I wish that we lived in a world where the legitimacy of a personal relationship commitment wasn't connected to whether or not a given government or institution was willing to recognize it as such. I wish that the sanctity and significance of marriage or other forms of commitment were derived solely from the care, intention and hard work that its participants (perhaps including their families, friends and surrounding community) invested to make and maintain those vows.
But that is not the world we live in, at least not anymore, or yet. For now, we ask and allow our state and federal governments, religious institutions and cultural leaders to tell us what kinds of personal relationship commitments are legitimate and what kinds are not.
There's just enough time between the Christmas holiday and New Year's Eve for people to get bored, but it's not a good time to launch new TV shows or announce new political initiatives, so we have to have something to keep us entertained.
(As a kid this meant me listening to countdowns of the top one billion songs on the charts for that year, and somehow a Celine Dion or Aaron Neville song always made it into the top five...this was painful, but perhaps reflects more poorly on me and the particular genre of music station I was listening to than it does on all of the music produced in those years.)
This weekend I will have the honor and joy of marrying Kelly.
There are many things to say about the institution of marriage that I might normally be tempted to blog about; the legal, political, religious, cultural and social norms involved, the zaniness of the logistics involved when one decides to have a celebration with guests for the spectacle of what Ian Hay called "a ghastly public confession of a strictly private intention," the total failure of contemporary wedding rituals to incorporate modern technological tools and devices into their proceedings ("what do you mean I can't read my vows off my smart phone!?"), and so on.
But today, as friends and family gather to witness our commitment to each other and help us celebrate it, I can only speak of my deep appreciation for the community that has held and encouraged our relationship, the sense of adventure and happiness that I feel about what lies ahead, and my tremendous and growing admiration of and gratitude for who Kelly is - in my life and in the lives of so many others.
The boy, trying to ignore the reoccurring dull pain in his left side, brought his hands together in front of his face, and held them there, barely touching. He moved his index fingers together and smiled at the brief moment before they touched, when each seemed to gently reach out to the other, attracting and pulling and melting into the moment of contact.
The girl, several hundred miles away and an hour from the nearest hospital, dropped her shovel and fell back into the sand screaming in terror from the pressure in her skull. Even when mommy scooped her up and held her tight and told her it would be okay, she could not stop screaming. She cried because it hurt and she did not understand.
The old woman ran her fingers over the smooth cover of the book on her bedside table, comforted at its presence though she could not see its pages. She had always had books near her, as a mother, as a teacher, and as a grandmother, and now she wanted to have one ready to read as soon as she got her strength back. She sighed at hearing the birds outside her window eating from the feeder down below, wishing she could see them, imagining that she did. She wondered if any of the friends or family who had come to say goodbye would remember to fill it again.
The old man nodded his head slowly as he was led past his wife's casket. He briefly ran his fingers over its (almost inappropriately) shiny wood surface, not so long as to acknowledge fully this loss, but just long enough to say "I know you don't belong in there." After sixty-five years together in a world such as this, it did not seem possible that he was breathing while she was not. He thought about how much work there was to do, and how he just wanted to take a nap, wondering if she would be there when he awoke.
The boy glanced up only briefly at his mother, but then back to the dashboard, and then out the windshield to the car in front of them. Briefly, the flashing of the other car's turn signal again came in sync with the clicking noise coming from their own, but then quickly went off into its own cycle. Why not make all car turn signals click with the same rhythm? He giggled quietly at the (somehow unsatisfying) answer to his question as he pictured a great, unified clicking noise on all the streets of all the world. Then, the car turned and it was quiet again.
The girl thought about her father's answer to her question as they kept walking: "Because he is a bad man, and he doesn't deserve it." He hadn't looked like a bad man. He had startled them a bit and he looked kind of dirty, but mostly he looked tired and hungry, sitting in that doorway covered in his blankets and newspapers. The girl could not know about the "bad" man's lung cancer, or that he could only sleep in that doorway because it was Sunday, or that she would be startled by quite a few more like him in her lifetime. But she quietly decided that she would have given him some money, if she had any. So what if he didn't deserve it?
The man tried to look deeply into his wife's sad and cautious eyes, but with every word he spoke he realized more that the depth he sought would have to be recreated rather than rediscovered. The horror would never quite leave him, that he had somehow justified a few moments of unworthy pleasure for this numbing pain he had brought into their marriage. As he looked at the woman he loved - perhaps more so than he loved himself? - he promised that, if she could forgive him, he would learn how to love all over again.
The woman laughed beautifully and fully as she tried to cover her husband in the leaves they had gathered, ignoring the itching against her skin and the damp cold on her fingers. They tossed each other around gently and finally lay side by side in the messy pile they had created. They drew close as she wrapped her arm around his chest and he put his hand in the small of her back. She looked intently up at the rounded space of his neck, wondering if she could curl up in that space and go to sleep. She had told him that she forgave him many times, and they had oddly never stopped saying "I love you." But it was only now that she fully appreciated the intensity and depth of the love with which they had covered each other, the forgiveness and pain inherent in it, and the contentment of knowing that it would survive and shape them forever.
With the noise of the reception now off in the distance, the man and the woman, the boy and the girl, stood facing each other, hands raised and each with palms nervously but firmly pressed against the other's. It was a perfect darkness and the temperature let them forget about their skin and their balance and their mass. They looked deeply, smiling at the joy of this night and of these several years together. Each wondered how they met, how this moment came to be, and each looked for signs about what it would mean to spend the rest of their lives together. As their faces neared, each seemed to gently reach out to the other, attracting and pulling and melting into the moment of contact. Moments before the physical touch, another kind of touch that explains everything engulfed them both.