Many years ago a priest at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church asked Mike and I to be mentors in a marriage preparation course. I’m not quite sure why he selected us nor even why we agreed to take part in the program because we were still rather young and finding our own way through the art of building a happy marriage. I suppose that it was the hubris of our youth that made us think that we had much wisdom to offer people who were contemplating matrimony.
A future bride and groom would come to our home and we would be their guides in a month long preparation course. For several hours we would discuss a prepackaged set of thought provoking questions designed to get all of us talking about our respective views on critical aspects of married life. One of the topics called upon us to name three married couples whom we believed exemplified the best qualities of husband and wife. I always chose two of the same married people but I often struggled to name the third. I felt then as I do now that I had known few marriages as strong and spiritual as that of Rosemary and Efrain Garcia, Mike’s aunt and uncle. To this day I try to model my own home after the example that they have provided us over the course of more than four decades. I also regularly mentioned our Aunt Elsie and Uncle Bob, two of the sweetest most romantic people who still retained a giddy light in their eyes for each other even as they moved into their late seventies. For the third spot on my list I tended to vary my answers from time to time depending on how the winds were blowing.
I suppose that I would be far better at counseling young couples today than I was back then. Rosemary, Efrain, Aunt Elsie, and Uncle Bob would still be at the top of my list as some of the greats who had mastered married life. There are now many others that I would also include in my coveted rankings. Mike’s parents had a love as exciting as any romantic novel might invent. My friends, Patricia and Bill, were filled with joy most of the days of their lives until Patricia got cancer and eventually died. I do believe that my brother Pat, after being single for years, managed to find the love of his life in his new bride, Allison. Sometimes it is just apparent to everyone that two people were meant to be together for all time and he and Allison are just that. Of coursemy cousins, Leonard and Jeannie, have been married for almost sixty years and are still having so much fun that one might suspect that they are newly weds. Four children and dozens and dozens of grandchildren and great grandchildren later they still love to laugh and dance and party like teenagers. The most successful marriages that I have ever observed are not just limited to the older set, however. There are many younger souls who just seem to have found their love matches. So it is fitting that I would also include Jenny and Eric Brunsell who will celebrate their tenth anniversary on Saturday, June 27.
I’ve told you Jenny and Eric’s beautiful story before. They had each traveled to Japan, unaware that the other even existed. Jenny was from northern California and had heard of a trail to the top of a mountain that she longed to travel. Eric was from Houston, visiting a brother who worked in the area. By happenstance they were each walking to the summit on the same day at the same time. They began to talk with each other much as hikers often do. It started to rain but they hardly noticed it. The view was glorious and the conversation was wonderful. Each of them sensed that somehow they had found a kindred spirit in the other. I suspect that somewhere along their journey they were already beginning to imagine being together.
Even after returning to their respective homes they stayed in contact. Theirs was a long distance courtship. The absences did indeed maketheir hearts grow fonder. They took advantage of every opportunity to talk and to be together. They were outstanding teachers who had adventurous spirits that compelled them to seek out new places to visit and experiences to enjoy. When they both understood with all of their hearts that their union was truly written in the stars they planned a destination wedding to Maui. They were married on June 27, 2005, with their closest friends and family members looking on.
They set up a home in Houston and became a loved and respected teaching team. They first worked together at Revere Middle School and then became English instructors at KIPP Houston High School where their reputations as masterful teachers and loving man and wife only grew stronger. Each summer they traveled to some new exotic place and then during the school year they worked and planned and played together, making new friends all along the way. Eventually they moved to Katy Taylor High School where in addition to teaching English they became the coaches for the Academic Decathlon Team which has garnered more and more prestige under their watchful care.
This Saturday they will return once again to Maui to renew the vows that they gave to each other a decade ago. This time they invited many of their new found friends to join those who had been with them the first time around. All week long Facebook has been filled with photos of joyful people who are gathering for the celebration. Jenny and Eric arrived early last week and have already followed their hearts by hiking into some of the loveliest spots on the island, no doubt still having the kind of conversations that attracted them to one another back when they were single travelers in Japan. This time they are not alone because perhaps the best aspect of their legacy as a couple is that they are not just exemplary married folk but they are also the best kind of friends that anyone might hope to have.
I’m admittedly a bit sad that I will not be able to be with them as they join hands once again and express their undying love but I don’t want to dampen the spirit of joy that will surely be felt throughout the crowd of well wishers who have made the journey to support them. They know just how much I love and admire them and I suspect that we will have many more opportunities to celebrate in the coming years. These two are the real deal when it comes to taking the vows of marriage seriously. Theirs is as beautiful a love story as there ever was.
I suppose that if I had to describe what I believe to be the secret of their happiness it is that they share so many common interests and they work hard to keep magic in their lives. They love life and all that it has to offer. They are always each other’s best friend. When times get tough, and they have had their fair share of difficult moments, they become rocks of dependability. Those iconic signs that urge us all to live, laugh, and love seem to have been custom made for Jenny and Eric Brunsell.
My thoughts will be with Jenny and Eric on Saturday and with the family and friends who have joined them in Maui. May the next ten years and the next be as wonderful as their first. Somehow I suspect that one day as someone contemplates the great married couples of all time Jenny and Eric will find their names in the mix.