The Mystery of Marriage
This summer, I was set to attend five weddings and the last of them was last weekend. Lori and Dave, sweet young friends who met on match.com. So many weddings, all of them different. Only one took place in a church — another was beside Buzzard’s Bay, another in a chateau, another was at the bride’s home, in an open field. This past weekend’s wedding took place at an open air chapel, in the rain. All of the ceremonies were different, some longer, some more poetic, one even included a homily by the reverend. But all of them contained the words, I do. I noted that brides — at least these brides — no longer toss their bouquet and certainly don’t do the silly thing with the garter, whatever that was all about. In spite of all that has transpired for women in the past few decades, all these young ladies were “given away” by their fathers. They all had stunning white wedding gowns just like their mother’s and their grandmother’s and all of them wore veils.(Lori’s was fetching, a small veil, just over her eyes, at a tilt, like something out of the 1940s.) Many toasts were proposed, to clamorous applause and whoops, and frequent tapping of glasses, requesting the bride and groom kiss. Which they did. All the weddings ended the festivities with a big, high glamorous cake. And dancing. Overall I am surprised to observe how traditional weddings seem to have remained. White dresses? I thought they were destined for the history books but then I am a child of the 1960s.
These weddings have all been so joyful, everyone just glowing, especially all the parents. If any of them had any misgivings about these unions, I didn’t see it. All their faces seemed about to break at each and every ceremony. Their happiness was like a contagion in the gathering. Whoopee! It made me want to grab the nearest guy and plan a wedding.
Lori and Dave asked me to do a reading of my choice during the ceremony. I selected a passage from Wendell Berry’s Poetry and Marriage. This was suggested to me by my friend, Richard Jones, who is the pastor of a church in Bolton, Massachusetts. It’s a wonderful passage, pointing out the communal nature of marriage, that neither the husband nor the wife will have their way, that it is a joint venture down an unknown road. And then he refers to marriage as “deciding to stay,” as opposed to not staying. “. . . . they know the likelihood that they will be staying for ‘a while,’ to find out what they are staying for. And it is our faith that you will not stay to find out that you should not have stayed. . . . Not everything that we stay to find out will make us happy. Our faith is, rather, that by staying, and only by staying will we learn something of the truth, that the truth is good to know and that it is always both different and larger than we thought.”
In other words, that marriage, like life, is a mystery and we follow each day like clues, agreeing that the quest is worthy. Together. That life is not about knowing, rather it is about not knowing, that uncertainty is where we put our faith in marriage. I’m sure that Lori and Dave envisioned their marriage taking place in the bright sunshine, the majestic profile of Mount Monadnock rising behind them. Instead, it was a rain-soaked, cold October afternoon, the mountain hidden behind a bank of fog and all the guests huddled under umbrellas. All perhaps a little preview of what Berry is saying, that marriage is all about uncertainty, in this case even from the first minute of its existence.
As I watched Lori and Dave, Naomi and Brian, Lydia and Josh, Samantha and Mike, and Andrea and Nick stand before us all and say, “I do,” they were being launched into a darkness they were not only willing to take on but anxious to. Berry makes it all sound simple. Maybe it is, maybe we make it more complicated. But as they all waltzed back down the aisle, there was no indication that any of these young people were anything but thrilled to be moving into this new and mysterious phase of their lives. May that darkness be magical and long-lived for all of them, may they all decide to stay.