My son was 19 when he first accompanied me to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women–CSW (where I serve as an NGO delegate for Federation EIL–the worldwide network of the Experiment in International Living.)
That year, NGO’s were offered seats at a UN Women event at the Manhattan Center in the nosebleed section of the Hammerstein Ballroom.
My son and I stood in line outside in the rain eating burgers from the 5 Guys across the street so that we could be there for the impressive (and long!) lineup of speakers–including Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the President of Liberia and Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.
Clinton was followed up by Meghan Markle (unfamiliar to me), who silenced the room with the statistics she shared about the future of gender equality (predicted in 2095!)
But it was Markle’s personal story, referencing a Spic & Span commercial, that really clobbered me, in its simplicity, revealing the subtle magnitude of discrimination whose legacy pervades cultural norms and perpetuates an inequality that harms–all (and which I suddenly understood defined the trajectory of my own life which I had always viewed through an empowered lens.)
My son didn’t notice the tears sliding down my cheeks when he leaned in to ask: “How does that dress stay up on her shoulders?”
We hadn’t known then that Markle was a descendant of slaves and noblemen–a distant cousin to Prince Harry–who she would meet in the year to come–and who she will now wed.
(Turns out Meghan & Harry’s wedding is slated for May 19, 2018, my own wedding anniversary.)
On the third day, we rose, and resumed “normal” life, having resurrected tenderness with two days of love play which to our surprise included a visit to a widow and kindness toward a stranger; and something else–a new insight into an old question: Why do we always end up in these marginal towns/cities/places? Can’t we imagine/afford/allow more for ourselves?
No doubt the long light of our nuptial month and its thousand shades of green inspired another perspective:
We share a heart for the underdog and for the sense of possibility in fragile places…
like this morning’s bills and the laundry and the neglected lawn.
i couldn’t bear to interrupt their flow to ask for their email to send them the photos i never should have taken… but they nourished my anniversary view as much as the sea beyond them and my beloved’s face beside me… her foot. his hand. their eyes. his leaning in. listening. how she pulled the table as close as possible to the sea. to catch the last kisses of the sun. how her skin had already soaked up the day. how she knew how to love and be loved and how he knew how to give himself to that…
I imagined a big celebration for our 25th–enacted “back home” at the shore with extended family & old friends–but that’s as far as I got. It was very sweet. There were strawberries. Dark chocolate. Tequila. And nachos (our first, favorite food together.) There was a ceremony, honoring the divine feminine and masculine (very unusual for the Jersey shore.) And there words like those below, shared by loved ones.
But I realized that I preferred it my imagination without the practicality and inevitable complication of pulling it altogether.
Alternately, I imagined a big trip, like our friends took for their 25th–to Greece!–but that didn’t happen either.
Our 25th anniversary year has been a shy one. Simmering. Gently expanding perhaps. Especially at this time of year–summertime–when the living is easy–and when we first fell in love with one another–a much sweeter time than our troubled nuptials.
It’s as if I’m waiting. For the right moment. The compelling knowing. The path to emerge from the earth itself. Like the mystery of love bubbling up inside a soul.
We were cycling out of another turbulent period like this one when we celebrated our last big milestone, here in the mountains. Most of our family couldn’t make the 300 mile trip, but after knowing us for a scant decade and a half, local friends came out in hoards–70 of them–to celebrate love and commitment and the realities of relationship at the 21 year mark.
… Over a sixteen-year span, I saw more than just two people in love. I saw clearly what Kelly calls “The Marriage Journey”, and I saw more. I saw children born and the evolution of dwelling and place, times of both pulling in and reaching out. I witnessed them in scarcity and abundance, physical separation and togetherness. Between Kelly and Casey, there exists mutually the exploration of passion: the passion they have for each other, as well as, the passion for their individuated paths, the ones on which they strike out more and more as they mature into a couple made up of two living as one, one living as two, and of course the couple as pillars to their families.
