“Go to church, you’ll meet a nice man,” I’d heard said. I certainly was not looking to find a husband in my Quaker meeting. I was in my thirties, divorced, with a seven-year-old daughter, used to being on my own.
On a sunny April Sunday, I slid into the pew next to the roughhewn post holding up the balcony. Usually, my daughter Melanie and I sat upstairs. In our meetinghouse, the benches were arranged in a rectangle; she liked to watch the people below and signal to the children sitting on the other side. But that day, she stayed in the fellowship hall with her best friend, and I decided to sit downstairs for a change.
An attractive, bearded man sat down beside me. After a deep and mostly silent hour of worship, we shook hands with those around us, as is the custom at the end of a Quaker meeting. An older woman sitting at the other end of the pew leaned over with a friendly, “Good morning.” She then turned to the woman behind her and began an extended conversation. The post blocked our exit at one end of the pew, and the two women dawdled at the other end. We were stuck. We introduced ourselves. He said he was chemist on sabbatical at the National Cancer Institute and had been sitting next to the post most Sundays since he arrived. I mentioned my work as an engineer and pointed to the balcony above us. Finally released, we walked to the fellowship hall, talking all the way.
As I drove away, I saw him deep in conversation with two younger women. “Oh, well. That’s that,” I shrugged. This quiet, studious man, wearing a hearing aid and glasses, kept invading my thoughts all week. Our conversation had been rather inconsequential. But, oh, my! Why did I keep thinking of him?
The next Sunday my daughter was at her grandmother’s house. Being uncharacteristically forward, I again sat in “our” pew. The man walked in late, sitting closer to the door. He caught my eye and smiled. Wow, maybe he had been thinking of me, too! So, gathering my courage, I invited him to lunch.
Since this was another glorious April afternoon, we headed to a nearby pond. Half way around, my shoe got stuck in the mud (it was an accident, I swear). As he gallantly rescued my errant shoe, he blushed, “Umm, by the way, what is your name?” He had actually forgotten it over the week. To be honest, I knew his name only because he had, oddly, referred to himself as David earlier in the conversation. I used his arm to balance while I put my shoe back on which led to the casual thrill of holding hands as we rambled.
I admit that over the next few weeks, I was rather pushy and he was willing to be pushed. Time was running short before he needed to return to Wellesley College in early June. I would drop by his apartment at 5:30 a.m. with bagels and juice before work. He was working twelve-hour days to finish his research, so I met him with turkey subs and iced tea when I got off work. Eventually, he decided he had better stay for an extra month.
For months afterwards, we alternated flying to visit each other. We became intimately familiar with the Newark airport, the then frenetic hub of cheap airlines. We phoned daily and sent handwritten letters. (This was long before the days of email and Skype.) We took Melanie for weekends at our family’s lake cottage and at his family’s farm. He sat in the balcony with us when he was in town.
At Thanksgiving, we drove to Cleveland to celebrate at his sister’s house. Darkness surrounded us as we parked at a rest stop on the Ohio Turnpike. Before I could get out of the car, he surprised us both by proposing. We had not discussed marriage. I had a career and a child. I knew he and Melanie had developed a special bond, but was he ready to be a father? Could we really make this work? An old Quaker saying, “Way will open” popped into my head, and I eagerly said yes.
The following June, David and I were married in the meetinghouse where we had met. Our wedding service was serenaded by the cacophony of the seventeen-year and thirteen-year locusts which had simultaneously emerged that week. In a traditional Quaker wedding, there is no minister to conduct the service and nudge us along. After a nerve racking period of silent worship, in the manner set out by early Quakers, we stood alone in the front of the room and recited our vows to each other: “In the presence of God and these our friends, I, Nancy Learned, take thee, David Haines, to be my wedded husband, promising with divine assistance to be unto thee, a loving and faithful wife as long as we both shall live.” David, likewise, promised the same to me. After we exchanged rings, we gave Melanie a small locket. We then settled back into the silence, in awe of what we had just done. We were married. We were a family.
Who knows what brings two people together, what kind of chemistry makes two random people right for each other. What serendipity brought us to that pew at just the right time in our lives? How could we know then that we would continue for more than three decades to prefer to spend most of our time in each other’s company? My husband, bless his heart, says calling it a “preference” is an understatement. Our lives are entwined.
David sometimes claims that it all started when I sat in “his” seat. Sitting on that particular bench was not planned, at least not the first time. Sociologist Barbara Owen calls such synchronicity “the breakthrough of the sacred.” Today, celebrating thirty-three years of marriage, we both still joyfully believe we met because of divine intervention.