“The love in whose presence we stand must also inhabit us.” -Daphne Rose Kingma
5 years ago, on Valentines Day, I published a blog post titled “Row”, about my niece Melissa’s excitement for the new man in her life, and my reaction to it. The title refers to Mary Oliver’s poem “West Wind #2”, which urges the reader to always “row” towards love, even if we sense “the embattlement” ahead.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my niece – and that post – lately, because in just a few weeks from now, she is getting married to that man from 5 years ago.
I’ve been thinking too about how weddings are happy but complicated affairs. They are a delicate balancing act for the two about to wed, between their own desires, and the expectations of all who love them. As much as we all buy into the “it’s your day!” idea, weddings stir the emotions of everyone involved. The movie version of this allows us two feelings: joy for the couple, and just a bit of sadness for those who have passed on and are missing the big day. But of course real life is more complicated than that.
How we feel about weddings – whether it be joyful, sad, nostalgic, surly, or some combination thereof – is a reflection of our own experiences and associations with the institution. For those who are blessed with good partners, weddings inspire hope and happiness. But for those of us who are cynical about love, they become a spotlight – one of those bright, unflattering interrogation lights actually – on all the ways love has failed us, or how we’ve failed in love.
My niece has been the picture of calm while planning this very low-key, casual destination wedding, and it has impressed me to no end. She has stayed true to what she and Mark desire – a casual beach wedding in Puerto Rico – without placing any pressure on anyone, for anything.
She and Mark have shown a deep and relentless consideration for the friends and business owners in Isabela who will be part of their big day. Plans were made long before the devastating 2017 hurricane season, and they made absolutely sure that our presence there would be a blessing, not a burden. The consensus among the locals was to bring our business – that it would only help them.
They have vacationed in Isabela a number of times, and have made lasting friendships with locals. They have grown to love the beaches, the people, the food and the culture – I can’t wait to love it too. I know I will, and it will probably hold a special place in my heart after this, the way my niece always has, since the first time I held her when I was 10, and she was tiny.
I have felt deeply ashamed that I haven’t been able to feel a whole lot of happiness for her until recently. My 2013 surliness seems downright adorable to what I’m wrestling with now. 2017 brought with it yet another failed relationship (that I now refer to as “The Long Con”) and left me more battle weary than I’d like to admit. There is still shrapnel everywhere.
The shame I felt was all about the love I have for my niece, and not just how I “should” be happy for her, but because I desperately wanted to be. At some point late last year, I realized the advantage and blessing of that “interrogation light,” and shone it all around inside my heart and head looking for joy, like it was an attic full of dusty boxes. It was there, but I couldn’t get to it without clearing some things out of the way first.
Back in December, my dearest friend of 20 years, Michelle (who is also a wedding guest) saw me struggling to wrap my head around the trip to Puerto Rico. She knew I was freezing up, so she just went ahead and booked the trip for us, making sure that I was seated between her, and her husband on the flights. Which is pretty much a guaranteed 6 hour mix of exasperation and laughter. And Xanax. And booze.
I’m still not sure I deserve that sort of kindness. But then any unluckiness I’ve had in love in the past decade is so often tempered by my absurdly good fortune in the friendship department. Not that I’m keeping score LIFE but I totally am.
I am able to, more each day, feel a clearer happiness for my niece. I’ve watched her grow up, and grow through so much. She is thoughtful and kind, and brings those qualities to everything she does, this wedding included. I’ve seen her learn how to care less about all the small stuff, and how to take care of herself in a way that I could probably stand to learn from. I am continually impressed by her strength, her good heart, and her humor – though I harbor some resentment about that last detail. She really needs to stop being funnier than me.
I don’t want anything to keep me from taking part this joyful day with her, and Mark, and all the other people who love them as much as I do. I may be still be wrestling with my own cynicism about love, but that doesn’t mean I don’t see it, or feel it, and so much of it, in all its forms. It is worth celebrating, worth digging up joy for.
If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
to be. We are not wise, and not very often
kind. And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
is its way of fighting back, that sometimes
something happens better than all the riches
or power in the world. It could be anything,
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the
case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.
More Love, Less Pain,