It was mid afternoon and I just wanted to check in, but I faced a line of other people who all wanted to do the same thing. There was just one clerk, and something was amiss. A lost reservation? A smoking room that was supposed to be nonsmoking? I didn’t know. All I knew was this: the minutes kept ticking past and the line wasn’t getting any shorter.
I tried to silence my negativity: Why just one clerk? What gives? I can’t believe I have to wait this long!
I had booked a room at this hotel because I was attending a nearby Buddhist meditation retreat. Was it obvious to me that now was a great opportunity to practice patience? Of course it was. What can I say? I didn’t feel like it. Courting negativity seemed so much easier.
The lady in front of me turned and, in an exasperated tone, said, “Someone should tell them that this is taking too long!”
Something about her suffering allowed me to call forth my better angels, “I bet that clerk is feeling more stress than most of us have felt in three weeks combined,” I said. “It can’t be easy to do your best, only to disappoint everyone regardless of how hard you try.”
The woman motioned to her husband. “We’re here to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary.”
Every one in line congratulated them.
“Why did you decided to celebrate it… here?” I asked.
“His health isn’t good, so we didn’t want to go far,” she said. “We’ve been here before, and we liked it.”
Any Place Can Become Your Palace
Imagine any random chain hotel with its muted carpeting and framed prints that no one ever looks at. There’s a parking lot that wraps around the building, and this parking lot meets another parking area that belongs to a different hotel. That parking area leads to still more pavement that forms the parking area for a chain restaurant and then a big box store. Nearby, cars speed past on the area’s largest artery.
Every town has such a place, right?
The hotel couldn’t have been any more ordinary. In fact, if someone had teleported us into a similar chain hotel on the other side of the country, I’m going to bet that none of us would have noticed.
Yet the lady in front of me didn’t see an ordinary place. To the contrary, she saw a beautiful palace, and, within this palace, she and her prince would be dining that evening just down the hall, at a table next to the plate glass window that overlooked a retention pond.
On an earlier visit, I’d had dinner at the same restaurant and sat next to the same window. It had been one of those nights when I’d wanted to eat somewhere else, but I’d been too tired to make the effort. So I’d gone to the hotel restaurant and ordered the only vegetarian dish on the menu, a dish that I knew I wouldn’t particularly enjoy. If I had not glanced out the window, it would have been completely unmemorable evening. I would have consumed an ordinary dish, walked up to my room and fallen asleep in an ordinary bed, and I would have woke the following morning and left the ordinary hotel behind, never to think of it again.
But when I glanced out the window, I noticed a duck, and this duck was no ordinary duck. For one, it seemed exceptionally content. Two, it was watching the sunset. I thought, “Aw.” Then I thought, “What a smart duck.” Then I saw what the duck saw and all the world’s beauty flooded through every cell in my body.
Suddenly nothing about my surroundings seemed ordinary.
I was glad that the older couple would be sitting by this window. Perhaps they would end up having an extraordinary anniversary after all.
True Love Never Leaves
“How did you meet?” I asked. I learned that, more than 50 years ago, she’d traveled from her hometown of Scranton, PA to upstate NY to stay with her best friend. But things hadn’t worked out as she’d planned. She didn’t fit in. She was bored. So she decided to move back home. Then one day, a handsome young man walked into the store where she worked. He was shopping for Christmas gifts.
She said “And I never left” at the exact same moment her husband said “and she never left.” Then they looked sweetly at one another and both said their respective lines again, this time in an adoring whisper.
Fight. Don’t Fight. Give In.
“So what have you learned after all this time together?” I asked. “What’s your secret?”
He wryly said, “Don’t be afraid to fight. It makes you stronger.” She talked over him, “We never fought. If we did, we didn’t go to bed angry. I didn’t believe in letting resentment build up for days.” He then talked over her, “Don’t be afraid to fight” and she talked over him, saying, “We never had anything to fight about.”
I found myself looking from one to the other with a bemused smile.
Then the husband took advantage of a gap in the conversation and said, “Learn how to give in.” The man in front of him turned and said, “I’ve been married 35 years and I have to agree. Learn how to give in. There is no more important piece of marital advice.”
We chatted a while longer. Soon it was time for the older couple to check in. “It’s been a pleasure talking to you,” the woman said as she touched my arm.
“I hope you both have a wonderful weekend,” I said.
Then they were gone.
I thought I’d run into them again, perhaps at breakfast the following day, but I didn’t. I hope they had a wonder-filled experience by that big window.
Show Up For the Ordinary
Two days later, I was back home and having lunch with the man I married more than 14 years ago. It was the same lunch we usually eat during the week, and we were sitting in our usual spots. It was the kind of ordinary moment that would otherwise be completely forgettable, but then I looked out the window and into our backyard, and I noticed all of the beauty around me that I usually take completely for granted.
It will be 36 years before we’ll have the opportunity to celebrate our 50th. Perhaps, like the couple I met over the weekend, we’ll celebrate in some ordinary place. That way, if some young couple thinks to ask us about our secret to success, I’ll be able to tell them that an extraordinary marriage is made up of two people who enjoy spending countless ordinary moments together.
Read more of Alisa’s writing at ProjectHappilyEverAfter.com.