From Monday’s The Writer’s Almanac, courtesy of Garrison Keillor:
Tonight is Mid-Summer Night’s eve, also called St. John’s Eve. St. John is the patron saint of beekeepers. It’s a time when the hives are full of honey. The full moon that occurs this month was called the Mead Moon, because honey was fermented to make mead, and that’s where the word “honeymoon” comes from. It is a time for lovers.
An old Swedish proverb says,
“Midsummer Night is not long but it sets many cradles rocking.”
I have a vivid memory from the mid-summer of 1983, when my sweetheart and I were newlywed tourists. A group of schoolgirls approached us in Bangkok, anxious to practice their English on us. “Why did you come to our country?” they asked, their question delivered by committee. We tried to answer them with the simplest words possible: we are traveling for fun, we are traveling after our wedding, we are… we needn’t have gone any further. One of the girls, with a huge smile on her face, exclaimed joyfully, “Honeymoon!”
Well, yes. We were on the grand tour after our big day, a double-header adventure that seemed hugely significant at the time. But in retrospect, the whole of that summer—our wedding day, our honeymoon, the nuptials we attended, one after another, once we got back home—was all mere prologue. Our wedding was a chapter-header, an acknowledgement that we were about to take a ceremonial first lap before a long series of journeys, some that required luggage, many that didn’t. We didn’t know yet how many times we’d come to a crossroad, literal or metaphoric, and ask each other, “This way or that?” We didn’t know how much more love there would be, as the decades rolled on, how much good fortune. We also didn’t know how we would buoy each other when we were visited by heartbreaking sadness. We were clueless about the true meaning of the words, “For better or worse, in sickness and in health.” We didn’t know the difference between reciting our vows and living our vows. Life was so good! What could possibly stand in our way, between to have and to hold, and so long as we both shall live?
It was hard to imagine, back then, how much of our future was writ in those promises we made. I was so very sure that our marriage was meant to be: me with my crown of baby’s breath, my sweetheart with the iris and freesia pinned to his lapel, our family and friends all around. Truth be told, I barely remember speaking those vows, since I occupied myself through the whole ceremony by inspecting my shoes, trying with all my might to distract myself from tears. Happy tears they certainly would have been, but still, I let the words wash over me, so as to not be overwhelmed with the emotions that might bubble up right there, in front of everyone who mattered. I regret that I made it through the ceremony with thoughts of peas and carrots to keep me intact. I also wish there had been someone with a video camera, so I could revisit that lovely day, our kindly minister, my dear friend Melanie telling the brass quartet to cut the Handel’s Water Music, the sweet Glee Club friends who sang to us of Glorious Apollo, the applause that broke out from the balcony.
I’ve been thinking about weddings a lot these days. It is June, after all, which is when we celebrate our anniversary. But we’ve also entered a new territory, one defined by the years that have passed since we exchanged our vows. It began last autumn with the novelty of the first hand-addressed invitation in decades—what a lark, people still do this? Now, the floodgates are open. The children of our friends, the friends of our children, our various nieces and nephews are all approaching the age when getting married is what comes next. Our own sons aren’t there yet, but I know how this gig goes. What seems like just a ski season or a summer vacation will have come and gone, and then, pow! Five, ten years will have flown by. And before we know it, there we’ll be, sitting in the front row, across from the mother and father of the bride, before we’ve even had a chance to blink.
* * * * *
We went to a lovely wedding last weekend, at an island on Squam Lake. The groom was calm and steady, and the bride was lovely and beaming. Someone asked her if she was nervous, and she said yes, until she was walking down the aisle. Then she saw her sweetheart, and it all made sense. Oh, there’s Todd! Everything will be fine.
I suspect it will be. The two of them are thoughtful and grounded, and have spent enough time together to know each other, really know what makes the other tick. Their parents are completely delighted that they found each other. They will be worthy companions for the sorts of adventures they suspect lie ahead.
A mere 31 years earlier.
I had all that same certainty, three decades ago. And now, looking back, it’s amazing to me to realize how many things have worked out for us through a combination of just plain dumb luck, along with decades of unanticipated vigilance around things we’d entirely neglected to ponder, back when we were in our twenties. The day we went to see some friends’ photos of their trek in the Himalayas, complete with stories of dysentery and altitude sickness, and afterwards looked at each other and agreed, simultaneously—is that on your bucket list? No? Phew! Me neither! That was dumb luck. I did, after all, marry the sort of guy who likes the outdoors, likes to hike, likes a challenge. I’m more of a day-hiker gal, always happy to find the hot shower at the end of the trail. That one could have gone either way. The way we enjoy each others’ company, trust each others’ feedback, get each others’ jokes, and give each other the space to do what we love to do, together and on our own, has been a series of miraculous strokes of luck, in my book anyhow.
We never discussed what kind of parents we wanted to be before we were married, and now, here we are, our children approaching the ages we were when we promised ourselves to each other. I can’t help but feel both humbled by the young men our kids have turned into, and relieved that we didn’t know how hard it would be, how magical and exasperating and joyful and exhausting, back to back to back to back. We both love our sons beyond known human bounds, and we feel so incredibly lucky to have made it to this place, two decades out, knowing that our synchronicity around when to stand firm and when to cut some slack as our sons grew up made all the difference. And bless that man of mine, for taking those boys on long hikes and long walks, off to ride the escalators while I cooked the turkey or wrapped the presents, away to baseball camp in Florida and to animation summer school at UCLA. I may have done the heavy lifting on the day-in, week-out stuff, but oh, did he ever pull his weight on the special events package. Truth is, I didn’t see any of that coming. We worked hard, and it all worked out.
So much I didn’t know, back then. So much has happened, so many events I fear I couldn’t have faced alone. Our wedding day was joyous. Our life together ever since has been, as Edith Bunker once said about her life with Archie, “Less Fourth of July, and more Thanksgiving.” Amen to that.
And as was sung to us, in that beautiful church, those many Junes ago: “Thus then combining, hands and hearts joining, long may continue our unity and joy.”