Measure Your Life In Love

In daylights, in sunsets,
In midnights, in cups of coffee?
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife?
In five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes?
How do you measure a year in the life?

How about love?

     — Seasons of Love, Rent


What can make a boat captain cry and give a no-nonsense matriarch chills?

Life, reduced to its essence. In other words, a slide show of photos covering the 80 years two people have existed on this planet.

I spent Memorial Day weekend in Chicago with eleven other people, celebrating the 80th birthdays of both J’s paternal grandparents. We didn’t know it when we flew up, but this year also marks the 67th anniversary of their first meeting – they’ve known each other since they were 13.



Linking two lives together so completely doesn’t happen by accident.

Lately I keep hearing advice to the effect of, “Love isn’t an emotion, it’s a choice.” When I stole glimpses at J’s grandparents watching the story of their intertwined lives, I felt like I finally understood.

The pictures that flickered by drew us backwards in time. We saw these two people grow younger, together. They traveled from the calm of retirement to the dazzle of fancy parties to the bliss of seeing their grandchildren born. We experienced their sheer thrill at getting married (arriving there wasn’t a smooth path for them), and then we saw Grandpa in his army uniform and Grandma sunning at the beach. Soon enough, beloved ghosts haunted the screen as their parents, and their parents’ parents, appeared in cameos of days long past.

At the end of the slide show – with an unaware child’s perfect timing – their new great-granddaughter let out a happy squawk. We all giggled, and then J’s uncle said, “Look at what you’ve created. This family. Not one of us would be here without you.”

And sure, it’s one thing to reproduce – they could have started the chain of four generations and not cared whether it rusted or suffered broken links over the years. But instead, 67 years after they came together, these two people are still the ones the family rallies around, the reason we fly cross-country to eat and drink with people we rarely see. There’s only one explanation for that, and it isn’t obligation.

It’s love, born not of anything resembling perfection but of a lifelong, constant effort to always choose family.

Love isn’t an emotion, it’s a choice.

Measure your life in love.


79 responses to “Measure Your Life In Love

  1. Wow, you really have a way of writing that I love this story, and I could almost see the pictures, only in my images were my grandparents, and my parents (who have been married for 54 years) and one day my husband and me. That kind of love is so inspiring.

    I think I’ll go hug my husband.

    • That’s the best compliment you could have given me! I’ve never been good at saying why I love certain people’s writing, just that I do because they get it and they connect it and they tease out the little details that feel huge as a reader, because they connect me to the life behind the story…

      So “just works’ works stellar for me! Also, yay for hugging husbands. Inspiring that makes me feel awesome, too. And mazel freaking tov to your folks – I will never not be astounded by couples like them, even when I am (I hope) part of one someday!

  2. Gorgeous. And one day, when I am old, my ‘family’ gathered around me, will be SO HUGE – because it will be made up of my friends and their kids, and Niece and Neff, and their kids… *sigh*

    Nah, you’re not gonna make me cry with this one. Probably. Maybe.

    Okay perhaps you are.

    • Teary reads are the best, aren’t they? (She says, mischievously.)

      One of my dear friends had to cut ties with her entire biological family – really, she had to – and she talks often about the family she chose – us, her friends, and her husband plus his people. It gets me, every time. I believe we find the people we’re meant to, even if that family isn’t exactly the one we were expecting. Love you. 🙂

      • They can be.
        It’s a sliver linings thing. I am desperately determined that my life WILL BE FILLED WITH THEM. Somehow.

        Because all that wonderfulness (and it *is* wonderful – and rightfully so) is denied me. We won’t be making my parents, or his into grandparents. We won’t have the joy of watching our own children grow, or ever head up a family and be able to sit down and look around and know what wonderful people we created.

        It will be lonely and heartbreaking and very, very hard. Because it’s something we both want SO MUCH. But such is life. We don’t get what we want.

        • If you’re determined to find them – and I know you are – they will be there. And Lizzi, please know that I hate this shadow on your life, hate it hard on your behalf. There really aren’t any words. Still, when I see the way you move in other people’s lives, I do know you generate so many other kinds of life – in the forms of new thoughts, and in powerful words that actually make change. And I’m so, so glad you’re generous enough to share that will all of us.

          • So far the Silver Linings are going strong, thanks Jennie.

