I heard a story the other day of how a friend’s grandparents, currently celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary, fell in love.
It began on the first day of junior high when the grandfather walked into the grandmother's classroom, a transfer student from another town. The grandmother claims her heart fluttered for the first time in her life the moment she saw him. He was tall, suggesting a certain authority, but juxtaposed with his newness to the school, he seemed out of place and shy. This made the grandmother positively melt and to her complete exhalation the only empty seat in the classroom was beside hers.
He plopped down his books, lowered his eyes, and said, “Morning, Miss.”
“It was then, Grandma always says, that that’s when she decided she was going to marry Grandpa,” my friend explains.
And Grandma did, but not without challenges.
Unfortunately, the grandfather only knew her as the girl in the desk beside his. Baseball was the only thing that made his heart flutter. The grandmother, unconcerned by his disinterest, remained earnest, placing herself in his presence as often as she could--at the empty lot where he and his buddies played baseball, in the cafeteria on the way to her lunch table, and by somehow always forgetting a pencil or book in class and needing to borrow his. It seemed the more he ignored her, the more she tried to get his attention.
High school, however, was ugly. The grandfather did eventually become interested in girls, but not with her. He went with two girls who looked nothing like her. By then, he was the star of the high school baseball team and she, the editor of the yearbook. Oh the hours she spent looking at his pictures as she laid out the book. Meanwhile, the oblivious boy remained in the dark.
“This is usually the part in the story when Grandma interjects with something like, 'I’d have needed to knock him on the head with his baseball bat to get his attention,' and when Grandpa usually claims that he thought she was just friendly to everyone and that he hadn’t a clue it was because she liked him,” my friend laughs.
I thought to myself, “Your grandpa sounds like just about every man I’ve ever known.”
After graduation they moved on to different universities where she earned an English degree and he eventually went off to war. But by the time he returned home, the grandmother had moved on entirely.
Or so it seemed.
She was pinned by a nice young man from Scranton, an engagement likely just weeks away. So when the grandfather spotted her at a dance, sipping punch and laughing with her girlfriends, she was now the one unaware of his existence. He nervously asked her to dance and she politely accepted. And it is here that the grandfather’s heart finally flutters. He remembers the pretty little girl who used to ask for pencils and hang around the baseball field and the even prettier editor of the yearbook who snapped his pictures. Maybe it was a side effect of war, but grandfather finally saw what he’d been missing, and when he found out she was pinned, his feelings for her only grew that much deeper.
“So you see,” the grandmother said to him when he stopped by her parents’ house the next day. “I can’t possibly see you because I’m already taken.”
She’d worn a dress that fit at all the right places without appearing scandalous. Her hair gently draped her shoulders, and she’d borrowed her mother’s Chanel No. 5 perfume. Grandmother, as it turns out, was no fool and she wasn’t some damsel in distress either. She’d orchestrated the whole thing the minute she heard that he had returned home from war.
“He insisted that he drive her to the train station the next morning where Grandma was supposed to catch a train for Scranton,” my friend tells. “He absolutely insisted.”
That trip to the station turned into a proposal and the two were married six months later.
“The best part is the end of the story as Grandma tells it,” my friend says. “Because she sits a little taller and her eyes twinkle as she says, ‘We got married not because he absolutely insisted, but because I absolutely persisted.'”
Never mind that their story sounds like something out of a movie, or that it’s as cliché as the day is long. Never mind it’s a typical case of girl loves boy who doesn’t care. Yes, it drips with stereotypes, perpetuates images, and is altogether an old-fashioned sentiment.
Yet, none of that is why their story impacted me.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about values versus virtues, suggesting that values are what we want and virtues are what we are willing to do to get what we want--making virtues, in my summation, always actions. In the love story between Grandma and Grandpa Olden Days, what the grandmother wanted was Grandpa. But what she did to get him was more than just love the dumb guy to death. She damn well persisted--even when he barely had an opinion of her at all. She kept right on going until her work paid off. Many could argue that love wasn’t the star of their story, but she was, and everything she did to essentially see it through--something she alone fought for for more than a decade.
After hearing the tale of the tenacious woman, who never insisted but always persisted, I put forth into this tiny hub of my thoughts, a question: Is the indispensable virtue to getting what we want in life not love but persistence, and in particular, persistence in the face of total, undeniable indifference?
In the case of the grandmother, there was absolutely nothing for her to insist upon. The grandfather never gave her the opportunity because he barely knew she existed. Yet, she wanted him fervently enough that she persisted at something even though she had no credibility but that of which she knew she was capable. Imagine if we were all as defiant as that grandmother to the opposing forces in our lives--particularly those who underestimate, or worse, don’t even care.
Persistence is an innate drive with which we’re all born, a component in ourselves that only we can discover the instant we’re undervalued. Persistence doesn’t argue. Persistence is continuous forward motion that ignores those who ignore its very presence inside us. It’s day in and day out, in spite of indifference and disbelief. It’s how un-medaled athletes win medals, dancers in the back row earn solos, books without publishers are written anyway, how someone gets on the treadmill each morning, how another continuously gives their opinion at staff meetings even as others ignore them, how my mother went to grad school in her fifties, and yes, how a 65-year marriage is finally realized. We won’t always get the reception we desire, but that shouldn’t stop us because persistence only requires two things: ourselves and a goal.
Perhaps that is why persistence isn’t the revenge seeker we often assume it to be. It’s as indifferent to obstacles as the obstacles are to it. It is a matter between ourselves and what we want, and no person can get through to you and me more than ourselves, because at the end of the day, we are left with our thoughts, our regrets, and how much we love ourselves enough to see our stories through.
Therefore, I propose that persistence isn’t just an indispensable component to life, but quite possibly the greatest virtue of all time--as pure as love, but burning with purpose to free the spoils of humankind’s potential taken by the ignorance of others.
I know enough to know that timing is key to any good story. It just so happens that love story, which now seems more timeless than vintage, was shared with me on the morning that I decided to start publishing this blog on my own. In my story, I could have insisted that I tailor my writing to fit the new style of my previous publisher. I could have insisted upon making New Orleans a more central character, tightening up my message each week, and fitting within a new aesthetic. But just as there was nothing for the grandmother to insist upon but her own persistence, I must do the same. New Orleans has never been my whole story, and it never will be. With that, I have nothing to insist upon but that of which I know I am capable. I could even have stopped writing this blog altogether. How much would anyone really have cared? Even my most loyal readers would have moved on with their day. But I choose to persist toward something that only I can see. And what I need to see is if my hunch is right.
That’s the other thing about persistence. It is unrelenting curiosity that asks, “Just how far can our story go?”
Where will your persistence lead you? Today seems a good day as any to find out.
Let's take it out for a run.