Sunday, August 29, 2010

love is a rite

I married another couple last night. I'm a sentimentalist when it comes to these things. I'm very proud of the work I do on ceremonies and rituals --weddings, funerals, memorials, child welcomes, coming-of-age rites, community welcomes--and I think a part of the reason I do them well is because I don't feel drawn to the ceremony itself but to the emotion and release people associate with these rites. while I don't cry at weddings, for instance, I love to watch other people, especially the bride or groom, do so, and cater my message and performance to elicit that as honestly as possible. below is the homily I wrote for this most recent ritual and I won't pretend to false modesty--I share it because I think it's a good one.

"The Good Grey Poet, Walt Whitman, has come down to us as a poet of many topics, of self-identity and community, companionship and optimism, equality and even bereavement. But Jon and Sara have, by their inclusion of him, given me a new understanding of Walt’s topicality: as a poet of adventure. Of tenderness. Of marriage.

"We don’t choose our children or our parents. But we do choose our companions. We choose our partner. We choose one another. Jon and Sara, today you look one another in the eye and say, “I love you and I want to be with you, and I want to share my life with you. The good, the bad, the swiftly-moving giddy days when I’m happy just to be with you and the long, never-ending nights when it seems I will never like you again. I want to share my greatest, my least, with you, because only with you do I feel complete.”

"We have to take a lot of “what ifs” in hand when making our choice. “What if I’m not as likeable as I think I am?” “What if she’s not as willing to make concessions as I am?” “What if he just thinks he loves me?” Here is another “what if” most of us never even consider: What if the other person is unwilling to move as often as I’ll need to? What if she or he simply isn’t willing to pack up and go as the opportunity arises? Earlier, Sara’s sister Megan read an excerpt from Walt Whitman’s long poem “Song of the Open Road.” Elsewhere, what he writes sounds almost like a prophecy:

"Listen! I will be honest with you;
I do not offer the old smooth prizes, but offer rough new prizes;
These are the days that must happen to you:

"You shall not heap up what is call’d riches,
You shall scatter with lavish hand all that you earn or achieve,
You but arrive at the city to which you were destin’d—you hardly settle yourself to satisfaction, before you are call’d by an irresistible call to depart,
You shall be treated to the ironical smiles and mockings of those who remain behind you;
What beckonings of love you receive, you shall only answer with passionate kisses of parting,
You shall not allow the hold of those who spread their reach’d hands toward you.

"The solution is compatibility. Jon and Sara, a fear you shared, maybe even a fear you were certain of, was that you would be unhappy all your lives because the person you settled down with wouldn’t have your passion for different cultures and lands, your love for education and your need for it. You were each afraid that what you wanted in your life was yours alone, that there was no one you could love who could share that. You feared, in Walt’s words,

"'The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine.'

"What you feared was the unspoken assumption that they were yours alone. Your focus would remain on the “me,” “I,” “my” alone, so you would end up

"'Scatter[ing] myself among men and women as I go;'

"Fear is a funny thing. It keeps us from doing things—like dating the friend we feel attracted to because to do so would seem unprofessional—and it forces us to do things—like opening ourselves to that friend because the thought of being alone is unbearable. Remember this in the days ahead as you live in the space of a walk-in closet getting in one another’s way. Remember this is the person you love, the person who shares the way the world excites you and wants to be with you as you explore it. “We will sail pathless and wild seas” you promise one another today, and sometimes those seas will be the distance between the two of you. Be as unafraid of crossing those intimate borders as you are of crossing national ones.

"It is traditional that the officient of a marriage service charges the newly married couple with some office, some task they are to keep in the back of their minds to help their marriage succeed. But I can’t improve on Walt’s charge:

"'Here is the test of wisdom;
Wisdom is not finally tested in schools;
Wisdom cannot be pass’d from one having it, to another not having it;
Wisdom is of the Soul, is not susceptible of proof, is its own proof,
Applies to all stages and objects and qualities, and is content…'

"Sara and Jon, your wisdom has come from schools but is not bound by their limits; has been shared with one another but is made greater than the sum of the two of you. The only proof your wisdom requires is that you remember to love, honor, share and be patient with each other. If there is only one certainty, it is that we’re alone in our lives until we accept another person as our companion. Your road will not be smooth or always clear but it will always be the one you travel together."

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