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Vincent van Gogh, "Undergrowth with Two Figures," 1890. In the collection of the Cincinnati Art Museum. Image via Wikimedia.

Vincent van Gogh, "Undergrowth with Two Figures," 1890. In the collection of the Cincinnati Art Museum. Image via Wikimedia.

BLOG— In sorrow and in joy

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My stepson got married this week, to his girlfriend of four years. They’re young — he’s 25, she’s 23 — and their youth has that quality of hopefulness, something clear and pure, that’s hard to recapture later, though it can sometimes be seen among the very old.

They got married in a garden bordering an old-growth forest. I love the symbolism of that. Their lives are theirs to cultivate, and I have no doubt they will grow a good garden together. But their lives also belong to Life, the oldest of old-growth forests, and there will be many things that spring up that no effort of theirs can fully tame. There will be fierce joys and terrible sorrows, tedium and frustration, fights and reconciliations, some rupture, some rapture. Like trees in a forest, they will grow in relation to each other. Their lives — their innermost selves, even — will take a shape distinctive to their particular union.

As it happens, this week is also my third wedding anniversary. Grant and I got married on a hot August Friday at the Xenia Municipal Courthouse with his father and sister as witnesses. We’d been together for nearly seven years at that point. Why did we delay in getting married? Why did we get married when we did? I can’t quite explain it. Experiencing the death of Grant’s mother the winter before was part of the reason, I think. On the evidence of life’s fragility (do we need more evidence?), we moved to strengthen the very tie that would make fragility, when it touched one of us, all the more painful. This is what humans do. We lash our happiness to our sorrow. Or rather: they are already yoked together, and we chose one face only to find we’ve also chosen the hidden other.

This is what I would like to tell the newlyweds. But more than most young people, they already know such things! They have experienced an unusual degree of sadness and joy together. Still, there’s that hopefulness. That youthful radiance that breaks my heart a little. In the pictures from their wedding day, the garden is so green around them. But it’s a late-summer garden, imperceptibly browning to autumn.

There’s no point in the cycle that doesn’t contain all the other points. The spring garden is as full of endings as the winter garden is of beginnings. And like planting a garden, getting married is an act of radical hope. What will come of it? What will die? What will flourish? In advance, we can’t know.

It’s funny — looking again at our own wedding pictures from just three years ago, I see a similar radiance in our faces. Our older-than-young faces, which somehow look quite youthful. I’m touched by those faces. Our vows were exchanged in a judge’s impersonal chambers — no green bower, no deep forest. But we planted a garden. In sorrow and in hope, in the wisdom of the old vows that are never old, we did.


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