By Lindsay Emery
The Latin term deus ex machina is used to describe the point in Greek and Roman drama when a god would come on stage, change the direction of the play and ultimately help resolve the plot.
Longtime Ossining resident Carol Ryan believes that meeting her new husband Clifford Peterson required some divine intervention.
“This marriage, this meeting with Cliff a year ago, was like magic,” she said. “All of a sudden – deus ex machina – my life changed dramatically. It was going one direction and it turned a totally different direction and I was happy to go with it.”
In April 2019, Ryan filled out a survey that was to be a part of the 50th anniversary celebration of Ramapo College in Mahwah, N.J. For 40 years, Peterson was a professor of history and international relations while Ryan was a part of the first-ever graduating class in 1975. Although their paths never crossed while on campus, the survey brought them together.
Ryan, a former captain of the Ramapo women’s tennis team, had a question about the school’s Sports Hall of Fame and was directed to Peterson, who was a committee member planning the 50th anniversary. After reading her answers to the survey, he realized that they had multiple common interests. Peterson called Ryan a couple of times and invited her to the campus to meet one of his colleagues.
After lunch and a sentimental stroll around the campus, Ryan and Peterson sat down in a quiet building overlooking the small lake on campus discussing their lives for a couple of hours.
“At that point, I think we both knew that we had too much in common, in destiny, or if fate was involved because after 50 years, our paths finally crossed against astronomical odds,” said Peterson, whose first wife of nearly 52 years died. He has three children, eight grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.
Just four months later, Ryan, who divorced many years ago, joined Peterson on a trip he was taking to Montana to visit a former student. While they were in Missoula, Peterson put their initials on a lock and attached it to a bridge over the Clark River.
“So there already was at that time a big-time connection,” Ryan said. “I don’t know when we started thinking about getting married, but I checked back just recently. The wedding dress I wore on May 30, I had found that dress online in September.”
When Ryan and Peterson decided to get married, they planned on having their wedding on the Ramapo College campus surrounded by friends and family. But COVID-19 canceled that plan, and Ryan was inspired by the Ethical Society of Northern Westchester, where she is a member, to have a Zoom celebration.
The couple was grateful for the virtual ceremony. There were family, friends and former students who tuned in from three continents and 30 states who may have been unable to make it to a conventional wedding. Instead, the ceremony had nearly 200 screens with an average of two people per screen.
Ryan even got to participate in traditions like tossing her bouquet. The Zoom screen switched to the screen of a friend who lives in Maine, where she reached up and caught the flowers.
Since their big day, Ryan and Peterson have been indulging in what they have been calling “mini-moons” – day trips every now and then.
“We feel a little guilty actually because we’re so happy being quarantined together and spending all this time together,” Peterson said.
What advice do Ryan and Peterson have for COVID-19 newlyweds? Finding the right person, of course, especially since you have to spend every day and night together when you are quarantined.
Ryan and Peterson have many plans for the future, but they describe themselves as resourceful and willing to go with the flow, especially during the current pandemic.
“We know what we would like to do, but we’re willing to wait and see how things go,” Ryan said. “The whole world’s plans have changed, so we’re just two people who are living with the uncertainty of that and we’re okay with that because we enjoy every single day together.”