"Good stories have the power to save us...The best resource against the world's stupidity, meanness and despair is simply telling the truth...We can all make a difference by simply sharing our own stories with real people in real times and places." --Mary Pipher
Thanks for indulging me this particular story about renewing our wedding vows. I'd really love to hear about what is unfolding for you...
As if on cue, the month following our renewal has utterly reinforced the the core experience of our vow renewal. Indeed, we are in a different marriage than we entered into in September 2000. The twenty-something dreams of who we were and who we would be come have given way to this:
Chicken soup: love, attention, and caring cooked up as necessary.
Five cases of an upper respiratory virus (mucus as thick as udon noodles, paired with a hacking cough, maybe you’ve had that one), one case of pneumonia, three stomach flus, and two documented cases of influenza with fever over 102, all have combined to remind me of the fundamental nature of our life together as a family. We are together to take care of each other.
In healthier times I am vulnerable to letting this basic concept drift toward a kind of ongoing personal and family optimization that is well supported by our local culture. But as illness set in, I was reminded of a great quote by Ann Patchett, from her book, What Now, in which she says “waitressing is not a leadership position.” I'd second that and add, nor is parenting through the stomach flu.
This past month has amounted to many gallons of chicken soup made, many loads of laundry done, many temperatures taken, many miles driven to find prescription drugs, many trips to the doctor, many more up-all-nights than we’ve in a long time, and a few trips to the vet too. There is not much else, in the normal course of things, that could highlight so well, just how different our marriage is now than it was when we entered it in September 2000.
Which leads me to what we learned by renewing our wedding vows...
1. I'll say it again, we've changed. Starting with deciding to renew our vows, building through the preparation of the ceremony, and culminating in saying our wedding vows again, the process we went through gave us a landscape view of the last twelve and a half years. Actively cultivating an awareness of how different our life is now than it was in 2000 resulted in a very intense experience of both strength and tenderness when saying our vows. The words felt more weighted, and I felt much more soft hearted about the future and what it will hold for us than I did on our wedding day.
2. And yet our story continues. In this process I've felt especially grateful to my father in-law who married us. In our wedding ceremony he read from the Velveteen Rabbit. It was wonderful in 2000, but it was even better in our family friendly renewal One night before the renewal we read it to the girls. They loved it. And after reading it in bed one night, it then anchored them and resonated for them during the ceremony. I am really touched by how this reading is getting a kind of family patina, and this will definitely impact how I help couples pick readings in the future.
3. Love stays the same, but gets acted out in a very specific way in each of life's chapters. I loved taking stock in what love looks like in our family right now. By approaching it very specifically (I'm not shy about admitting I copped the idea directly from the ultimate source of wisdom: Charlie Brown) the kids were able to participate, and we were able to articulate both what we believe and what we actually do based on those beliefs.
4. Witnesses are important. Originally we had planned to do the renewal privately, just the family. But it turned out that family friends were only able to meet up with us on the day of the ceremony. Initially I had hesitated to have a lot of witnesses, because I thought it would distract the kids and make it too big of a deal for them, and I actually think I was right on that front. However, I also became aware of the fact that I really wanted to be low key about what we were celebrating. I think this was a good instinct too. That said, the dynamic shifts when others are bearing witness to your experience. As participants we became more vulnerable, more exposed. And I think sharing that part of ourselves with the right people was a good thing. In addition, when we said our vows again, our friends had the experience of feeling the magnitude of their vows again (this also happens at weddings), and that was also a good thing.
5. We are moving grains of sand and they are piling up--in a good way. In processes like parenting and partnering, there are a lot of small moments, a lot of little tasks and chores and interactions that transpire in a day. From one day to another or one week to another, it is hard to get a sense of what all of these granular moments add up to. And yet, I can feel that something is accumulating, that our skill set, if you could call it that at all (it is more like the un-skill set, the learning process of just showing up, staying, and holding on when there is nothing to be done, no resolution, no outcome, just support and time passing) seems to be growing, steadying, becoming something. Though I’m not even sure what I could call it. Whatever it is, wasn’t there in September of 2000, and now, after facing some individual challenges, three births, two miscarriages, injured friends, sick kids, and the like, something has taken root. It feels simultaneously more vulnerable and more solid--maybe you could call it faith? No matter what you call it, the fact that our grains of sand are piling up into something imbued with that kind of wholehearted goodness, well, that does seem worth celebrating.
PS For those of you who were at our wedding, doesn't Graham look just like he did when he made his toast at our rehearsal dinner. I think you will know what I'm talking about :-)