            There are no words – you’re quite right. It’s just one of those things – those awful crosses which get handed out for no apparent reason, to require bearing. But I’m tough (some days) and I’m sure that somehow I’m up to the challenge (interestingly enough that particular metaphor stretches very nicely to cover how much my friends help me through it, and help to ease my burden! Ha!) but thank you – I’m HUGELY glad to know you think I make a difference. That’s awesome 🙂

  3. Truth.

    I met my husband when I was 16, he 18. We married a little over 4 years later, and just celebrated our 27th wedding anniversary last Friday. For 31 years this man has been by my side, and I his. It hasn’t always been fun – or easy – but we both chose to fight for it.

    It is a choice, Jennie.

    • You say “dancing,” and I think of dancing with this particular grandfather at my wedding… and I’m sniffling all over again. Amazing old people are just the coolest.

  4. People are getting married later and later in life. It’s an irreversable trend. These types of pairings—ones that stretch across multiple generations—are going to be a thing of the last. Mobization and options are making people wait. They are a rare couple. It’s enviable.

    • It’s true. I had three relationships of over two years where I was sure Id eventually marry that person. Looking back, I’m *much* better off for having waited, so I don’t think it’s a bad thing, this having more options to explore… but it is a bit bittersweet, both in the loss of most children ever knowing their great-grandparents, and in the fact that having more options makes some people discontent even after they’ve chosen… they always wonder what they didn’t try.

    • I’ve heard you say that before. Can you say more about what it means to you? Because I have some moments when I’m being pretty damn unlovable and/or not feeling especially loving towards someone else, but I’d still choose them, long-term.

      • I’ll try.

        there IS an emotional love . . . Eros. this is the sensual/sexual/physical love.

        If this love were a coin, the reverse side would be hate. anger, rage, etc. are merely the flip side of Eros.

        Love as a state of being is called Agape love. This love, if it were a coin, would show love on either side. Emotion is not involved as it is a natural state of being.

        People tend to mostly live their lives in Philia love . . . this love is brotherly love. We have the back of a brother even if we hate them for what they did. . . . . answer?

          • thing is Jennie, because of lameness in the human language the more we talk about these things the muddier the water becomes. . .

            love is one of these things . . .

            When we see it or experience it we know it. but when we try to write/talk about it? . . . . that fourth dimension connection erodes and we find ourselves just pissing gibberish into the wind . . .

            trying to explain love is like trying to explain an orgasm . . .

  5. Just so beautiful. That kind of longevity in a marriage is almost hard to fathom. I still joke with my husband, “I can’t believe we’ve been married almost 15 years! I didn’t think we’d make it past 4!” He doesn’t find this so funny, but what I mean by it is I always had a hard time picturing spending a lifetime with someone. Even when we got married and I knew I wanted to, I couldn’t picture it. Now I can. We recently had a family get together to celebrate my Grandfather’s 90th birthday and for the first time they told me the story of how they met. It was the most beautiful thing to see them each interjecting and adding to the story.

    This is beautiful, the way you wrote it. It is melodic, poetic. It makes me want to kiss my husband. He’s not here so I’m going to send him a super sweet text… Thank you for sharing this.

    • See, to a newbie like me, 15 years sounds like an eternity! I know exactly what you mean – I can’t even start to picture the road ahead, it’s just a blurry outline of a path. Also, that visual of your grandparents makes me smile. Any chance there’s a short version of the story of their meeting? I love those stories the best. 🙂

      I hope your husband liked his out-of-the-blue love note!

      • The very short version is they met on a dance floor ( I think it may have been a USO dance). My grandfather saw her and wanted to meet her. The funny part is when he picked her up for their first date a few days later he was driving his “friend’s” car. Apparently he had an older “lady friend.” It was hilarious to see him get embarrassed at this part of the story! I may have to write a blog post about it… thank you for giving me an idea!

        As for my husband’s sweet note… ummm… I kind of forgot. I was all inspired when I read this and quickly got distracted! The good news is that we often send each other sweet and flirty texts. But he’s hopping on a plane later today so I’m going to go give him a big kiss right now to make up for my slackerness! I always look forward to your blog posts, they are always so uplifting and your style of writing is so fluid. You seem a positive and kind spirit and it comes through in your writing!

        • Oh my, a lady friend – let me clutch my pearls! That’s hilarious, and I really want to read the full story. Also, I’m weirdly glad to hear that your attention span is as short as mine – I always have so many good intentions, and get so excited or moved by texts from friends, or blog posts, or whatever, and then five minutes later have forgotten the thing completely. *sigh* But thank you for your kind words, which will definitely stay in my subconscious, and hooray for kisses!

    • And it is always so, so refreshing for me to come across people like them. It often seems like there are endless unhappily married people, who stay together but moan about it – and not the sarcastic, funny kind of moaning. That these two still really love each other – that they aren’t just taking up space in the same house – that’s what moves me.

