Nov. 22, 1976, eighth grade economics class at Belle Junior High School. Forty years ago today.
I was down in the dumps and my best friend, Kenny Shanks, wanted to cheer me up. He said, “I bet I can get you a girlfriend.” I just shrugged – “I’ll bet you can’t,” I said – and a couple of minutes later he came back and said, “You’re going with Kelly.” (Program note: “Going with” was the vernacular for today’s “going out with,” which was simply vernacular because there wasn’t any going anywhere. At least not for a while, although we did frequent the Rolla Drive-In to watch all the great slasher movies of the late 70’s, but Kelly won’t want to talk about Halloween, Friday the 13th, The Town the Dreaded Sundown, The Howling – 1 and 2 …)
After Kenny found me a girlfriend, I’m not sure if it was me or Kelly who later said – when we finally came face to face – “So I guess we’re going together.”
We’d known each other a little, but only enough not to really like each other. She was a shade under 6 feet tall. I was like 5-2. And I was an annoying preacher’s kid and a know-it-all. She was stunningly beautiful, a brilliant student who worked hard, studied hard and loved horses. She was a practical, methodical thinker who had immense respect for teachers, our church leaders and anyone else in a position of authority. I loved practical jokes, shunned authority, embraced chaos and made life my ad lib comedy stage.
And did I mention she was tall – and I was really, really short?
We mostly knew each other through church, but didn’t have any of the same close friends or social circles. Our parents played pinochle together, so that put us in the same proximity a few times. But, really, we didn’t have one thing in common. Except our faith.
Within 18 months both of our parents’ marriages ended in divorce, a few of our friends found a few different kinds of drugs – to go with the alcohol some of them already drank too frequently – and we began a togetherness of navigating grief, uncertainty (it was the Cold War, you know, and we were sure there’d be nukes firing off any time) and a process of falling deeply in love. Those common pains and joys that began accumulating blossomed into what would become a lifetime together.
Today, our common pains and joys continue to nurture and foster this incredible thing that sometimes is scary, in a way, because it just doesn’t seem possible for two human beings to be this close, connected and melded together. The greatest assurance that this will continue and reach even more one-ness than we could possibly imagine is looking back and seeing that each one of my missteps – some stupidly deliberate, others just stupidly ignorant – has the redeeming fingerprints of our Father and the blood of His Son covering it all.
Thankfully I’m not the same guy I was on 11/22/76 or even 6/5/82. (For that matter, I’m not the same guy I was 20 years ago or 12 years ago or five years ago.). But you know what’s really scary? It’s thinking for even a second about what life might have been like if Kenny Shanks hadn’t wanted to cheer me up 40 years ago.
So, with that: Kelly, I’m so grateful you agreed to be my girlfriend. Because I love, love, love being your boyfriend.