I’ve officiated a few now, and I am beginning to appreciate a couple of hallmark (get it?) aspects of weddings, now that I’ve been in on them for people near and dear, my own, my parents’ and people I’m meeting for the express purpose of helping them have the best wedding ever. Marrying couples are—in my experience—hopeful. They are often nervous, too, in just about the sweetest way; they want the event to go well for all (if they are throwing an event, as in a party).
The first wedding I did for people I’d never met before their wedding (planning) was a couple whose event consisted of the two of them, her ten year-old daughter and her parents. You’d think that with truly nearest and dearest only in attendance, this would have been a relaxed couple. Not so much: they were tweaking the ceremony, fiddling with flowers, and she was primping with her daughter as if a large audience awaited her entrance. The ceremony had poems found from different books and although they met me that very afternoon, they asked me to say something off the cuff. That was easy to do: I spoke about how much care they were putting into creating this ritual to affirm their love for each other and for the daughter, whom they included so sweetly (groom gave a necklace to his new stepdaughter along with ring to wife), how they knew marriage really has everything to do with family. The pair exuded such tenderness and sincerity, really, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house (well, actually not a dry eye in the B&B; the ceremony took place at Flower Hill Farm in Williamsburg, a gorgeous spot for a wedding).
This weekend’s wedding had two duly nervous brides, both looking totally stunning in their custom-made outfits, and I came away with my two most-favorite moments: one was how many times before the ceremony Kerry said aloud of her bride, Anne, “Doesn’t Anne look beautiful?” and the other was being close to the two of them (a perk of officiating) to see how brightly their eyes gleamed during the ceremony as they faced one another holding hands. Seriously, bright sparks were flying from them. Oh, and one more thing: after the ceremony, not right away, but perhaps forty-five minutes or so later, I could feel how each of them had relaxed a bit, like, phew, we did it (!); let the fun begin!
Weddings, at their best, are about tenderness. Valentine’s, at its best, is also about the soft heart. When a heart is full of love, it’s pliable and it’s easily bruised, yet easily healed. That’s the lesson of marriage and the lesson of family; the gift is wrapped up in that tenderness, the way that we can hurt and disappoint and ignore and tend to and boost and really see each other, all of it, one big messy tangle of loving.
In that way, I don’t always remember enough to simply appreciate the people closest to me: especially my dear husband, whose ability to keep us both laughing through arduous times (probably three this past week, I need not specify) is pretty darn amazing.
I very often remember what his mother said to me on some car ride somewhere nearing our wedding (which took place just over 16 years ago): marriage requires that you are interested in the other person. He’s constantly engaging. I mean, he reads the New Yorker every week (and he has four kids!). His interests, from antiquarian books so obscure that only those who understand them can really even appreciate the detective work he does to make sense of them to his love of crossword puzzles, downhill skiing and soccer and Nate Silver and travel and Hampshire College (where he served on the Board never having been a student there) and twisty, obscure legal knots, well, he’s, as my eldest son would say super awesome. And he loved that. She was right, that mother-in-law of mine; remaining interested in one’s partner in life is truly critical.
To get a little mushy here, I think the biggest gift we’ve given one another is this: that our hearts have remained soft and full, perhaps are even softer and fuller now as we’ve figured out how to love each other while also loving the kids and the extended families and the work and the friends and the community and… Sure, my heart doesn’t skip a beat every single time he walks into the room—four kids means constant whirlwind—my heart doesn’t really have time for that before school. My heart, though, beats beside his in life in this wonderful synced-up rhythm, one that has me feeling the best kind of awe and contentment and love and head-over-heelsness, or so it seems to me.
How easy is our love? He wanted some old-fashioned Heinz Ketchup, because he tired of my organic-tomatoes only reign on the kitchen, and so I got him some and then turned that into a Valentine’s present, because you know, it’s red. Our love is also more complicated than that, too, trust me, but after eighteen years together, an overriding ease seems pretty sweet and comfortable and fun. It’s oh-so-much nicer to smile and laugh through life than the alternatives.
Now, I can’t end this without saying how very much I love those wonderful kids. Saskia was due on Valentine's Day (although she arrived earlier) and I think forevermore I'm going to consider her the best Valentine ever. Risking cliché, the kids have taught me more about love than I can ever give back (and that’s saying a lot, because I do give ‘em my all). They are shining individuals, and I am constantly awed by how they hold me to being “in it” with them as well as how they are launching, their wings spreading in such glorious ways. Raising children is certainly a lot of work. Creating intimate relationships with one’s children is certainly as great a privilege as one could ever hope to enjoy.