By Debbi Kelly, Assistant General Manager and Order Fellow
The older I become, the more I realize that life is nothing but the making and facing of consequences–good or bad–resulting from our decisions. Some are seemingly insignificant, and others change the trajectory of one’s life forever. Some are made after one has reached a point of experience and discernment, but many others made impulsively in the passion of youth. My adult life has been shaped, formed, and colored by one such decision.
When I was 18, I had just broken up with my high school sweetheart, chosen not to return to my sophomore year of college, and found myself wandering rather aimlessly through life. It was already a year filled with life-altering decisions, and 9/11 was about to push me toward one of the most rash decisions yet. I was living with my sister just outside of Washington, D.C., and when the plane hit the Pentagon, I was only a few short miles away. To say we were all feeling our mortality is an understatement. I was already lonely and, for the sake of brevity, after a night of intoxication with friends, I replied to a profile on Match.com.
Now, this was before the days of widespread social media. Match.com was also used for networking, and the profile to which I responded was to that of a 23 year old Marine Corps officer, with the “looking for friends” and “business networking” boxes checked. He lived in Arlington, a few miles away from my home in Fairfax, and I sent him what I still maintain is an exceptionally flattering photo. I suppose he liked what he saw, because a prompt response told me that he was no longer living in Arlington, but in Okinawa, Japan. However, he still wanted to “get to know me.” I was completely resistant. Why should I develop any type of correspondence with a guy halfway around the globe when there were plenty interested in me right there in the D.C. metro area?
He was persistent. We would chat online, but I would not give him my phone number. When I finally relented, we talked for four hours. And again the next night, and the next. His phone bills averaged over $700 a month. It was really a shame that Skype wasn’t around yet! All this time spent talking developed into an intimacy that was remarkable, and when he asked if I would fly to Okinawa as his date to the Marine Corps ball, I accepted. I was 18 and had never left the country, but I agreed to fly to another country to meet a man I met on the internet. Big Decision Number One.
When my parents asked what I wanted for my birthday that year, I told them a passport. ( I’ll let you imagine how that went over.) My sister, who works in federal law enforcement, ran every conceivable background check she could. She pulled strings at D.O.D., I’m sure, to get even more information. All I knew is that no one could talk me out of my decision.
I landed on Okinawa on my 19th birthday. He kissed me before he even said, “Hello.” He put a ring on my finger and told me that we were getting married. He had even signed us up for a military-required premarital seminar. He said, “The worst that could happen is you find out you hate me after all and we’re incompatible. The best that could happen is that you decide you want to marry me as much as I want to marry you.” We we weren’t incompatible–quite the opposite, in fact. We spent time exploring the island and the local culture, meeting his friends, attending functions, and generally enjoying each other’s company more than we possibly imagined we would. I told him I would marry him. We extended my two-week trip to three weeks. Big Decision Number Two.
The next few days were a whirlwind of excitement, bliss, and anticipation. They were also coupled with, on my part, anxiety and doubt. I knew I loved this man, but I knew that this may cause a permanent rift between my family and me. I felt torn. I packed my bag, called a taxi, called him at work to tell him I was going back home after all, and got in the shower. The next thing I knew, I was dripping wet, with him standing in front of me in the bathroom, genuinely broken, and crying his eyes out. He said he wouldn’t stop me but begged me to reconsider. His sincerity moved me. I stayed. Big Decision Number Three.
Fast forward 16 years. That reckless, headstrong, youth without a lick of life experience or sense is still married to that smitten, lovesick, no-longer-active-duty Marine. We have three children (our oldest, Annalise, is also a company member; you may have seen her play and sing with WoCo). We have had to make an infinite number of Big Decisions in that time. We’ve lived in nine cities and towns. We’ve experienced indescribable joy and terrible tragedy in these years, but we continue to make the Big Decision to be there for one another. Ours is an exceptional story that just as easily could have taken either one of us down vastly different paths. I guess that is just the chance you take every day, with every choice. Sometimes the decisions that seem to defy logic are the ones that end up making the most sense after all.
Songs for a New World confronts this decision-making conundrum head on. We hope that you will join us as we share intimate moments with facing some life-altering decisions. Because aren’t they all life-altering?
Get tickets for Songs for a New World at https://sweetteashakespeare.com/tickets/.