Stopping by office on a snowy morning

Bishop’s Mantle column by Jim Bishop

It’s mid-morning at my workplace, and my office is quiet except for a Johnny Tillotson – anyone remember him? – “early hits” album playing softly in the background.

OK, his songs were schmaltzy, but on this Valentine’s Day, they work for me. Eastern Mennonite University is officially closed for the day – a rare occurrence – owing to the winter wonderland that greeted the Valley, a peculiar mix of snow, sleet and ice pellets that made travel interesting. All public and private schools and colleges in the mid-Valley area are closed, along with many businesses and cancelled meetings.

I know that for many people having schools closed and work schedules turned on their corporate head creates havoc, and my kindergarten-teacher spouse has another unexpected day at home. However, this closing depletes the “snow day” allowance for this school year.

“Jimmy’s girl … Jimmy’s gir …” Johnny intones wistfully.

Speaking of my girl, this Valentine’s Day is special for Anna and me. Exactly 40 years ago, Feb. 14, 1967, we publicly announced our intention – an urge on the verge of a merge – to exchange vows of mutual involvement in one another’s lives. No sooner did that word spread out across campus than I became almost paranoid, watching my back, casting furtive glances up and down my dorm hallway.

Tradition called for any newly-engaged guy to be waylaid and tossed unceremoniously in the fountain on front campus. Never mind that it was February with temperatures around the freezing mark. For several days, little more happened than the occasional “congratulatory” comments. I should have known. Then, nearly a week later, I was already sawing wood when rudely awakened by a goon squad who yanked me from my bed, hauled me in the darkness to the ice-encrusted fountain – with a side excursion to the area outside the main women’s dormitory where the guys’ banshee screams awakened half the residents – and dropped me unceremoniously into the arctic water (today, that fountain is drained for the winter).

It’s a miracle I didn’t contract pneumonia. I’ve reflected many times since whether we two 21-year-olds with no money and still determining careers had the vaguest notion back then of what it meant to join in bonds of holy matrimony on July 22, 1967 in eastern Pennsylvania.

Forty years later, I believe we have a much better idea, and it sure wasn’t untarnished love, sunny skies, flowers and spring day in and day out. Our marital relationship encountered many stings and arrows that weren’t shot from Cupid bow – working through role expectations, miscommunication, the trials of child-raising and, probably foremost – financial constraints.

For a long stretch, we deliberately tried to operate largely on one income when we simultaneously started a family and took on a mortgage. But we found ourselves facing many other unexpected major expenditures long after our daughters left home.

In the midst of hearing strange invoices, a slip of paper attached to my computer has helped keep my perspective: “Remember that if you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep you are richer than 75 percent of this world. If you have money in the bank, in your wallet and spare change in a dish somewhere you are among the top eight percent of the world’s wealthy.”

Sitting in my warm, cozy office on this blustery winter’s day, it hits me anew: If I have a roof over my head, a job that provides challenge and meaning and a degree of fiscal stability, some food on the table, reasonably good physical and mental well-being and the support of friends and extended family, like the Apostle Paul, I should be grateful and content for this state I find myself in.

Add to this a steadfast loving companion by my side, and these 40 years later, I declare unequivocally that I’d do it all over again – as Johnny Tillotson croons, “True, true happiness will follow if you’ll only follow me …”

 

Jim Bishop is the public-information officer at Eastern Mennonite University.

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