At present, I am spending quite a bit of time going to weddings; my wife and I are two-thirds of the way through attending three weddings in eleven days.
A week ago this past Sunday, we were at the wedding of our oldest, closest friends’ eldest daughter, Hanna. We have known Hanna since she was tiny, attended her dance recitals, watched her dance the part of Clara when her dance school joined with a professional company in a production of “The Nutcracker”. We have been at all her birthday celebrations for twenty-somehing years.
Hanna and her husband, Tom, met in college, and we have all been together at family celebrations for four years now.
Hanna and Tom graduated from the same college I did, and Hanna entered the same profession as my wife – they are both teachers. In fact, my wife moved from private schools to public school the year that Hanna graduated, so they were job-hunting at the same time, started their jobs at the same time, and received tenure at the same time.
So I really shouldn’t have been so surprised that I cried watching Hanna and Tom exchange vows.
This past Saturday, I was in Delaware, at the wedding of my cousin’s eldest daughter, Rachel. Rachel grew up in Florida, and the truth is that we are little better than strangers, although it didn’t feel like that at the wedding. Rachel also met her husband, Jason, in college, and is also a teacher, working in Philadelphia, where my daughter also taught briefly. It’s strange, isn’t it, how much we share with other people, both near and far?
I didn’t cry during the ceremony, but I enjoyed it none the less. I got a big kick out of the flower girls, and how the younger one fussed during the ceremony. But I mostly remembered my wedding, and what it is like being twenty-something, just getting married and starting out. (By the way, our flower girl has five kids of her own. She is also a teacher.)
My cousins are smart people, and they did one thing that I really, really appreciated; they hired a band. Instead of a DJ, there was an actual seven-piece band – and they were very good. Much of the music they played was actually familiar to me. My wife and I danced almost continuously through dinner. I danced better than ever, and my wife danced with even more than her usual abandon. We were surrounded by my cousins, who I really, really like, even though I hardly ever see them, I was wearing my new suit (that fits me perfectly) dancing with the love of my life, who still (thanks to Advil) throws herself around the dance floor with the abandon of a twenty-something, and the music was perfect.
(Did I ever tell you about the time in September, 2007, when I was in the middle of my cancer treatments, and we left the beach for the final time that year? How I looked at the empty white sand, the pounding surf, the gulls hanging motionless in the wind above the long ragged shadows of dunes and beach grass, and thought, This may be the last time I ever see the ocean. Did I ever tell you how the beauty and longing of that moment burned into me and stayed with me?)
So, as we danced, I had one of those cancer-survivor moments, where I could clearly see how perfect the moment was, how rare it was, and thought This could be the last time I ever do this, and this may be the most perfect moment I will ever know, and the sweetness drenched me, and I savored it with each dance.
I am writing this at a table outside of Starbucks, and although the day is hot, I am in the shade of the building and there is a good breeze. I see a young woman get out of an SUV and lift a small, sleepy child from a child seat. They are joined by a man who has gotten out of a pickup nearby, and, although he doesn’t appear to be the child’s biological father, he takes the child from the woman, the small head settles against him, he puts his other arm around the woman, and they kiss. As they cross the parking lot toward me, all three bodies are in contact, and the man and woman are talking about the child. This moment is also perfect, and I will take care not to forget it.
Ba-ruch a-tah, A-do-nai,
E-lo-hei-nu me-lech ha-o-lam,
bo-rei p’ri ha-ga-fen.
Blessed are You, Lord, our God,
King of the Universe,
who created the fruit of the vine.
One Friday evening, not too long ago, after we had said the blessing over the Sabbath wine, my wife noticed that I paused, holding the wine glass before I drank. I explained that I was merely repeating the blessing as I understand its meaning:
Blessed are You, Lord, our God,
King of the Universe,
Who makes our lives sweet.
Beautiful. I read you. As a cancer survivor, I have come to live in the moment and appreciate it fully, and feel fully blessed for what my life has been. Despite the fact that the world seems to be a total mess, looking out
at the small and large things in my world and in my existence, gives me a sense of peace and joy. I know where I have been, and what is truly important for me. That you seem to know so well. Thank you for stating it so clearly.
I love that in our tradition, our blessings are related to actions, not just objects or ideas. We say the blessing not for the wine itself, but for the act of drinking it in.
Thank you for sharing these beautiful moments with us.
My husband’s Esophageal Cancer was certainly a burden and unwanted guest in our lives — but Dale told everyone that from the time of his diagnosis to the time of his need for home hospice “I wouldn’t change the past 2-1/2 years of my life for anything.”
Our love and our laughter and our choice to Live Life (instead of living cancer) made all things even more precious along the way.
Todah rabah, Paul, for sharing so much of yourself.
Gentle as you go …