned that the two of you have more home runs to your name than Hank Aaron or Babe Ruth did, combined. I’ve learned that “Happy Days” was just a show and that the “Fonz” could never have imagined anything cooler than forty years together with someone you truly love, respect and cherish. I’ve learned that Randolph and Catherine Hearst weren’t half as wealthy as you.
I love you both.
Happy 40th Anniversary! You are art… in life. xo