Up at the gazebo the bride is ethereal, her groom radiant, grass near their feet, sunlight gilding their hair. What does it mean to be a witness here? A guest in this garden where love beams—somehow soft and vivid at the same time?
It’s something weighted with worth, I know. I sense it in the holy hush that descends when the last strains of the viola die away. Heaven is listening. Angels are here.
My husband’s hand moves to mine as the minister begins to speak of vows. Many years ago, we were the young couple making promises, and by now I’ve come to know his hand as well as my own. The arc of each knuckle, the round of each fingertip—these are as Braille to me, chapters in the book I’ve learned by heart.
In Christian teaching, I not only know my husband’s hand, but, in point of fact, it also belongs to me. All the shape and sinew of it. All its weight and warmth. All the topography of it—its lifelines and love lines and fine lines of dark hair now half-bleached in summer. It’s a relief map I can read in the dark.
And vice versa. My hand—smaller and paler—belongs to him, is his very own. And this is the mystery of marriage. The utter oneness of it. The bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh of it. Where does he start? Where do I begin? The more years that pass, the harder it is to tell. And yet, I feel no diminishment, but rather, a sense of expansion, as all things are exponential and expansive in Christ.
The couple up at the gazebo is just beginning what I believe will be the same journey, the walk taken hand in hand of knowing and owning, of sewing their lives along the same seam. And I think they know this transaction is no light business. That from this day forward their lives are stitched together in a way no mere mortal can unravel.
I sense a sudden change in my husband’s breathing, feel the slightest run of trembles. I don’t need to look at his face to see his tears. I know him. He cries at appropriate times—weddings and funerals and sad movies. All the times that tears, however longed for, stubbornly elude me.
Instead, I cry at inconvenient moments, over things I can’t articulate—like the weight of existence or the long accumulation of a thousand subtle sorrows. And he knows this about me too. He’s held me through many of those tears, clasped my hands in his and prayed me through the worst of them. And this too is part of our oneness. His tears in one place, mine in another, all running together, filling the same bowl.
Later, at the reception, we dance together. We move slow, the cool of the night breeze blowing into the tent. Our daughter snaps a photo, touched by this tender picture of our love. Once she said to me: “If I can have a marriage like yours and dad’s, I’ll be very blessed.” Her twin brother agreed. And I stood struck dumb, floored by the mercy of God. For there are things they don’t know.
I threw a drinking glass across the room once. It shattered like a burst of ragged stars on the wall, like the dozens of romantic ideals disappointed beyond the altar. I cut my long hair short because I knew it would sadden him, and I wanted to hurt him as I believed he had hurt me. These are among my sins. It would not be right to tell you his. But know this: when we were younger, the two of us exchanged words only the sheer mercy of God could make us forget, wounded one another in ways only the grace of God could heal.
This was real life pressing hard against vows made when love felt somehow soft and vivid at the same time. When we were young, we may have been beautiful, but we were not wise—unschooled in selflessness, in the humble art of loving and letting ourselves be loved. Our expectations went unmet. Blows came unexpectedly. Prayer and God’s grace and our dogged perseverance preserved us.
At our wedding, I remember the minister said, “God has not given you your love to protect your vows, but he’s given you your vows to protect your love.” They did.
Now we are not so young and beautiful as we were on our wedding day. My hair is graying beneath my boxed color, and my body is not so thin and lithe as it once was. The hair on his head is thinning, and his stubble grows in white. When we smile, there are lengthening crinkles at the corners of our eyes. It would be a lie to say that this doesn’t sting—aging and watching the one you love age. And that in moments we don’t long for the kind of bodily renewal that only eternity can fulfill.
But this is the trade-off: Our hearts are so very tender toward one another now with the long years, softened to a sweetness hard-won. I can’t imagine a context in which I’d throw a glass now or cut off my hair just to spite him. In my mind, if there are still disappointments, they are not mine but ours. Not me against him, or him against me, but the two of us pressed together. His flaws folding into my imperfections like our fingers entwined on the dance floor.
It’s been so long since we danced like this, but this night we dance for a long while. So long that we’re perspiring and exhilarated. I slip off my high heels and we slip outside. A chorus of cicadas competes with the laughter and music. I drink my ice water lustily, my toes wriggling in the cushiony grass. My husband smiles broadly and kisses my forehead. He looks happy. Happy as the young man who once opened a dorm room door and said, “Hi. You must be Jennie.”
And I think of all we’ve borne together since then – miscarriages and job losses, financial strains and illness, dreams that never got off the ground. And I think also of long walks and long drives and long conversations deep into the night. Words only we and God heard. And what stirs me most is the secret safety of it, the sanctity of him being mine and me being his, the blessed insolubility of it after all. Somehow soft and vivid at the same time.
At the ceremony, my son had played “Can’t Help Falling in Love with You” on his viola as his cousin walked down the aisle. “Take my hand. Take my whole life too . . .” And so, I take my husband’s hands—my hands—in my hands. I feel the cool of our wedding bands against the warmth of our skin. And I’m so glad we kept our vows. But even more, I’m so glad our vows kept us. And as we return to the tent and the wedding celebration, I’m more convinced than ever: Angels are here.
Cover image by Caroline Veronez.