As fate would have it …

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Beauty and the Beast. Of course, if anybody else were to call her a beast …

Unbelievable. I still think that sometimes when I think about my future wife. It happened again Monday while I was shooting photos and videos of convocation at Washburn University.

During his speech, our president told the students that many of them would meet their future husband or wife during their years at the school. My mind wandered as I thought about my fiancée and paths we traveled before falling in love 20 years after we met.

To say we met is a bit of a stretch. We went to high school in a small town where you couldn’t help but know everybody, at least their name and face. Neither of us remembers talking to each other. In her mother’s words, “Neither of you knew you existed.”

Girls like Shana were out of my league, especially when you consider she was three years older and Burlingame’s equivalent of Eliza Dushku. While she was dazzling people as captain of the dance team, my goal in the one year we went to high school together was simple: survival.

Freshman year, 1990-91, Shana’s senior year.

Like many other teens, I had the confidence of Joel Barish in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” Throw in a little bit of a weight problem, and my chances with the ladies, at least as I viewed them, were one in a million.

In other words, I wasn’t approaching Shana (or any other girl) back in those days.

The confidence didn’t improve in the years that followed. Now that I look back, it contributed to the end of every single relationship I’ve had.

Sure, there were other reasons — obviously, it wasn’t ALL my fault. But the adage that you can’t love somebody until you love yourself is true.

I’ve known that for years. I’ve said it for years. But I didn’t believe it until a few years ago. And that’s when everything changed.

On the far left, my future wife, 20 years ago.

As the fiancée and I blazed different paths, often thousands of miles apart, the years piled up. We each had a failed marriage, numerous jobs (she’s been at the same place for 17 years now, I’ve had eight workplaces in 13 years), ups and downs, and highs and lows.

But there were times our lives intersected, even if we didn’t know it. Unknown to me, her mother, our high school English teacher (how’s that for fate?) often updated her when I moved up in the newspaper industry or ran for school board during college.

We didn’t realize it until recently, but both of us were at her youngest sister’s graduation. As a member of the school board, I was sitting on the stage as her sister walked across it with her diploma.

Years later, while thumbing through a photo album with our daughter, I found a photo of her sister receiving her diploma. Sure enough, I’m in the background, along with hundreds of the graduates’ family members, including my fiancée. Cue the goose bumps.

A few years later, I left Kansas to advance in my career as a sports journalist, moving from Emporia to Texas. Meanwhile, Shana lived in Kansas City, Mo., as did the guy who replaced me at The Emporia Gazette. He was my future wife’s neighbor. What are the odds?

Five years had passed when I moved to Virginia in 2007. Though we barely knew each other, the future mother-in-law kept her daughter up-to-date: Ernie is on the move again. As it turned out, my willingness to “go for it” appealed to Shana.

On the way to our first date. Talk about nervous.

It was during those two years in Virginia that she added me as a friend on Facebook … after thinking about it for a few days. Again, we barely knew each other. If not for all those updates from her mom through the years, I’m probably not writing this blog.

We were both on the move in 2009 – me to Tulsa for a job at a bigger paper, her away from a marriage. Several months later, I was back home, living with my dad in tiny Melvern, trying to figure out what the hell I was going to do with the rest of my life.

For the first time in years, I didn’t have a job. As fate would have it, my three weeks away from the workforce were critical. It was during that time that I read a post from Shana on Facebook about moving from Kansas City to Overland Park. She was contemplating the move and seeking advice.

That I saw the post is unusual. With more than 800 friends on Facebook, the odds of seeing any random post in my news feed are low. I wouldn’t have seen the post (sent in the morning) had I still been working at a newspaper. I would have been sound asleep.

But I did see it. And I responded with a direct message containing the Darius Rucker song “Learn to live,” a tune about taking risks. That was our first interaction.

Both of us were in relationships at the time, but we did stay in touch over the next few months. We spoke to each other for the first time at a high school football game (the first for either of us in years) at our alma mater in September.

Once the relationships ended shortly thereafter, we essentially hit on each other daily on Facebook. Finally, by the beginning of 2011, we got together. That was Jan. 8, 2011. We’ve been inseparable since.

If you like it, put a ring on it. Indeed.

My belief in destiny was beginning to fade. That doubt clouded my vision. Now that I see how our lives have intersected so many times in the last 20 years, I have no doubt that fate is alive and well.

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