I can still remember sitting in the large, comfortable bus as we took a day-long tour of London. It was December and the contrast of cold outside upon the heat inside created a perpetually thick matte of fog and condensation on my window. I reached up and wrote in large, friendly letters the words "Stupid American" (backwards) into the film with an arrow that pointed down and ended where my face sat, staring outward into the city.
My girlfriend of 4 years was sitting beside me. My family–who lived in England at the time–was with us taking in the sights and history of the city. There is a saying my Mom shared with me, "In England a hundred miles is a long distance, but in America a hundred years is a long time." It was my love's first trip to the UK, but not mine, and I was beside myself with excitement to show it to her.
I have to stop here and say that it was no secret through most of our courtship that my girlfriend and I were going to be married. As we made our way through college, dating and living separately, we would pass the time by planning our future life together. I made it a point to tell her throughout the courtship that she would never know when I was about to ask for her hand in marriage. On several occasions I told her, "You are going to think you will know when I am about to ask but you will be wrong time and again. I promise you will never see it coming." This was my brilliantly played attempt at psychological warfare.
And so it was not by accident that it was a few days after Christmas but not quite New Years eve that we travelled London that day. No sensible person would propose in between two noteworthy calendar landmarks like those. My love did not notice one of my hands spending an unscrupulous amount of time in its corresponding pocket. She was far too distracted with everything to suspect that I was guarding a secret in the shape of a diamond engagement ring. She should have been curious as to why, when we reached Westminster Abbey, my family decided to sit outside the historic church instead of accompany us inside. But just as I planned, she did not take notice.
Together we drank our fill of the 1400 year old abbey which is shaped like a giant cross. This, we learned, was a place where kings were crowned, royal families were sewn together, and national treasures were laid to rest. We meandered through the corridors marveling at the names of historic figures buried and entombed in the very floors and walls around us, all while the anticipation of the impending moment circled the rim of my heart in much the same way I imagine a twister circles the chain-link fence of a trailer park before leveling it completely. This grand Gothic masterpiece was the final resting place to monarchs and scientists and poets. From Henry V to Elizabeth I. From Geoffrey Chaucer to Charles Dickens. From Sir Isaac Newton to Charles Darwin. We stood in awe, again and again, that surely one hundred years was a mere drop in the bucket of time for a place such as this.
When my love and I reached the center of the abbey, in front of the altar, I looked around, took in the moment, and said...
"This place is beautiful."
"Yes," she replied.
"This is the place where kings have been crowned and royalty has been married for hundreds and hundreds of years."
She didn't respond.
"This would be a romantic place for someone to propose, don't you think?" I offered casually.
"Yes," she agreed, admiring something off in the distance.
And then, in the heart of Westminster Abbey, with my would-be wife half distracted and not paying me much attention, I got down on one knee, in front of God and Charles Darwin's bones, and I made us a little history of our own.