Last Saturday, I found myself in an unfamiliar room watching a parade of thirteen perfect strangers; a hundred more strangers surrounded me, weeping into their blue-cushioned chairs.
I would dare to say I’m more comfortable at a marriage ceremony than most people are shopping for groceries. I am one of the youngest of twenty-eight cousins. Forty-two if you count spouses. Forty-three if you count the wedding next July. I knew how to order a Nohito at the open bar by the age of eight. I know that if there’s open reception seating, you should seat yourself as close to the bride’s parents as humanly possible and if you “gain a brother instead of losing a sister,” all you’ll really gain is a reputation for plagiarizing maid of honor toasts. My closet is a ghost town of half-empty, be-ribboned bubble containers and bags of potpourri.
I’ve been to thirty-three weddings and counting.
And despite the fact that I’ve seen more brides walk down the aisle than I’ve had candles on a birthday cake, I adore weddings.
And I believe in marriage wholeheartedly, because I believe in true love.
NOW HOLD ON.
Don’t do what I would probably do in your situation and close this window because you saw the words “true” and “love” in immediate succession. Put your hands where I can see them!
Let’s make a list of things I DON’T believe in: love at first sight, destiny, soul mates, boundless romantic love, and people who think that picking through trail mix is wrong.
Even though I respect these beliefs, I don’t share them. But I believe in true love. Because I think I’ve found it.
TURN OFF THE CELINE DION.
PUT AWAY THE SCENTED CANDLES AND SHOVE THAT DANG CORK BACK IN THAT BOTTLE OF CHAMPAGNE.
It isn’t what you think.
If you commonly frequent the website www.pinterest.com, you’re more than likely expecting the phrase “I’ve found true love” to be followed by one of five things.
A. a picture of Ryan Gosling
B. a lovely illustration of a bottle of wine
C. a picture of a cat with Zooey Deschanel eyes accompanied by a meaningful caption that says something like “I CAN HAZ UR LUV, PLZ?”
D. a 465-pin wedding album that has been justified by a recent engagement
E. a picture of Ryan Gosling.
Now, let’s give Ryan Gosling the benefit of the doubt and assume he’s a very nice man. Let’s give red wine the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s delicious. Let’s give cats the benefit of the doubt and admit that it is relatively possible that they might not be soul-sucking demon spawn. Let’s give people with wedding albums the benefit of the doubt and admit that when planning a wedding someday, it might be handy to come back to a list of personally selected nuptial preferences (and it’s certainly more economical than buying a bunch of wedding books).
But let’s be honest with ourselves and admit that none of these really fall under our true definition of love. The English language is sadly hamstrung by its lexical limitations when it comes to the word “love;” we only have one term while some languages, like Sanskrit, have over ninety. So we do what we can to differentiate by adding adjectives to the mix: “romantic,” “brotherly,” “motherly,” “true.”
The word “true” is synonymous with words like “real,” “genuine,” “valid,” “authentic,” “sincere,” “devoted,” “constant,” and “faithful.” Let’s use some of those adjectives. Real love. Genuine love. A love that is valid. Authentic love. Love that is sincere. Devoted love. Constant love. Faithful love.
So, yeah. I’ve found true love.
It’s two in the morning and my stomach feels like a vacuum cleaner in reverse. The three-week old thai noodles that tasted so good several hours ago are now punching me repeatedly in the throat. The floor is frigid, my neck is cramping, and something smells like musty band-aids. As I’m considering what it might be like to call my mother and beg her to make the twelve-hour drive to my duplex, one of my roommates is suddenly on the floor next to me, holding my hand and talking to me while my cheek squeaks against the porcelain of the toilet. She’s taking a break from writing a paper, she says. Yeah, it’s due tomorrow, but she’s still got time! Her hand squeezes mine a little tighter.
I’m ten years old and I’m stuck in the uppermost branches of the pine tree in my front yard. The slow, creeping numbness in all my fingers and toes, the fluffy enormity of my snow pants and down jacket, and the seven-foot snow bank to my right make the hope of escape all but impossible. But the branches beneath me begin to tremble as my dad picks his way through them. Pine needles dig into his gray snowsuit and stab through his red and blue hat. Dirty wintergreen snow falls in my face as his arms reach through cracks the size of sidewalk lines and anchor themselves to mine. It’s days before I remember that my father is claustrophobic.
It’s Day Four of the backpacking trip. I’m sitting underneath a single blue tarp with my co-counselor and ten teenaged girls. I watch our fourteenth match sputter and die; our propane tank is only good for tossing angrily at the heavens. We can’t hear each other over the sound of the rain, so we can only stare at one another’s faces, a mixture of dirt, sweat and unseasoned defeat, as we eat raw potato soup by the spoonful. I go to bed and all of my bones ache. My sleeping bag is wet. I’m sleeping directly on top of a root. But I awake the next morning to whispers and giggles. As I poke my bleary head out of my tent, I’m greeted by eleven beautiful pairs of hands holding a still-warm plate with the first two chocolate-chip pancakes.
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (1 John 3:16 NIV).
That’s how we know what true love is. Just as Jesus Christ loved and gave himself up for the church, so should a man love and give himself up for his wife. So ought a man love and give himself up for his brother, his neighbor, his aunt, his mother, the annoying coworker that gossips too much, the girl who told him it was over and his best friend since second grade who never calls anymore.
We’ve got to stop limiting ourselves to thinking of love as some cheap animated slow dance and remember that he laid down his life for his friends. And that is what I love so much about the thirty-three weddings I’ve been to: people pledging to lay down their lives for one another. Forever. It’s not weddings that I find beautiful; it’s marriage. And marriage isn’t the only way to experience true love; it’s just one of the few public commitments to do so. It’s the idea of a life lived in purposeful service to someone else that makes my heart swell to bursting.
Yeah, maybe sign me up someday. And maybe not. I won’t deny myself the giving or receiving of true love just because I haven’t made a pledge in front of hundreds of people. True love is just as present in daily testimony as in holy matrimony. Do you take humanity to be your neighbor, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part?
Lauren (Boersma) Harris (’13) is a spontaneous, idealistic, independent, fierce, over-thinking, damaged, adventurous, ordinary megalomaniac with a healthy sense of self-worth and a high word count. She has been a teacher both indoors and outdoors; she loves improvised comedy, backpacking, and writing, even when it’s required.