I am outdoors but also indoors. I am ankle-deep in a pool of iced beverage. I know I must bring a drink upstairs to someone, but every time I try to move, one or another of my limbs is without the support of its bones, unable to function as intended, and I lilt to the side, almost to the ground, before someone (who?) rights me. I am wearing yards and yards of loose fabric and it is damp and chilled from the iced liquid. Far off in the distance, there is someone working at a desk, head bent over. Is that me? Is that capable person me? Is that the past or the future? And over and over again into the ice…..
I wake to realize that I have once again fallen asleep in the process of putting the baby to sleep. She is there beside me asleep, curled into my side with one leg–casually? fiercely?–thrown over my arm and I am unaware how much time has passed.
This weekend I attended a beautiful wedding in a barn. My friends Erin and Daniel were married as hazy streams of afternoon light emitted through the wood planks of the barn walls. The ceremony managed to be simultaneously simple and complex–much like the two of them. Their vows were specific, addressing the particularities of their personalities and relationship. Having heard them, I feel that if asked to draw a map of their love, I would be able to make a good start. They also spoke the Buddha’s five remembrances:
I am of the nature to grow old;
there is no way to escape growing old
I am of the nature to have ill health:
there is no way to escape having ill health
I am of the nature to die:
there is no way to escape death
All that is dear to me and everyone I love
are of the nature to change;
there is no way to escape being separated from them
My deeds are my closest companions;
I am the beneficiary of my deeds.
my deeds are the ground on which I stand.
As one of the singers in the wedding, I was seated in the front row while C was in the back row next to the door with E. At one point–a vow that resonated?–I turned to look at her and she was already looking at me and a look of understanding passed between us that can only happen between two people who have gone out to sea together in the boat of marriage. It was a look that was simultaneously please and thank you and you’re welcome and I love you, a look that contained the scrappy, hard-scrabble, miraculous tenacity of unions (ours and everyone else’s). To me that’s part of the magic of weddings: they are at their most intimate when they are universal and vice versa. At the moment when two people (or three or seventeen–go for it if you have enough money to hire a therapist on retainer!) surrender to the universal construct, their singularity and particular importance to each other and their community is most evident.
In that moment of looking back and finding her looking back, I woke up and remembered that I am supposed to be doing my part to make a good life with this person. I have spent the past several months awash in anger, resentment, and self-pity over the grueling work-life of intern year and the change in my parenting role. I have not been answering emails, not keeping up my end of any of the two-ended things in my life, falling asleep at 7pm with E every night as if I deserve to check out when I’m not at work. As it turns out: I don’t.
Marriage is many things and people have lots of bad things to say about it, but for me it is a constant inducement to be my best self and to make the best of my life situation. Marriage in 2012 is an ongoing choice (Hallelujah and thank you, Henry the Eighth!) and I want the choice to be clear. Aka: I want to be the best show in town. I want C to be as excited about me and I am about her. Marriage works best, I think (since I’ve been doing it for two whole years), when both people are still wooing and being wooed. Also, when you love someone, you don’t want them to have to live with a sad-sack, bitter person even if that person is you. When things are going right and you are well-loved, you have the opportunity to see yourself through your spouse’s eyes–capable, smart, beautiful–and the person you are in your spouse’s eyes is the person you want to be on your best day and maybe tomorrow is your best day. It’s a gift.
All of which is to say: I am grateful to have been reminded. My deeds are the ground on which I stand. Thank you Erin and Daniel. Thank you C. Time to rejoin the world of the not perpetually irritated. Time to rejoin myself and the path I have chosen. May its challenges lead to wisdom.
The way back home from the wedding was hellacious: boat to bus to rental car to three hour airport delay (did I buy an overpriced sweatshirt with “Boston” on the front because it was so cold in the airport? Yes. Did E promptly throw up all over said sweatshirt? Also yes.) to unexpected overnight stay at my parents’ house and an early morning drive home. It was a test: Am I going to be an angry person at the mercy of every obstacle or am I going to regain my equanimity? Am I going to keep falling in the ice water or am I going to make it upstairs with my cold drink? I’d like to say I was the smiling Buddha of travel, but in truth I was kind of a wreck. Entities at whom I directed hot darts of mental rage included: stoplights everywhere, highways, many airline employees, the existence of islands, the ability of human beings to vomit (why the smell??), the ocean, the wind, the rain, myself, C, and I’m ashamed to admit, even E (so good at so many things, why not sleep?). But something was better and it has stayed better and all I can do is hope (by which I mean try like hell) to keep it that way.
Here is a picture of E in her first ever party dress.