Sunday, May 23, 2010

"I Do" - A Daily Commitment

The evening sun had wrestled its way through the black-bottomed clouds just in time to take some of the chill off the small crowd of friends and family. We had gathered at sunset in our finery to witness the exchange of vows and a new beginning. The threat of the uncharacteristically cold May afternoon's rain had passed, at least for a time, as if to give a blessing and lend expectation to the young couple starting their lives together. The scene betrayed other hints of hope. A 3-month old chubby-cheeked girl squirmed in her mother's arms, sporadically announcing the pain of her first tooth, poking its way through throbbing gums. This firstborn child, grandchild and great-grandchild challenged the starry-eyed wedding couple for top billing, and came a close second.

As we listened to the preacher’s cheery and challenging words spoken to the anxious couple, and to us, we all sensed the approaching climax of the ceremony. Despite the anticipated rousing applause, it was not the passionate kiss that would seal the pact. It was the echoed covenantal words, "I do". Though repeated in measured tones, the fervour and sincerity belied the simplicity of the two one-syllable words, easily trumping any words the couple had ever used before. Taken at face value, and despite any worldly cynicism that might argue otherwise, this was a meaningful moment. No one gathers to hear a couple say to each other, "I might", or "Subject to...I will". Marriage, regardless of declining popularity, not-so-hidden reservations, sad statistics or the skeptics touting modern alternatives, is still an unconditional commitment, a vow. What else could it be? No one celebrates a contract of convenience.

We watched this life-changing mutual pledge with our own hopes caught up in the words. We were not merely observers, but participants in this drama. Staged so beautifully, each tiny detail evidencing love, it was more than a heart-touching performance, a one act passion play with designated speaking parts and supporting cast. It was, at its best, a solemn, even holy, swearing of an oath that would alter lives dramatically, and of more than just two 24 year olds. It was an instance of rare beauty, merging the solemnity and joy of the moment, juxtaposing the delicate radiance of the bride with the strength of the smitten groom, mixing nervous laughter with sincere tears.

While symbolically represented, the groom wearing his father’s wedding ring and signing the legal documents with his father's cherished fountain pen, I am sure the congregation all felt his presence. Hugh, my friend, the father of the groom, would have loved nothing more than to have been there giving speeches, embracing each celebrant, toasting us all with a salutary “Chimo!”, and tenderly holding that tiny grandchild and shedding tears of gratitude for it all. His temporal ending one year ago also ended the collection of memories that he created and we carry like a well-worn photo album. But his influence among the stretching shadows was tangible. He was silhouetted in the strong characters of those who stood to share their words and love, those whom he encouraged to carry on, to make new memories and share new beginnings. We all are craftsmen and women who must build the future on the foundation of faithfulness others have framed.

As I stood, shaking and stiffening as the cool evening air came in off the grey ocean, reminding me of my own relentless combatant, Parkinson’s, I realized how much I need to be reminded of those words, “I do”. Just two simple words that are worthy of being restated each day. Words of continuous commitment to our spouses, to our children and grandchildren, to our family and friends, whether rich or poor, sick or healthy, easy or tough. Two words that affirm our vow to keep the promises made and fight the daily battles despite the loss of fellow warriors. For we are the fragile bridge between yesterday and tomorrow. We are guardians of a sacred oath, a legacy to love, “As high as the heavens and deep as the ocean”.

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