Written in 2013 for a dear friend’s wedding.
When Lauren asked me to write something to read here today, she asked that I speak universally about love and marriage, subjects that we all have access to, thoughts about, memories that inform our beliefs on. In forming my own thoughts, I kept coming back to my grandparents and what their marriage taught me about love.
They lived about a mile from my home growing up. In ten minutes on a four-wheeler, riding down turnrows bordering farmland and across ditches and train tracks, I could get to them. After retiring, my grandfather became a gardener and hot as it was, he was usually there. In the early mornings, always, but in the afternoons too. I’d stop at the garden and talk to him as he weeded and harvested. Through the little window in the back of their brown brick house, would be my grandmother’s profile. On those summer days, she was usually sitting in her chair at the kitchen bar, shelling peas. As she worked, peeling off one end of the pod and then pushing her fingers down the length of it, little black eyes popping out into the pan in front of her, there would be corn boiling in butter and water on the stove, sliced tomatoes on the bar, okra that she’d fry for his lunch. My grandfather worked in the heat until the work was done and then he came inside to her. My grandmother cooked and prepared and kept a tidy home. They watched Jeopardy together, and Judge Judy. She did crossword puzzles. In a wooden cabinet in their home was a photo album with pictures he’d sent her while overseas with the Army. On the back, notes to her written in his perfect hand.
Today I have a tomato plant growing on a tiny balcony in Singapore that makes me think of him and when I stand in a kitchen still I think of the dignity of her stance over the stove. I understand now, as if I’d known all along, that what I was learning from them was nothing more or less than a way to love. It was not obvious. You wouldn’t objectively see their little life as one of passion or intimate affection. They were quiet people. Devoted people. My grandfather’s everyday devotion to taking care of what he’d planted and sown and my grandmother’s everyday devotion to him. Both of them to all of us. Their daily work was wrapped up in obligation and duty and staying alive and that might have bored me, might bore me still, but what was behind it, I believe in, and believe to be one of the wonders of being alive. The leap of sharing selves. In the spaces between us– I keep with me the image of her in the kitchen and him in the garden– there lies the opportunity to grow toward each other, to choose how to bridge all that is in the middle. We choose the way. There are many different ones, but this is one. Yours will look different, no doubt.
I see that marriage becomes the thing you do very quickly and easily. Like your name is Lauren and your talent shines and you’re Daren, a modern-day Renaissance man. There are dishes to be cleaned and teeth to brush and someone will make dinner and you’ll wake up next to each other and those are the things you’ll do. But every now and then, for the rest of your long life together, may you realize and know that what you’re doing in taking care of each other is solidifying that wild and mysterious impulse to love each other. In paying attention to that impulse, you are giving the mundane and everyday— like boiling corn and picking okra— the quality of the holy. This is wisdom Daren and Lauren already seem to have. We see it in their devotion to their families, the easy love they show their friends, in the home that they’ve built together, the ways they honor each other. They’ve chosen a life focused on what matters to them. They do their best and they pay attention and they seem to know that it’s the simple things that sustain us. It’s something to know and remember. That the basic things we do are, at the same time and without our knowing it, expanding our lives and souls and connecting us to the people we love. So that one day I could imagine a grandchild who remembers the way Lauren sings and who learned building from Daren and maybe even stands up in front of people who never knew the two of them and says that that’s how they learned about love.