The wedding ring has long symbolized endless, eternal love. A circle, with no beginning or end, is said to symbolize infinity. A gold wedding band first adorned the fourth finger of my left hand on September 2, 1972. I planned to wear it forever.
Now, three wedding rings later, I have a story to share about each. Don’t go anywhere, you are about to hear the Tale of the Three Wedding Rings.
In the Spring of 1972, I was 21 years old, and my high school sweetheart, Tootie Smith, was 20. Having dated for three years, marriage was constantly on our minds. As I have often recounted, Tootie was tired of getting chased and ready to get caught! Though not yet formally engaged, we ordered wedding rings from a jeweler. Two months later, we began arguing over when to get married. She wanted to set a date, but with two years left before I would graduate Georgia Tech, I wanted to wait. Frustrated, with tempers flaring and regretful words exchanged, we stopped discussing marriage. The next week I returned the engagement ring to the jeweler. I was stuck with the wedding band as it was a special order.
By late June, I realized that our argument was silly, and I purposed to propose marriage as soon as possible. The July 4th weekend found the Smith family camping at Lake Sinclair east of Atlanta. Invited to join them, I arose Saturday morning, drove to the jeweler to buy back the still-available engagement ring and headed toward the lake. No doubt I could have picked a more romantic way to propose, but as soon as I arrived, I grabbed Tootie’s hand, pulled her back behind the tents, beside a pickup truck and a boat trailer, got down on a knee and popped the question. When she finally overcame her shock, and ignoring the mosquitos and smells of the fish camp, she responded with an enthusiastic yes. Expecting me to suggest a long engagement, she was floored when I suggested Labor Day Weekend…less than 60 days away.
We inscribed our golden symbols of everlasting love with a special reminder. “All things pass.” Not exactly the romantic phrase that comes to mind when you think of wedding ring inscriptions. But it served to remind us that all things will pass away except God’s love for us and our love for each other. I fully expected to wear this ring forever. How was I to know that years later, life would throw me a knuckleball.
Years after our 1972 wedding, I developed an allergic reaction to the nickel that existed in my gold wedding band. My hands would break out in blisters whenever I wore the ring for an extended period of time. Reluctantly, I took it off. I felt naked without it. Further, I did not want to be counted among those men who, though married, did not wear a wedding ring. Too many people jump to wrong conclusions. Unfortunately, I had little choice. Until 2006.
In September of 2005, Tootie and I visited our daughter Maggie overseas at her Peace Corps assignment in the Republic of Georgia. We celebrated our 33rd wedding anniversary in Tbilisi. During our tour of that beautiful country, we visited a 12th-century church in the town of Mtskheta. Outside the church walls, vendors sold a variety of trinkets, souvenirs, and mementos. I noticed my wife purchasing several silver rings for the price of $2.50 each. These pure silver bands came with an ancient Georgian text inscribed into the rings. Translation – “God is always with us.” Little did I know what was coming a few months later.
Fast forward to February 14th, 2006. On that day, as I stood in our living room, my wife approached with a mischievous grin upon her face. Kneeling before me, she took my hand and asked, “Will you marry me, again?” I enthusiastically replied, “Absolutely!” The shock of the proposal was soon followed by another surprise — a gift — a new wedding band. She had taken one those small Mtskheta rings and had a jeweler expand it to my ring size in hopes that the pure silver ring would not cause a skin reaction. The ring fit, and thankfully, the purity of the metal caused no discomfort.
Are there things more precious than gold? A simple $2.50 silver band can only be described as priceless. It confirmed our lasting love for one another and, as I would discover, a love until death did us part.
Update on Ring#1
When my oldest son Joel prepared to marry in 2009, he approached his mother and me with a request. Knowing I was unable to wear my original gold wedding band and that I had my late father’s gold wedding band, Joel asked if he could melt these two gold rings into one to create his own wedding band. What a wonderful idea! We gladly gave him the bands. Somehow knowing these rings would be used to create the wedding ring on the hand of our son, made the decision an easy one.
Losing my wife to cancer in 2011 dealt me a gut-wrenching blow. Following her death, I plunged into an extended period of grief. Initially, I told myself I would never remove that silver wedding band. I had no intention of ever marrying again. So why should I take it off?
But after a few months, I began to wonder if I was stubbornly clinging to the past. Was keeping the ring on my finger an act of denial, a subconscious refusal to move on? It was just so confusing.
A few months after losing Tootie, my friend Fred Cassidy invited me to join him in Florida for a week of golf. A welcome respite with my best friend proved to be time well spent. If nothing else, playing eight rounds of golf and hitting hundreds of those tiny white balls allowed me to release some tension. But playing golf in hot, humid conditions had an unexpected consequence. Reacting to the glue in my golf grips, my hands began to blister. Uncertain as to the actual cause, I had to remove my wedding band to allow my hands to heal.
Once my hands healed, I wondered, should I put the ring back on my finger? Was this a small act of Godly grace allowing me to remove the ring without making the act of removal such a big deal? I decided to leave it off. I am not sure if this makes any sense to anyone, but it was a relief not to have to consciously remove the ring.
After a couple of years as a widower, people began to ask if I planned to start dating again. What? Are you kidding me? Why would I ever do such a thing? The Lord and I had already had this conversation. I confessed to Him that I was a contented man — content with the memories of a great 38 year, 4 month and 26-day marriage to an incredible woman, content with the blessing of five wonderful children, content with a growing number of grandchildren and content to spend my retirement years living out my faith in service to others. Plus dating again at my age was nothing short of frightening.
My children, however, had a different idea. My daughters especially urged me to get out there. “Dad, you are too young.” “Dad, you’re a catch.” “Dad, it’s ok with us if you start dating…just as long as it is no one our age!” So, grudgingly, I dipped my pinkie toe into the datings waters. Over the next three years, I met some wonderful ladies. Shame on me for being surprised, but I discovered some incredible women interested in this balding, overweight sixty-something, Medicare-eligible retiree. But, there were no sparks. I had just about given up when I met this petite paralegal named Patrice who lived in Evans, Georgia. We started dating. A year later, I faced one of the great questions of my life. How do I know if I am in love again?
When Tootie and I were dating as teenagers, we were in love and hot to trot. No doubt there was a dose of infatuation and maybe a little lust involved, but I knew I was madly in love and could never love her more than I did at that moment in time. That is, until 38 years later. I stood beside her in the ICU and beheld a woman with gray hair, a face reflecting years of chronic back pain, and despite a double mastectomy, was losing the battle with cancer. My love for her, I realized, had grown infinitely more since the time we were just love-struck teenagers. Loving someone, I had come to learn, has no limits.
So I knew what love felt like as young lovers. I knew what the “until-death-due-us-part” kind of love felt like at the end of a beautiful marriage. Yet how was I to know what love feels like when you face the prospect of getting married at age 66? For a reason I cannot explain, this woman named Patrice captivated me. Maybe it was her beguiling Irish accent? Or her incredible singing voice? Or her face that lit up every time we talked? It finally dawned on this hard-headed senior citizen that my heart ached when we parted, and I felt perfectly at ease when we were together. She was so remarkably different from Tootie, yet there was something they shared in common. She had become a best friend, a confidante, someone I cherished, someone I could talk to about anything. And then there were the sparks or was it a roaring fire? Regardless, it was new and fresh and yet so familiar all at the same time.
I proposed. She accepted. Ring # 3, a Platinum ring (free of nickel) became yet another band of love. Can a man be any more blessed than I have been?
There are three rings that answer that question.