A few weeks back, I shared about my return to the church after 44 years away, complete with Confession and Holy Communion. Shortly after that, my wife Rachel and I had our union convalidated; we were married in the Church almost 30 years to the day of our civil marriage.
Monsignor Jim Lisante, who brought us to this point, had asked us to write letters, each to the other, explaining why we were about to make this deep and abiding spiritual and physical commitment, comprising love, fidelity, and friendship.
With 30 years already pocketed — however many times that pocket may have been worn out, ripped apart, and patched up — the Monsignor and we realized that our letters would likely showcase the practical prose of everyday life, rather than the poetic prophecy of two starry-eyed, perhaps immature, young newlyweds.
Color us surprised. As our priest read our letters aloud, revealing them to us for the first time, there was in fact, in the simple discourses of our lives, pure poetry.
Here is what we each heard for the first time on that day:
Starting over, thirty years in.
Tenaciousness, wrapped in friendship, set aflame in love.
There have been moments of pure magic when, together, we waltzed, literally spinning ourselves through space, gently ushering one another through time.
There have been moments of pure terror when, together, we summoned every drop of precious blood, every ounce of bridled courage — only then to discover each other, and ourselves, anew.
Our love was rooted enough to grow a family, and strong enough to survive it. Although, yes, there were times that you and I both questioned, deeply, our ability to do so, if not our very sanity during the trying.
We built a sturdy home, even if our house has yet to become what we both, early on, had envisioned or had hoped for. Still, it’s a comfortable and unpretentious place; one in which our kids always knew that they were both deeply and unconditionally loved despite our mistakes; and one to which they still joyously return, by choice, whenever they can.
You and I have stayed connected, even when our love was placed on the back burner; even when its flame was very nearly extinguished. Still, it flickered earnestly through even the coldest of nights.
Truth be told, my young desire for you was built, initially, upon a passionate hill of infatuation. But slowly, over time, that hill transformed itself into a volcano of friendship, of fervor, of commitment, of love — its very ashes renewing the soil and enriching the seed for yet another day together.
Thirty years ago we could not have foreseen the particular difficulties ahead. Some were indeed brutal, taking their physical and emotional toll on us both. Would we have said “yes” that first time had we known of them?
But we also could not have envisioned, back then, even 1% of the joy, the growth, the learning, the steps taken in tandem — the pace of which has undeniably accelerated in recent years.
More and more, we find ourselves on similar quests. Our mortal differences, once seemingly unbridgeable, have fallen out of focus and, in large measure, have been set aside for matters of greater import and deeper meaning.
How could we not have said yes knowing all that?
Your beauty, your laughter, your talent, your intellect drew me close to you all those many years ago.
They still do.
But you should know that none of those things hold me here, no.
Rather, I find myself breathing in when you do, and my heart beating in unison with yours.
That doesn’t mean that we have become a single person to the complete exclusion of our former selves. But I do believe that our separate beings have joined together in ways, both concrete and eternal, that no mortal can ever fully comprehend this side of time.
Our lives, our souls, now encircle and refresh one another; and, so entwined, the one cannot act without the instantaneously re-acting of the other.
In that sense and more we truly have become one.
So today, I stand before you, on this sacred ground… to publicly recommit my love and my faithfulness to you and to you alone.
I want you to know that I am forever grateful to you for this loving gift, one which will permit me to move forward in fullness, in faith, and in love — not only in recognition of this Holy space, but also of that eternal place deep within my heart set aside solely for you.
I love you.
I stand here with you today, flushed with excitement and hope, and I think: I am truly a “Benjamin Button” bride.
When I married you the first time, 30 years ago, I went into it like an old lady. I wasn’t your fairy tale lovebird — a silly young thing, all gaga with romance. No, I was practical. I had been swept away before, and swept aside. This time, I set out to make a good match. I had a checklist of criteria, and you met every one. Handsome (I wasn’t SUCH an old lady), capable of making a living, good father material, a man of integrity, someone I could trust. We shared a sense of family, a tolerance for garlic, and a fondness for a particular song by Billy Joel. You wisely told me that the qualities that I admired in you then might one day become the qualities I would disdain. I couldn’t imagine it. I promised you for better or for worse. But I’m not sure I really meant it. Or knew what it meant.
But then, as it does to every couple, life happened. It plays back in my mind like one of those old animation booklets – where you flip the pages, and the story flashes by in strobe light. Our cartoon selves, running around and around after the children, after our jobs, after our sense of who we were and what we were meant to do. The picture is sweet, or bitter, depending on where you stop flipping.
You were right, in a way. The very things that had brought me to the secular altar, soon seemed like a noose around my secular neck. I was trapped in loneliness and drudgery and it was all your fault. You, Mr. Family Man, got to go to your nice cushy office all day while I stayed home covered in vomit, not of my own making. I dreamed of escape. I even planned it.
But you held on. You came home every night. To chaos, not of your own making. To a wife you barely knew, and knew too well. Every night you repeated the simple act of walking in the door, and taking hold of the screaming kid and the pile of bills.
Then came the chaos of the extraordinary kind. The kind that makes you long for the return of the mundane. That strangles your hope and buckles your knees. And you held me. Through unspeakable loss. Through the terrors of things beyond our control. You covered my body with yours and you prayed.
I am not quite sure when it happened. But the time had come and gone for my planned escape… and I never left. I turned around and there you were after 30 years. And here is the miracle. Those very things that made me feel trapped? Well somehow, I awoke one day and I saw them, and you, with fresh eyes. Eyes kissed by G-d and a lifetime shared. And I was filled with a sense of amazement! Oh my dear G-d! I have a man who walks in the door. I have a man who holds me. I have a man who points to a Victoria’s Secret catalogue and says, “What is your picture doing in here?” Who helps me decide what to order in a restaurant, and makes that face of shock and horror when he gets the check. I have a man who sleeps with his phone by his side, so that he can be available for the kids at any time of day or night. Who talks politics with my mother, and takes care of my car. I have a man who doesn’t believe me when I tell him for the 857th time that I am leaving him. Who reaches out first, and agrees to forget why we were fighting in the first place. I have a man who wants to learn. I have a man who says “yes.” I have a man who texts me the most creative and adorable “good morning” notes. I have a man who happens to be handsomer than ever (and smells nice too). I have a man who is my mate – a man who is my lover and my friend. And my dear G-d, for the first time in my life, I am deeply in love. Crazy, gaga, in love.
And so I come here today with a heart full of wonder. The Benjamin Button bride, I have grown young with time. I have seen so much, and yet I am more wide-eyed than ever. I want to marry you, simply because I love you. Like a goofy kid, I love you.
In some respects, that marriage long ago was a leap of faith. But this time, I want to go a step further. This time, I want to marry you before G-d, and in the spirit of faith. Because G-d held our hands through better and through worse. And faith kept your hand in mine. Faith kept us walking forward blindly, together, toward this place of hope and love.
I come here today to make you that promise I never quite understood before.
Yes. I do. I will.