September 4, 1965
Marvin Weinbaum was sure it was the same girl he had seen the prior day at the lake. In the instant he first noticed her at breakfast, Marvin thought to himself, “Now there’s a very attractive girl.” Although they both hailed from New York City, the setting near Lake George was anything but bustling.
Marvin’s friend Myron from college had convinced him to join him for Labor Day weekend at the Green Mansions resort. At first Marvin was reluctant as he had accepted a position as a Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and was planning his move West. Already packed, Marvin didn’t see the point in trying to meet someone new. Myron persisted, however, and Marvin acquiesced, hoping at least for a weekend of tennis with his close friend.
On their first night at the resort, the two friends attended a social packed with most of the guests. While most people partied late into the evening, Marvin was preoccupied with his new career path, preferring to end the night early and get a good sleep. And that is how Marvin ended up at breakfast early, with no other resort guests yet awake, other than the pretty young woman he had noticed from the lake.
Although at first they were seated at opposite ends of the dining hall, a waiter asked Marvin
if he were willing to join the breathtakingly beautiful, raven-haired woman. He soon learned her name, Francine. A graduate of Barnard, Francine was teaching English and had planned to get her PhD in the subject. Ever the rational and analytical man, Marvin found himself smitten and in love for the first time in his life.
From that moment on, they spent every waking
moment together. Although Marvin stuck with his plan and moved to Illinois, she visited him from New York soon thereafter. By Thanksgiving, they were engaged and the following June, married.
Although being an ancient history major in college doesn’t usually translate into the professional gift that keeps on giving, I often find that the personalities and philosophies I learned about back then continue to enrich my life in unexpected ways. For example, the Roman philosopher Augustine had some things to say about love: “That the essence of a good life is choosing the right things to love and loving them well.” Augies’ observation often had me wondering, “How do we know when we’ve actually chosen the right person to love?” And what did he mean by loving someone “well?”
Today is my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary. In light of the occasion, I couldn’t help but think back to the story they shared about their first meeting up near Lake George in New York. Just like most young people, the stress of actually finding the right person (a combination of timing, luck and chemistry) is forefront on the mind of any person looking for love.
Ironically, in the moment my parents met, neither were in fact looking for love. Anxious to start his new position at the U of I, finding his soul mate was likely low on his list at the time. And as for my mom, the weekend she met my father she had just broken up with a boyfriend. She had no desire to move on so quickly.
I thought about the serendipity of it all recently when I had the honor of attending the Runway of Dreams gala at a chic venue in downtown Manhattan. Runway was created to get the fashion industry to recognize and introduce adaptive clothing lines for those whose various differences, physical and otherwise, have made wearing popular and fashionable clothing impossible. As a member of the Runway of Dreams Advisory Board, I also had the opportunity to attend its VIP cocktail party before the main event. There, looking ravishing among her Board members, was the Runway of Dreams founder, Mindy Scheier, her husband Greg and her family, including Mindy’s son Oliver. Born with Muscular Dystrophy and a desire yet inability to wear jeans over his leg braces, Oliver was the original inspiration for his mom’s new adaptive clothing line with Tommy Hilfiger. Standing in this crowded and supportive room, Oliver glowed from pride and happiness in his own right. But he was not the only one shining.
I began to notice that one after one, the other differently-abled models and many of their parents began to mingle among the crowd. Tonight they were going to “walk” the runway in different adaptive Hilfiger designs. To my delight, I saw Jillian Mercado, who Mindy and I had met a couple of years earlier when we were pounding the pavement together trying to drum up interest among the industry for the adaptive clothing concept. I also was thrilled to meet several other flaunters I’d never met but who had written for Don’t Hide It Flaunt It, like Kendra Gottsleben, Bekah Marine and Gianna Sciavone. But in the next room there were also at least twelve other young, differently-abled models getting their hair and make-up done. While you could practically feel the excitement bursting from each of them, I also took note of their parents. Just like my own parents, these were men and women who found love and, let’s face it, a child with any physical challenges was not in the plan.
My husband John was to join me for the event, but had arrived late. So, standing outside of the model prep room, I couldn’t help but stare….at the faces of each parent. There was something about their expression that felt comfortable and familiar. And then it hit me. It was the same expression my parents have shown in their own delight in my accomplishments. From the moment I tied my own shoes as a child, to the first time I rode a bike, to my insistence on playing the trombone never bothered by the fact that my forearms were too short for the slide (until they stepped in with an extension), to the fact that I was by nature a gregarious and social kid despite the inevitable (and constant) questions about my difference… my parents were always supportive. Together, out of the corner of my eye, I knew they too were always nearby, with same expression of joy and admiration of my accomplishments.
As phenomenal as the entire evening was, reality still crept in for me. For example, when I came downstairs to join John in the main reception area, I was introduced to a man who tried to shake my one-fingered hand but then jumped back at the feel of my difference. A moment later I told John about it and we both chuckled since it wasn’t the first time. His next reaction was to grab my small hand and give it a quick squeeze, as if to say, “Don’t worry about it…it’s him not you.” It occurs to me that I am able now to take those very difficult moments in stride due to the lifetime of support I’ve been given by my parents and now my own husband.
So I thought the best way I could honor my parents’ 50 years together is to try to answer my own question inspired by Augustine. How do we know when we’ve actually chosen the right person to love?
Whether by purpose or by chance, if we are fortunate enough to meet someone who embraces the unexpected with faith, confidence, strength and hope, as my parents did so many years ago, then that’s a good sign. When that person enables us to love those around us more unconditionally and deeply than was likely in our plan, then that’s the best sign. I suppose that is what it means to love others…well.