Just back from my daughter Kellin’s wedding in Hawaii. It feels silly to try to encapsulate a week’s worth of joy and intensity so I am not going there. Even for those of us who are not ceremonial or sentimental (I never had a wedding, didn’t want a ring or a name change), this was a week to remember. Every day was thoughtfully architected by Kellin and Sean. Every moment was led by their devotion to each other and to the community that gathered to join their lives together.
On the way home I read Zadie Smith’s compilation of essays, so winningly entitled Changing My Mind (a concept I hold dear and preserve as an indelible right throughout my life). One of my favorites was about Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston. In confronting the manner in which love and its tribulations are handled in that jewel of a novel, Smith has this to say about the book’s lead character Janie Crawford—and about any of us who have entered into that exquisite but potentially treacherous gauntlet:
The story of Janie’s progress through three marriages confronts the reader with the significant idea that the choice one makes between partners, between one man and another (or one woman and another) stretches beyond romance. It is, in the end, the choice between values, possibilities, futures, hopes, arguments (shared concepts that fit the world as you experience it), languages (shared words that fit the world as you believe it to be) and lives.
Smith also includes this passage from the novel and a contextualizing insight:
“She knew that God tore down the old world every evening and built a new one by sun-up. It was wonderful to see it take form with the sun and emerge from the gray dust of its making. The familiar people and things had failed her so she hung over the gate and looked up the road towards way off.”
That part of Janie that is looking for someone (or something) that “spoke for far horizon” has its proud ancestor in Elizabeth Bennet, in Dorothea Brooke, in Jane Eyre.
Yes, the decision to marry is so much more than the heat of young bodies or the gravitational pull to conform to cultural norms. It is a way of looking towards the way off, to the larger arc of a life and what it can be. And for those of us farther down the road towards that way off, Hurston knows how that place has its difficulties too: “She was a rut in the road. Plenty of life beneath the surface but it was kept beaten down by the wheels.”
Celebrations like this are the leaven in the loaf, with plenty of lift to go all round. We are all beneficiaries of that extraordinary something.