      • So many fail to dig deep in order to understand what true commitment means. I have observed way too many taking up space and wallowing in their misery. Time is too precious to waste. Work on it or move on. There’s the choice!

  6. great writing, but I have my own opinion on this subject. Thanks for giving me something to write about. I will give the credit to you and also include a link to your writing.

      • Yeah, wouldn’t you love to find out one day in your 80s or 90s that that lovely young thing one of your grandsons married writes a blog and says the sweetest stuff about you & J…you’re on the right track, Lovely

  7. Pingback: Does love really measure up? « gijoe79blog·

  8. I love this. It truly is a choice. The husband and I had talked before we got married and I remember him telling me that this was going to work because we didn’t have any other choice. I laughed. It was like we removed the option to not let it work, and only focus on the fact that it will.

  9. Oh Jennie, what a wonderful story, beautifully told. My family recently lost the last member of both my Mom and Dad’s family and my sisters and I felt so … untethered. But as always, we bind to each other and there is such joy there. ~Terri

    • I’m so glad you have your sisters to hold onto. I remember my parents and their siblings going through the same life moment, and in my case I saw much, much less of my aunts and uncles after we lost my grandmother and our “gathering place.” But I suppose each generation has to find a new place to come together, and it sounds like you will build one. All the best to you and them.

    • Some of your recent FB posts about your son graduating gave me the same kind of lump in my throat. There was something about seeing all those guys, those friends, who’ve been together for so long in school and are now going out into the world… I don’t know. Like someone said above, it’s the wheel of life.

  10. Chillls. Every. Time. I should re-name them Jennie-bumps. The way you take an experience and paint it in words is fucking art. ART.

    So poignant, and true, and beautiful. That is exactly what I want for my kids. This sense of family, and love, and unity. I want them to know they are part of something bigger. Something linear that spans time and links us as a tribe. YES. This.

    • If you rename them Jennie-bumps, I will die of happiness. And then I will haunt you and give you even more.

      Thank you, thank you! Especially for giving me the word “tribe.” That’s the feeling, exactly. Maybe even more so than “family,” because tribe to me also includes the friends and other people you get to choose, and a life-long friendship is just as inspiring to me.

  11. No one writes like you do. No one.

    I even forgive you for using “Rent.” I happen to love that song, despite its origin.

    These kinds of posts are why I fell in love with you, Jennie Saia.

    • And no one makes me feel good like you do. How did I get someone like you to like me so much?

      But girl. We’re gonna have to talk about Rent. Because I may or may not (totally do) know every single line by heart.

      How can you not love “Take Me Out Tonight”?? Meow.

      • The issue I have with Rent (which makes me a complete iconoclast, because everyone loves it) is that it’s my life. Turned into a Broadway musical.

        It’s just hard for me, because I lived in the East Village for 15 years, and I knew squatters and junkies and people with AIDS. It’s hard to watch your life commercialized that way.

        I walked into Bloomingdales once and they had a “Rent” apparel section. Served me right for going in there, in the first place!

        If you love it, I may have to give it another chance 🙂

        • That makes perfect, shattering sense. And no – if you’re giving me a free card to try and sell you on something, I’m saving it for a much better something than this!

  12. Such a sweet, heartfelt post.

    My own parents and family are, unfortunately, too darn dysfunctional and filled with their own problems to care much about anyone but themselves. It’s a shame.

    My in-laws, on the other hand, are wonderful people. After nearly 47 years of marriage you can still see how much they love and care for each other. Sure I hear my MIL gripe about my FIL but when both had to be in the hospital for separate reasons at different times, you could see how much they missed the other when one had to go home for the night. I can only hope my husband and I will still be like that many years from now.

    • It’s hard when the family you are given doesn’t fit with you. I have several friends who’ve lived through this, but – like you – they have sought and found new families, either through marriage or friendship.

      I think gentle griping about each other is part and parcel of marriage, and I’m sharing your hope that my husband and I are still doing it with love in 50 years.

  13. Love is something I’ve fought for my whole life, searched and fought and somehow misunderstood. Because it took me so many mistakes and life lessons to learn that one thing, love is a choice. Although it’s not as simple as just that. I think you don’t choose who you love, but once you do love them, it’s a choice to keep it, nurture it and help it grow. It’s a choice to honor it, to be loyal and to protect it.

    Beautiful, SW.

    • This is such a good point, SW. You really don’t choose who you love, no more than the ocean chooses to be moved by the pull of the moon. You can choose to stay or leave, but not whether or not you actually love.

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