I am supposed to do a reading at a wedding. This is the sort of thing I agonize over. Finding THE perfect thing to read that reflects my two friends and also reflects me. And somehow reflects the fall season and reflects this strange subtropical swamp we live in. I guess that is a lot.
I've thought of a poem by a man named Steve Scafidi from his book Sparks from a Nine Pound Hammer. I think he's a very good poet. Raw and masculine and romantic at once. The poem is very sweet. Very sweet is not how I would describe my friends. But the poem is also hopeful. And my friends, like anyone plunging into marriage, hold the very kind of hope that Steve Scafidi so simply captures. I like the poem, but I am not convinced that it fits. I thought that today, I would write about these two friends. Maybe in the end it will help me decipher the "right" reading.
So. About L. + C.:
I have two friends who are crazy and who I love. And they are getting married.
And there is something entirely foolish about getting married in the first place, but I wonder how much crazier it is when the people involved are also crazy? I don't mean certifiable, or bad, or unprepared to marry. Just this: These two friends each possess an equal presence – a presence that is like an igniting spark – one that will set something big ablaze. If anything, they are, in their craziness, brave and extreme. Like all of us crazy people who plunge into the deep end that is marriage.
But that they are brave and extreme is not surprising. C. is a swimmer. It was a swimming scholarship that brought him from Indiana down to the swampy south. He once handcuffed himself to his best friend, and they swam across the Mississippi River in the middle of the night. Do you know anything about the Mississippi? If you do, you know it is a working river that barges and ships actively navigate, and you know it is full of pesticide run-off and petro-chemical waste that enter it beginning at its far away northern starting point. And in Baton Rouge, it is thousands of feet from one side to the other, if not more. But you might also know that the Mississippi is muddy brown because it is one of the most nutrient rich bodies of water in the entire country. And for C. to come all the way down from Indiana to swim, having read at some point I am sure, Tom Sawyer, and NOT to cuff himself to his very best friend (a Huck Finn of sorts) and swim across the river, THAT would be crazy. And as angry as L. was at the time, this quality in him, is exactly the reason L. could fall in love with him to begin with.
And L. – It’s more difficult to capture what “crazy” means when you are describing her. You could try with this: It means her eyebrows are raised to you, and she is grinning, and the grin is saying, “I dare you.” And you will have to wait to see what the dare is. It will unfold while you have a few drinks with her, and then a few more. Maybe it is jumping into a swimming pool fully clothed. Maybe it’s splashing around in the rain one day. L. being crazy could also mean, “DON’T TREAD ON ME. I WILL GET ANGRY," and you will be, rightfully, frightened. It could mean this too – she might come to you in sheer and sad panic because it has suddenly occurred to her that if she lost someone she loves (someone who is perfectly healthy and not expected to be lost at present), she might be too devastated to know how to handle this, and she’ll want to ask you, “How would I be okay?” More than anything, it means, while verbalizing her own neurosis with humor she doesn’t even intend in the moment, that she will tackle anything. Imagine her – 5’4” learning to weld a metal sculpture four times her size. Learning and succeeding. And certainly, it is her potent mixture of daring and neurosis and determination that compel C. to love her.
So what does a person read to two crazy people who are doing something utterly crazy?
Do you give advice? Like this, from a poem called “A Gift by the Sea”: “When you love someone, you do not love them all the time, in exactly the same way, from moment to moment. It is an impossibility. It is even a lie to pretend to. And yet this is exactly what most of us demand. We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return. We insist on permanence, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity -- in freedom, in the sense that the dancers are free, barely touching as they pass, but partners in the same pattern.”
Or do you offer an anecdote of challenges to come? Like this. Three months into my marriage my husband and I had the worst fight I can remember having. Yet, I cannot recall what the fight was over. What I recall is how much it hurt, how ugly we had been as angry and impassioned human beings. And that later, I believed we had been testing the waters and one another through our ugliness, skirting the question, “How unconditional is your love, now that we are linked inextricably?”
Would it be best to seize the romance of this day? To recite, “How do I love thee, let me count the ways?”
Nothing seems quite right.
L. and C., in the midst of their own craziness, are also creators of tactile bliss. Of music. I have heard the way L. sings. Of art. I have seen his prints and the way that C. draws the ocean. Of impromptu dinners and of gardens grown together. I have witnessed stubborn plants finally take root and grow in the soil they dig, in the beds they bicker about wanting to water.
I have already seen them suffer loss, and in that suffering, collapse into and console one another.
And I have often witnessed them in the center of limitless electric fun -- causing and experiencing rapture and adventure.
Really, they’ve already moved together through some of life’s foolishness. They are already equipped with the experiences to navigate the ebbs and flows of what is unpredictable and uncertain Marriage.
Maybe all that can be offered really is the mere hope so simply expressed in the poem by Steve Scafidi.
"Prayer for a Marriage"
When we are old one night and the moon
arcs over the house like an antique
China saucer and the teacup sun
follows somewhere far behind
I hope the stars deepen to a shine
so bright you could read by it
if you liked and the saddnesses
we will have known go away
for awhile--in this hour or two
before sleep--and that we kiss
standing in the kitchen not fighting
gravity so much as embodying
its sweet force, and I hope we kiss
like we do today knowing so much
good is said in this primitive tongue
from the wild first surprising ones
to the lower dizzy ten thousand
infinitely slower ones--and I hope
while we stand here in the kitchen
making tea and kissing, the whistle
of the teapot wakes the neighbors.
Hopes for a lifetime of navigating together all the sparks, whistles, bells, sirens. Those signals that indicate caution, excitement, sadness and joy, and sometimes, like a tea kettle, absolute calm.