The story I’m about to tell you is hard for some people to believe. After hearing it, they ask a series of predictable questions: You hired these people, right? You knew them ahead of time? Are you joking me?
However, because you are reading this in Maine, I trust that you, of all people, will simply smile and nod, knowing full well that this state is filled with incredible stories of people doing the most amazing things.
First, a little background. I met my husband, Dustin, when I was a baby. In fact, because my dad was deployed when I was born, I met Dustin seven months before I met my dad. Our lives intersected multiple times throughout our childhood, but for ten years, we didn’t see each other at all. Then, when I was 20, Dustin and I went out on a date. We got married less than two years later.
On July 17, 1999, I gave Dustin a practical, inexpensive wedding band. He wore the ring every day for twelve years — through two cross-country moves, flight school, three children and two deployments — until July 30, 2011. That was the day we took the kids to Mt. Katahdin to visit our favorite swimming hole, an offshoot of the Penobscot River, where the water churns and a rope swing hangs from a tree. In three months, Dustin would leave for a yearlong deployment.
Dustin was swimming with the boys in the rapids when his wedding band slipped off his finger and disappeared into the foaming water. A wedding ring is just a piece of metal until that moment when it’s gone. As I cried on the banks of the river, Dustin rubbed my back and whispered into my hair, “We’ll buy a new ring before I leave, and someday, I’ll come back here and find the real one.”
But in my heart I knew: The ring was gone.
I wrote about the lost wedding band in a column a week later, and when Dustin left for his deployment that November, he had a new, shiny wedding band on his finger. But it wasn’t the worn and scratched one that had represented our love for more than a decade.
Over time, I moved on and forgot about the ring.
Thirteen months later, in September 2012, I received a cryptic message in my Inbox.
“Hi Mrs. Smiley — My dad, Greg Canders, read your article about losing your husband’s ring last year. My dad showed me the article this morning and we decided to attempt to find it. Could you please give me a call as we have found a wedding band and would like you to identify it. Zac Canders”
I hate to admit that at first I was skeptical. I had dark thoughts about Greg and Zac, whom I didn’t know. Were they tricking me? Did they have some kind of motive? Did they want something from me? Because it didn’t seem possible they could find the ring. And why would they look for it anyway?
I agreed to meet Greg and Zac at the Moe’s Original BBQ parking lot in Bangor. Greg, a professional diver, told me that my column had touched him. In fact, he had saved the clipping and had it in his shirt pocket. That morning, he and his son had decided to drive 80 miles out of their way, with all of their gear, to find the swimming hole I had hastily described and look for the ring.
Greg reached into his other pocket and pulled out a small plastic bag. While my husband was still 8 time zones away, my hand trembled. Greg opened the bag and put Dustin’s ring, tarnished and spotted from 13 months under water, in my palm. I slipped the ring onto my right hand.
Greg and Zac wanted nothing in return, though we had them to dinner, and Dustin could hardly wait to shake their hands. Three months later, he got that chance when he came home from his deployment. He held the ring with the same amount of awe that I had. But when I asked him, “It hardly seems real, does it?” Dustin said without hesitation, “I always knew we’d find it.”
It’s understandable when people can’t believe this story. For me, however, besides being one more step in my and Dustin’s long history, the lost-and-found ring, and Greg and Zac in particular, represent everything that I love about this state. Here, people do go out of their way to help others. People don’t give up hope. And human connections mean more than money or fame.
Because of all of these things, while my husband continues to be away with the military, and I stay in our home in Maine, I keep the ring on my right hand, where it will stay until Dustin comes back to me again to wear it forever.
Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at www.Facebook.com/Sarah.is.Smiley.