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Thursday, September 12, 2013
Back from the wedding! The last few hours were a grueling test of endurance. Sand permeates everything; I have an annoying sunburn on, of all places, the tops of my feet; your little siblings are exhausted and surly.
I wouldn’t trade the past several days for anything in the world, but I won’t pretend I’m not glad to be home.
Of course, you aren’t here. I peeked in your room a few minutes ago. It’s vacant and sterile; an empty bookshelf, bare walls, only a few leftover possessions (where did you get those ridiculous floppy hats, anyway?) for you to collect after the honeymoon.
Not that I’m feeling particularly melancholy. Maybe tomorrow when you don’t appear for breakfast. But on the whole I’m more excited for you than morose about your absence. You’ve gone on to the next chapter of your life, and that’s the way it should be.
I always figured you for a wedding that would upstage Princess Di. But a small sunset ceremony on the beach, only immediate family and friends so close they qualify — that was absolutely appropriate. As many weddings as I’ve attended, including my own, I’d never thought much about some of the symbolism. You weren’t really mine to “give away,” as if you were property to transfer, but you’d been my responsibility to raise, feed, teach, discipline, encourage, tease and spoil. So I walked you down to the beach, arm in arm and lump in throat.
But your husband walked you back up, hand in hand, side by side, new partners in a grand, new adventure. And that’s the way it should be. I meant the last thing I said to you before the ceremony: He’s a lucky guy, and if it had been entirely up to me, I would have picked him for you.
The pastor, our good friend, gave you a fitting charge. Make your marriage one of commitment, communication and a covenant: recalling always that you made promises not just to each other, but to the one who brought you together. I don’t doubt you’ll live up to those promises. And that’s the way it should be.
Earlier in that momentous day, I was thinking about an article I’d read by an extreme pessimist on the subject of marriage. He opined that young women today want to be brides, but few actually want to be wives. It’s all about the dress, the flowers, the gifts, the trendy location, the adoring crowd making you the center of attention for exactly one day. A year later, the dress is packed away, the flowers long wilted, the crowd not around to take your side in the next argument. No wonder so many expensive, perfect weddings have a sad sequel in divorce court. The wedding day is maybe the most unrealistic day you’ll ever experience: Normal life is so much more challenging. And rewarding.
I’m glad you took the advice I’d been drumming into your head since you were at least 10 or 11: Spend more time planning your marriage than your wedding. Putting together the Pinterest-perfect wedding — that’s the easy part. Building a life together, learning the art of compromise, practicing self-sacrifice and choosing to stick it out even when it’s tempting to quit — that’s what is so difficult.
Remember what else I’ve always said: Love is not an emotion. It’s a choice. Emotion plays a part, but emotions are fickle and malleable. Choosing to love unconditionally does not come easily, but that choice is the way it should be.
I also found symbolism in the main thing you’ll remember about the wedding and describe to your grandkids: the little rain squall that drenched us all right at the end. How appropriate, I realized later. It was a little synopsis of life, of what your marriage will be. We stand around, deliriously happy, convinced that all is as perfect as we can make it, and in the midst of it appears a sudden storm. The key is to do exactly what you did: keep smiling. Withstand the downpour. Hold each other’s hands even tighter. Know the storm will pass, and life will go on. We can’t prevent the storm. But we can choose how to respond.
The two of you are ready for it all, I’m confident. You’ve got what it takes to have the unshakable marriage everyone admires. I can’t wait to watch what blessings unfold for you as you two live one life, together. Because that’s the way it should be.
Long is a Roanoke Times columnist and director of the Salem Museum.
Weather JournalRain is here; no snow