There was a freak ice storm on the day of our wedding — in just a couple days, it will be nineteen years since — that practically paralyzed Tulsa, the city where we’d planned to carve out a life together. Although I was worried about people safely making it to the festivities (most notably, our family and friends who were traveling some distance), there was a feeling of stillneess in the weather-crippled city that was somehow perfect for the occasion, a calm marked by iced-over glistening trees and the subtle twinkling of a few errant snowflakes.
I felt that same calmness on the inside, too, as I had never been more sure of a step — leap — about to be taken. I was as surprised as anyone by my (now in retrospect, a little alarming) serenity, in part because my Type A personality didn’t often lend itself to placid moments, but more because of my fairly well-known pontifications detailing a complete disinterest in the institution of marriage. I didn’t have a problem with married people, you see, it was just that I couldn’t imagine being one. In truth, I wasn’t sure I had it in me. However, when the day came for our own vows to be exchanged, I couldn’t recall ever feeling so confident about anything.
In an effort to appease tradition (and perhaps, to please a certain rather traditional mother-of-the-bride), we hadn’t seen each other that day until the moment when the church doors opened and I caught a glimpse of my bride and her father, ready to walk the aisle to meet me. Although in my mind, I know that it didn’t happen exactly this way, my memory is that the church fell completely silent and, if only for a moment, time stopped. I’m not an overly sentimental person by nature, but that singular moment — filled with equal measures of joy, anticipation, love, and hope — would later become a memory that would preserve me in those times when I would find myself looking for sustenance.
As people do, we’ve learned a lot about each other, and maybe even more about ourselves, in the almost two decades that have passed since that day. I’m reminded of a passage from a love letter written by Rainer Maria Rilke for his wife, Clara Westhoff. It reads:
To love is good, too: love being difficult.
For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation. For this reason young people, who are beginners in everything, cannot yet know love: they have to learn it.
With their whole being, with all their forces, gathered close about their lonely, timid, upward-beating heart, they must learn to love. But learning-time is always a long, secluded time, and so loving, for a long while ahead and far on into life, is solitude, intensified and deepened loneliness for him who loves.
Love is at first not anything that means merging, giving over, and uniting with another (for what would a union be of something unclarified and unfinished, still subordinate–?), it is a high inducement to the individual to ripen, to become something in himself for another’s sake, it is a great exacting claim upon him, something that chooses him out and calls him to vast things.
As I’ve detailed on this very blog, our lives have unfolded in ways that I would have never imagined on that day when our greatest problem in the world was a few boxes of forgotten wedding programs. And yet, it’s been this journey — this living manifestation of “in good times and in bad” — that has allowed us to, as Rilke said, learn love.
This history we’ve shared is a commodity more precious to me than most anything and it has, indeed, been that high inducement to ripen and to become something in ourselves for the sake of another. I look forward — now with learned measures of joy, anticipation, love, and hope — to the vast things ahead.
[I love you, honey. Happy anniversary.]