My husband and I had the worst day trip ever. It was meant to be a much needed restorative sense of play. But was met with one dead end after another. So increasingly absurd as to render tragedy into comedy. The dark kind. Without pleasure as a distraction.
But I don’t think it was us. I think it was the day.
And as far as suffering goes, we got off easy.
Nothing like some low-grade deprivation to open up one’s heart to the profound ache all around us.
We also drove past not just one but two sets of wild turkey crossing—a single Tom and later four hens; and not just one but two outdoor wedding parties—with only yards between our distress and their joy—the second at the very moment the bride & the groom, facing each other, hands joined, spoke their vows in a dooryard/roadside ceremony; the other during a post ceremony photo shoot on the lawn of an inn where the bridal party crossed in front of us and the groom turned from the camera toward us to smile.
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.)
I gave up my book and my health to the month of August, to my sister’s wedding, to my roots rising up from the sea and arriving in the mountains, en masse, consuming me, until I’d forgotten why I’d left, who I was, and where I’d been heading.
It’s been more than 3 weeks since they’ve retreated, and still I am combing bits and pieces out of my hair, like seaweed, after an August swim.
I loved it as a kid. Not to eat. Never. To lift up from where it had been drying in the sun and the sand and press between finger and thumb.
Too wet and it would squish.
Too dry and it would crumble.
Just right and it would, POP!
What seaweed remains on me has long gone brittle
or is so mushy as to be unworthy of an attempt at popping.
I could complain about the weather, beautiful from the depths of my feverish days on the couch, and now that I’m standing again, dark and dreary and so cold.
But there’s Houston. And friends with cancer. And the White House. So what does my weather matter.
Still, it’s Tuesday, the last Tuesday before school steals summer, so there are cookies at the Farm Stand up the road.
If I was sick, say with the flu or maybe cancer, I would lie here, on the couch, like I did for a good long while this afternoon, and do nothing, except listen–to the sound of the breeze through the trees–like I once did for an entire summer of afternoons–the summer my mother lay dying, 300 miles away, my belly full with child, searching for my mother’s face in the leaves, for any sign of her wellbeing, and later, his mouth, on my breast–and instead of getting up and pushing through this hangover of family– an August wedding–too many hellos & goodbyes–in too short a time–instead of chasing away this deep fatigue, this ache in my bones, with food or caffeine or distraction, or even this here–these words I’m expressing–I would remain effortless, without choice, with only the rise and fall of my breath, and the sound of the leaves in the breeze, and my life, my living, and maybe even the world, would be better for it.
Except for my husband & son, I spend most every day alone on this hill, on 7 acres (a factor which puts me at risk for dementia, my grown son warns) which leads me to marvel at the number of visiting relatives that passed through these doors–between Thursday and Monday–just about 40!
Not only generations gather at a wedding, but ancestors too.
I brought my Nana’s bowl and filled it with garden kale.
As much as I resist the urge, both wedding & funeral programs end up scribbled with notes that I write to myself around the edges of bridemaids names or bible verses. Mostly I’m compelled to record bits of language or favorite lines, or personal insights (or insults.) Often I resort to using the tiny pencil provided in the pew.
Yesterday, I was inspired by the Bride and Groom’s names–just perfect for a wedding day: Emily and Conal. Their theme was tea and books.
Dinner was wood-fired pizza cooked on a mountain top.
Thunderstorms were in the forecast, but the sun shone strong and bright until the Minister, her uncle, said: “Conal, you may kiss your Bride,” and then the first gust of wind swept across the mountain and through the birch altar.
Why is it the Groom who is always invited to kiss his Bride?
Why not say, Emily, kiss your Man!
Prior to the kiss, I thought I heard the minister say: with these wings and wedding vows.
And I pondered how wings (in lieu of rings) might lend themselves to marriage.
But my favorite line came from the father of the bride’s toast and may just be the best line ever: Emily was a willful child.
He continued: Her idea of love came from Disney movies and Victorian novels.
And then: Conal fell out of the sky.
The sister of the Bride, who was the Maid of Honor, and 10 days overdue, also referenced Conal’s arrival in Emily’s life: He was either a creeper or a keeper.
The sister and the bride both agreed that he was a keeper, and the overdue sister concluded with: Let the Happily Ever After Begin.
I liked that line too. It got me to thinking about marriage and how it was more like an experiment. Like democracy. Messy. Imperfect. Hopeful.
For some of us, 3 years can be forever, the Minister said. For others, 25, 35, 60 years can be a moment.
I looked around this hilltop to see who else was in that moment. It brought to mind the fragility of loving. Of how one of us must die first. Of how utterly impossible that seems. Of how I can’t bear to imagine it.
Emily and Conal both promised commitment until death.
I didn’t promise that. I don’t think you can. But it’s a nice thought.
And although I speak Christian, I bristled, as I always do, at the Patriarchal elements of the ceremony which masquerade as Truth; but also I found myself moved by the some of the verse:
…Confess to each other the Great Mystery of becoming Love.
I’d like to try that confession though I’m not sure what it would sound like or if I could stomach the intensity, given the above mentioned fragility of loving another for so long.
At 51 years old, and 25 years married, I am finally beginning to appreciate weddings, particularly second marriages for whom the romance is tempered with reality. Like a second term President.
Later, under the tent, at the band stand, I was alarmed to see that one of the musicians was my dear friend’s (recent) ex. The one who after decades of building a life together invested his love elsewhere, without mentioning it. Typically, I have equanimity around such matters, with little need to hold a grudge. But I haven’t made it through menopause yet, and seeing this man, who hurt my friend so deeply, riled me; and so, although I love to dance, I took a stand, and boycotted it. For love.
Instead I claimed a comfy spot on top of Merrymount and watched the storm roll in and talked to Joe from Manhattan who was not put off when I said that I sucked at small talk, and took it upon himself to teach me how, but since I didn’t subscribe to magazines or have a hobby, I was a difficult pupil.
Of all the wedding snippets I have to share, I’ve saved the best for last–something I overheard about the Bride and Groom just as we took our seats for the ceremony–which set me searching for a pen–because there were no tiny pencils among the folding chairs–which was something of a fuss in and of itself–because ceremonies such as this–belonged inside a chapel–not on a hill–which apparently resulted in a Faustian bargain–the traditional Patriarchal elements remained–in exchange for the natural setting.
The snippet was a simple thing really, but it struck me as funny and revealing and perfect, like this wedding day on a mountaintop:
It IS long, one woman said to another. They debated and debated about it.
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.