Sunday, December 2, 2007

Love, commitment mean more than formal papers

Simply Living

(First appeared in Orlando Sentinel December 2, 2007)

Society tells us that our wedding is the most important day of our lives.

I never felt that way.

In 1972, when my husband and I got married, we drove down to the justice of the peace in Hyannis, Mass., for a brief ceremony attended by a handful of family and friends. I wore a maroon corduroy mini-dress that my husband's mother had sewn for me -- at the time, it was my favorite outfit -- and Ralph borrowed a sports coat from his father to wear with a pair of his regular slacks. I can't remember if he wore a tie, but I rather doubt it.

As far as we were concerned, our wedding day was a day like any other, except on that mid-December afternoon, we formalized on paper a commitment we had already made to one another during the two years we had been living together.

The way I see it, it's not the ceremony that's important, but the promise that's made to the person you love.

I've been giving much thought to weddings lately because our oldest child is about to be married. The wedding she and her fiance have planned will rival ours in casualness -- a small, simple, nontraditional affair outside at our home.

Although Amber is not the only one of our children to enter into a serious long-term relationship, she will be the first to marry.

As parents, we've been active participants in our children's transition from infancy to adulthood. With the usual mixture of delight and trepidation, we've watched their progression from helpless infants to helpful adults. Although there have been many overwhelming moments, in retrospect, I think the early years were the easiest.

Yes, we endured seemingly endless nights of interrupted sleep and medical emergencies that took our breath away, but when our children were little, they were so easily comforted. Loving arms, warm kisses and reassuring words worked wonders to bridge the distance between tears and smiles. Babies calmed, toddlers quieted and pre-adolescents actually listened to what we had to say with willing acceptance.

But that changed -- as it is meant to do -- when the kids matured. From being the all-powerful problem-solvers in their early years, we became proactive guides on each of our children's independent journeys through the teens and young adulthood.

We helped them navigate through educational and work choices, long-distance adventures and at-home crises about everything from money to mortgages to medical mishaps. Some of the most difficult periods happened when one or another of the children was involved in romantic relationships.

"There, there. Everything is going to be all right," didn't have the same power to mend a 20-something's broken heart that it did a 9-year-old's skinned knee. Yet, somehow, we all survived. That alone is remarkable. Old loves faded. New loves were found. As parents, we stood on the sidelines filled with gratitude and relief, thankful the foundations we laid were strong enough to withstand yet another emotional earthquake.

Maybe that's why now, with a child on the cusp of a marriage, I find myself being so pensively reflective. All the romantic wrong turns have led to this place of loving kindness. You don't need an elaborate ceremony to cement such commitment. A few words spoken in a grove of bamboo surrounded by the people who care about you is more than enough to frame the future.

It's an amazing process, this passage of time. Children are born; they grow up, meet people they love and make a promise to be there for each other in times of difficulty and moments of delight.

It's not any one particular day that matters most, but how we live our life every day that is truly important.

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