Somewhere in Brazil a bunch of people stopped their car on a highway, got out, and signaled other drivers to hold off so that a very large snake could cross the road. When I saw the video, I was amazed at how calm and calming the humans and, to some extent, the snake were in doing what it took for the snake to arrive at the other side. It also made me happy to see members of my own species, known for how often we get it wrong when it comes to the more-than-human world, get it right. Such moments help me re-ignite my faith in this world.
Which leads me to a wedding — not of anyone I know personally but of a writer I admire, Anne Lamott, who, three weeks after she got her Medicare card, married writer Neal Allen. As she told the New York Times, the one thing she still wanted in life was a good marriage. At age 65, she got it. Shortly afterwards, she tweeted, “So never, ever give up, because God is such a show off.”
There are things happening all the time that can tip us toward greater faith in what’s possible and what’s actually even happening, and most of which don’t involve big snakes or fabled weddings. Despite the horrors and heartbreaks, bad decisions, evil renderings, and apathy resulting in terrible suffering, there’s also this: small acts of goodness or big leaps into love. There’s the incessant smell of lilac all around me right now as I type on the porch, my own marriage giving me so much inspiration and strength for a long time, and a so breeze lifting and releasing the cedars and walnut trees. There’s new green and old green unfurling and a whole lot of bird song.
There’s also the baby snake I carefully tricked the cat into releasing from his mouth so that the snake could live (and live outside our house). Grace abounds, and believing in a better world helps us glimpse it, shepherd it across the road, or meet it at the altar.
A bit over 30 years ago, just a few days before we got married, Ken and I jumped up and down, screaming and hugging each other and a bunch of his cousins in a Kansas City basement. The Kansas City Royals staged a wild and unlikely comeback to win the 1985 World Series. A few night ago, when the Royals did it again, we leaped out of our chairs to kiss and jump around, this time in a small cabin in the woods where we went to celebrate our 30th anniversary, but not without buying a radio so we could hear the game. Helluva anniversary gift, and one that’s been making me think about marriage and baseball.
Of course, there’s huge differences. Marriage is not about winners and losers, unless that marriage is not really all about marriage. Marriage isn’t dependent on superstar power, one savior to rescue the game, but then again, neither are the Royals. Baseball is a sport, multi-million-dollar-paycheck business, and it won’t do your dishes or laundry or remind you to change the oil in the car. But both are institutions imbued with certain habits and values:
In baseball and marriage, nothing happens, nothing happens, nothing happens, nothing happens, everything happens.
Even in the nothing happens moments, there’s a lot of work to be done: throwing yourself into the wall to catch the pop-up, staying up late to resolve the stupid argument about who is more exhausted, and making contact with the ball — whatever is speeding toward us at the moment, even and especially when the pitch is tricky.
It almost goes without saying that working together as a team is essential in both enterprises although in marriage, it’s not so much that you’re working together against a common opposition, but for a common proposition.
Watching what happens with great awareness, curiosity, care, and tenderness is vital to both. If you screw up, if your partner or teammate screws up, you need to walk it off, work it off, brush it off. That requires a lot of on-the-fly forgiveness: letting go of grudges (even if they resurface later on) and aiming your attention toward what’s possible with all the strength and courage you can muster to make happen right now.
Celebrating the wins and mourning the losses — honoring the rituals of the life cycle as they unfold — speak at the core of marriage and baseball although I haven’t (yet) dumped a cooler full of iced Gatorade on Ken.
Begin again: while this is the best slogan I know for life, it’s obviously deeply inherent to baseball and marriage. We will completely fuck up in horrendous ways sometimes. We will unwittingly hurt each other out of laziness, fear, anger, or grief. We will forget the one essential ingredient for the big meal and have to go back to town, miss the doctor’s appointment, eat the wrong thing and suffer the consequences, say the worst thing without meaning to, wear the shirt inside out when giving a public presentation, just miss the car in the lane we switched to, and give the wrong directions. Likewise, baseball players will miss the easy catch, strike out all four times at bat in an evening, get nabbed stealing a base, lose it and call the umpire a name that gets them thrown out of the game, say mean things to players on the other team or their own, and do all manner of mistakes. Each game, each day, each inning, each series, each trip into town, each night we crawl into bed exhausted — all are moments we begin again.
Comebacks are mysteries, but then again they’re not. My marriage, like any marriage tattered and shined up by many years, has had lows lower than I can fathom, particularly one afternoon many years ago when we were driving through desert in western Colorado, and I was sure this marriage wouldn’t survive this family vacation (then again, we’ve had a lot of lows — and outrageous highs — on family vacations). But we found our way back to each other and through a morass made of inertia, anger, exhaustion and fear. The Royals have shown us throughout this series improbable comebacks, like the last game when, in the 9th inning, Eric Hosmer’s steal — diving into home base to score the tying run. It was composed of instinct, running fast, thinking that this was a stupid move, and sheer guts. It may not always be so dramatic with millions of fans around the world cheering when we turn back to each other for a comeback — walking into a room for marriage counseling, stopping in the middle of a fight to apologize, taking the other’s hand when we’re sure such vulnerability will break us open — but it’s a comeback all the same.