And so, Kelly and Casey, on this day of rapture, this joyous honoring of your past, your present, and your future, I speak for us all, when I share this stanza from Little Gidding by TS Elliot, an esteemed wordsmith, who, like the two of you, made his life’s work a homage to both soul and society…
We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time. Through the unknown, unremembered gate When the last of earth left to discover Is that which was the beginning; At the source of the longest river The voice of the hidden waterfall And the children in the apple-tree Not known, because not looked for But heard, half-heard, in the stillness Between two waves of the sea. Quick now, here, now, always— A condition of complete simplicity (Costing not less than everything) And all shall be well and All manner of thing shall be well When the tongues of flames are in-folded Into the crowned knot of fire And the fire and the rose are one.
There’s some secret in there that I long to know. Perhaps it points the way to us in this remarkable, long-term relationship that inspires others and nourishes ourselves and terrifies me in all the ways it might end, including that inevitable–death.
What I want to tell brides on their wedding day is that it doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t matter if it rains.
It doesn’t matter if it’s the hottest day on record, and the air condition in the reception hall–on the 33rd floor of the beachfront hotel–breaks down.
It doesn’t matter if you wake with your period which wasn’t expected for another week.
It doesn’t matter if the photographer’s car breaks down on the Parkway and he won’t make it in time for the photo shoot at the hotel you booked to serve as “home” because your parents aren’t speaking to each other.
It doesn’t matter if the flowers arrive all wrong just as you hang up the phone with said photographer.
It doesn’t matter if your mother has finally hit bottom, and arrives with matted hair, barely able to stand.
It doesn’t matter if your best friend–the one you’re about to marry–uncharacteristically sabotages the wedding he so wanted by getting so drunk the night before that he wakes you in the middle of the night, just to slur how much he loves you before hanging up the phone to run to the toilet.
It doesn’t matter that the best man thinks this story is so funny that he repeats it to you, emphasizing how it was “coming out both ends.”
It doesn’t matter that your father first refuses to ride in the limousine with you on the way to the church because it leaves out your step mother.
It doesn’t matter that none of the photos taken (on your father’s camera) of you with both your parents (without your stepmother) never materialize.
It doesn’t matter if the minister talks about the disappointments of marriage instead of the blessings; or if he squeezes your hand so tightly–when introducing you to the congregation as husband and wife–that your diamond cuts into your pinkie.
It doesn’t matter if someone passes out in front of the musicians at communion.
It doesn’t matter if your aunt screams, “You’ll ruin her dress!” about the bubbles you distributed for the guests to blow.
It doesn’t matter if tiny little black bugs fill your veil and bite your entire wedding party so that someone is scratching in every photo.
It doesn’t matter that there is an awkward, exacting silence (instead of applause) when you are introduced as a married couple for the first time because you’ve omitted last names to avoid the glaring focus that nothing changed about them.
It doesn’t matter if your deejay plays all the songs carefully delineated on your “no play” list including “Shout,” and “We are Family.”
It doesn’t matter if the bouquet hits a chandelier and breaks across your sister’s face.
It doesn’t matter if your friends leave without you and you have to call for a ride after the reception.
It doesn’t matter if your husband drops you across the threshold.
It doesn’t even matter if you don’t like weddings or dressing up or being the center of attention.
It doesn’t matter because somehow there is grace.
There must be.
Because even though every one of those things (except for a handful which happened to friends) happened to me, I still felt r-a-d-i-a-n-t and b-l-e-s-s-e-d on that crappy/beautiful day.
After a handful of years of neglect, as reflected by the lack of posts on this blog, I find myself turning my attention back to my marriage, like I did the year that I posted a handful of times every month.
This may be due to our approaching our 25th wedding anniversary; or it could simply be that there’s suddenly enough “pause” in the pulse of our lives to consider our marriage apart from everything else.
I suspect a strong correlation with parenting. The last time we invested a bulk of energy into our marriage was just before our oldest launched into the most turbulent years of adolescence.
He’s 19 now, and our youngest has another year to go before he swipes all of our energy; so this year is OURS.
Ironically, it was our oldest who inspired this turning of attention–with a song he shared just this week–reminding my heart just how much it loves AND just how buried that love becomes…
I posted this song to my husband’s Facebook wall, and later asked if he could pick out the line that moved me most.
He could. (And I could pick out his favorite lines too.)
(ps. Casey, this artist is younger than our marriage! Born 9 months after our wedding.)