Last week, in preparation for our celebration of the Archdiocese of Washington’s Marriage Jubilarian Mass, we produced this video about Bob and Laurin Balkam, a husband and wife from the Greatest Generation.
Before the interview could start, Bob said, “I’ll tell you my life story and you see what you think. And I’ll try to do it in about five minutes.” But you can neither tell a 75-year love story in five minutes, nor help but take away some life lessons.
The first lesson to take away is the transformative power of faith. Bob and Laurin were not Catholic when they married. They were Protestant. And that’s just how Bob liked it. Until one day, that is, when he came home and Laurin was reading a book about the Blessed Mother. “Uh oh,” he thought. Laurin then went on to tell Bob that she had met a Catholic priest … and that he was coming for dinner. Bob wasn’t happy.
Even worse for Bob: after meeting the priest, he really liked him and would go on to meet with him several times. Bob said after that, he “knew in the soles of his feet” that God wanted him to become Catholic. The Balkams converted and raised all eight of their children in the faith, with God guiding, correcting, loving and just being present with them.
The second lesson involves the power of marriage. In the video, Bob says of his union, “Like the faith, Laurin has enriched me, instructed me, corrected me and encouraged me. She loves me.”
When they were first married Bob was about to take a job until Laurin told him, “No, Bob, you’re not going to take that job. It’s not good enough for you.” He went back the next day and asked for another position and got it. He ended up staying in that job for 20 years, but the most important thing that he received, he said, “was a gift from my wife … a transformation in my view of myself.”
The third lesson is the true meaning of “visible signs.” A few years ago, Laurin was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. For both Laurin and Bob it was a terrible shock. There is little doubt that their faith has helped carry them through challenging times. But if ever there were a couple who serve as a visible sign of an abiding faith in the love of God and faith in the path that He presents each of us – should we choose to follow – it is the Balkams.
For example, Laurin is no longer able to speak, and I wondered how they communicated. Bob showed me. As I watched from a distance so as not to intrude, Bob began speaking to her in their own “language.” He took his bride’s hand and looked into her eyes, and she responded immediately, full of life and animated. It is a language of joy and of laughter; it is their language of love. It is the language of a 75-year marriage that Bob calls, “a glorious, glorious life.”
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Join us for the Archdiocese of Washington’s Jubilarian Mass for Married Couples, celebrated by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, on Sunday, June 25, at 2 p.m., at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.
Christopher Baker is Director of Multimedia Production for the Archdiocese of Washington. To view more inspiring videos produced by the Office of Multimedia Production, please go to the WashArchdiocese YouTube page.