So here’s to holding it together and looking for the magic everyday in marriage, baseball, and all else that gives us the same possibilities: friendship, good work, following our passions, awakening to the beautiful earth, loving our animals, and celebrating our turns around the seasons together, alone, in community, and in our hearts.
It was a weekend of unlikely pairs. First, there was the matter of returning the pair of rattlesnakes our friend Hank caught right against our house a few days ago. The Mr. and Mrs. had just a little too close for comfort, pretty much on the other side of the wall of our bedroom, and although they were docile, because we wanted to welcome another pair–a pair of kayaks–to that area and didn’t want to accidentally step on rattlesnakes when loading or unloading, something had to give. After Hank drove around with them (contained of course) and housed them (he said Mrs. Rattlesnake rattled whenever he played the piano, but please know she was in a plastic tub with lid the whole time), he and Ken decided to put them back in our area, but far farther from the house.
The wrangling of snakes is not for the weary or timid. As I watched Hank open the tub where Mrs. had been angrily living for a few days, then hold her head gently down with a stick and reach in to grab her around the back of her head, I couldn’t help but scream. A lot. An experienced scientist and snake handler, he lifted her with ease, then dropped her in one of our pillow cases for the trek up the hill with Mr., already in his
pillow case. Ken, Daniel and Hank went on a great walk to find the perfect place near a rocky outcrop with the kind of habitat the rattlers prefer, and let them loose. They said Mr., a rather laid-back character, went straight into a hole in the ground. Mrs. coiled up and rattled at them until they were out of earshot.
The snakes out of the picture, we turned our attention to picking up the kayaks we were buying from friends Frank and Sandy, an endeavor that turns out to be almost as complicated as relocating rattlesnakes although not nearly as dangerous. After finding out weeks ago the cost of a car carrier, we set out to make our own, or rather Ken did while I drank tea on the porch. It took, as all home projects take, more trips to the hardware store than anticipated and a whole lot of “hold this while I hammer the nail” moments. Finally, tied into place on the CRV, we trekked to our friends’ house, and loaded up the kayaks. Let’s just say the tying of the kayaks into place would have earned most eagle scouts advanced badges. Frank and Sandy said goodbye to their old kayak friends, and we said hello.
We also said hello to a new pair, Dave and Marcia, ready to make the leap into marriage after four years of loving one another. It was my first time officially doing the marrying of a couple (I married another couple with my friend, Danny, who was the official Universal Life minister, and I married Courtney and Denise long before marriage equality was a glimpse in our Kansas eyes). We hauled a vase of sunflowers, a whole lot of black-eyed susans, a crystal bowl for a Buddhist water blessing ceremony, and accorded gadgets to make this computer loudly play Mannheim Steamroller’s “Sky” and Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
At the foot of Wells Overlook tower, we gathered in a crescent, starting with a smudging ceremony once Ken managed to light the sage they brought from their California home and the cedar for their Kansas roots. Their vows shined like a full moon on a summer’s night, full of beauty, steady light, and overwhelming awe in ordinary weather. The wind blew surprise gusts, tossing the little table we set up for wedding ingredients. The shade and sun mingled also, and when it was over, everyone hugged everyone, especially the new pair.
Now I will rest my pair of feet, drink a pair of glasses of water, and feed the pair of insistent cats, and later perhaps dream of kayaks, rattlesnakes, and a pair of beloveds happy in their new homes.
The grooms walked Michael’s mom down the aisle between them. When they arrived at the front of the church, led by a wide line of children, friends and family ringing small bells, they each turned to hug Michael’s mom with all their heart. Thus began one of the most joyful and meaningful weddings in my life and surely in the life of Kansas.
Michael and Charles were joined together in holy marriage on May 3 at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Manhattan, authorized by all of us there, the authority of their love and 30+ years together, and surely by the blossoming trees and sweet wind of this spring day. While the state of Kansas wasn’t in on the authorization of this marriage YET (and that’s a big YET), the rest of the known and unknown universe sure seemed in complete alignment. The guys were legally married some months earlier in California, but now in Kansas — where Michael is a minister, Charles a retired attorney, and both writers andrabble-rousers — this wedding lands on home ground.
The ceremony itself was stunning. One groom could hardly stop crying, the other kept making us laugh so hard that we would cry ourselves into tears, and the music, readings, silence and vows were as beautiful as sunlight. Throughout the ceremony, in what was said and what didn’t need to be said, it was clear that we had all arrived at a new time: one in which gay and lesbian marriage had arrived, even in a state that had already gone to great lengths to slam the door against it. Many of my friends and I joke as to whether Kansas will be the 48th or 49th state to recognize gay marriage (I tend to think we’ll do it before Mississippi and Alabama, but who knows?), but thanks to my dear friends Charles and Michael, recognition may come sooner rather than later. These good men are one of two couples suing the state of Kansas to file taxes as married, and in lieu of wedding gifts, Michael and Charles asked for contributions to All’s Fair Kansas, the organization fighting for marriage equality here in the land lately known as Brownbackistan.
Having known Michael and Charles for over 20 years, I have no doubt that all of us in Kansas or who have Kansas states of mind are very fortunate to have such committed, loving, wise and kind men putting themselves out there on our behalf. While it might be presumptuous for a straight woman like myself to say this, I believe so much that marriage equality lifts all of us up. It breaks the cycle of silencing and choking shame that forces some to swallow their pride, identity and truth, which cannot help but diminish the health and strength of individuals, communities, cultures, even a whole state. Freedom is truly only complete when it isn’t tarnished by giving privilege to some at the expense of others. Love too is more complete out in the open.
As I watched Michael and Charles marry, like most everyone else crying, laughing and cheering in that church, I felt such awe and love for these men: for their courage, their beauty, their truth. For their love of flowers and adventure and each other. For their vision of community here in the heartland. For their art and heart, and willingness to very soon after the ceremony, sing together with many of us on the dance floor, “Going to the chapel, and I’m going to get married.” And for doing just that on this day.
Over 31 years ago, I fell in love with a decidedly, according to popular media at least, unromantic man. No rose petals leading a path to a candle-lit dinner. No charismatic charms displayed through gifts perfectly chosen, and sometimes on birthdays, holidays, even Valentine’s days, no gifts at all.
For one thing, he doesn’t like roses, except for native wild roses, although he’s learned not to insult the roses I’ve planted in our yard. For another, he doesn’t think in terms of societal gestures of romance. But true love? Here’s some of what it’s looked like for us over the years:
As soon as he returns from a nine-hour day of work, plus commuting 45 minutes each way after waking up at 5:30 a.m. he puts on his coveralls and rushes outside in the snow to shovel a path to the cars, including clearing my car, so no one in our family slips.
Sleeping on lumpy hospital cots beside me after surgeries, bringing me large cups of hold water to sip during hours of chemotherapy in between reading aloud to me bizarre bits of the paper, and taking off for the one pharmacy open at 2 a.m. once to get me drugs to ease my pain.
Changing thousands of diapers without prompting. Hauling babies and all their bags of diapers, juice, toys, bibs, extra clothes and more. Rocking those babies in the middle of the night after I woke him up, even if I had to kick him a little because he sleeps through anything. Waking up early to make those creepy-crawling kids of ours pancakes while he downs an extra cup of coffee and lets me sleep in.
Never once even hinting that I need to not be a writer despite the hours it sometimes took away from him having some free time for himself between work, children, the farm, and helping his family.
Accepting my far louder family with curiosity and appreciation even if we broke out into show tunes at the drop of a hat and considered a great family gathering to include six kinds of dessert and karaoke.
Holding my father’s arm in the last moments of his life while telling my dad how good it was to see him (after flying out with me on little notice, then driving hours in the snow on little sleep).
Saying “Oh, no!” when I tell him I think I’m getting a cold, and then expressing genuine empathy.
Doing the laundry. All the laundry for the most part. Including the laundry for three kids, one of whom changed her outfit every two hours. For over 30 years.
Laughing so hard at the parts we love in our favorite movies, reminding me of the first time I heard him laugh in abandon when we went to a park late at night and swung on the swings very high.
Processing thousands of nuances of interpersonal mishaps with me to help me find the way forward with love and respect for all.
Cleaning the dog vomit on the floor, and much of the kid stomach flu evidence over the years because I can’t do it without throwing up.
Lying awake late at night with me, scheming about events we’d organize, projects we’d launch, and communities we’d support, and then, in the daytime, working with me to make it all happen.
While not caring if his shirt is fraying at the edges, letting me parade before him in multiple outfits so he can advise me on what best fits the occasion and makes me look best.
Simply not caring if I gained or lost 20 pounds.
Not objecting when I scooted my freezing toes under his warm feet in bed on a winter’s night.
Occasionally writing me a love letter so beautiful that I no longer care that he forgot a birthday, and in recent years, actually remembering birthdays, holidays and Valentine’s day, not because they matter to him but because it matters to me.
Happy Valentine’s Day to all of us no matter who we love and how we love, and may we find the romance in folded laundry, a hot bowl of soup, and someone who truly gets who we are.