Why, after 30 years of knowing each other, leaving our spouses, adventuring in HAI, sharing a songwriting career, excavating the tunnel of sex and desire together, discovering a cave of ancient soul where we huddle around the fire of passion in wonder, … why now after thirty years to decide to get married?
The simple answer is we’ve done it all except the celebration, the party, so why not treat ourselves to one? But the more complex answer has to do with putting aside the old stories and exposing our hearts to our community. Diana never wanted to get married because, I think, her first one was such an affront to her inner self. Dictated by family, expectation, commitment -- buying into the picture of the standard husband, succumbing to the mythology -- it served to bury more deeply the free spirit who lived beneath, the little girl who dug in the dark earth for worms on her way to school and so arrived always late and dirty to be chastised and reported.
By the time she met me, she wanted never to smother that independent creature again.
And then there’s me, married I don’t know, four-five times, a traditional wedding, a romantic wedding, a hippy one, a wedding of convenience. I like weddings really. I think everyone should do them until they get it right. So why should she marry someone so cavalier about weddings?
But one evening after a day of licentious sex, lying exhausted among the crumpled bed sheets, I think she realized we were in fact married and she just hadn’t admitted it. I was already proclaiming our marriage to everyone. At the bank they’d want to know marital status and I’d respond, “It depends on who you ask. I say yes. She says no.” Perhaps it was time to stop confusing people.
Or perhaps she was reacting, as I was, to the fact that the time-honoured edifice of marriage is in process of overhaul, its ownership wrested from the church and redecorated in rainbow colours by the new tenants. Damn. What self-respecting reprobate wouldn’t want to reside there? You know of course that once this recent dust has settled and mixed-race-same-sex couples are unremarkably BBQing on the balconies next door, a poly trio is going to come knocking and once again there goes the neighbourhood. Obama will be gone by then but some president is going to have to remove the ‘two’ from the phrase, “two people who love each other.” I hope I’m alive to join that struggle.
In any case the die was cast. We would marry and of course do it at HAI Tea in July among our extended family. HAI Tea, however is for workshoppers only, and when neighbour folks got wind of it they wanted to come too, so we decided to get married twice, two weeks apart. For neither event did we send out invitations but instead just spread the word, told the folks we ran into. No written invites, everyone welcome.
One exception to our workshoppers-only rule had to be the minister, David Howes, whose relationship with us began as my banjo student and morphed into close and dear friendship. As the date(s) approached David asked me if we were writing our vows. I recoiled. “Vows,” I said “smack of commitment. They are promises and promises can be broken. I have spent a good portion of my life eschewing commitment and instead prefer prediction. Based on the evidence of the past thirty years,” I pontificated, “I can predict to Diana with some confidence that our marriage will last, but to promise that, to commit to it, to make a vow of forever… that would be against my principles.”
Instead of arguing principles with me, David simply said, “I hear you’ve been hurt by broken promises.” That’s why I love David. He also asked that we think about who these guests are, these witnesses to our wedding, and what we might want to say to them.
One thing I wanted to say to my community is why I think our relationship has lasted thirty years, has not burnt out but in fact grown stronger and hotter. It is because rather than a desire to mold to each other’s needs, to do everything together, we both have a fierce dedication to independence. Although thrown together by work, by home, by community, each of us has always lived by the credo, “I am my own person, true to my own inner core.” So I was amused when I mentioned that David wanted us to write our vows and she said she assumed I’d write them for both of us. But I knew what she meant. Being independent doesn’t mean being unfamiliar. She didn’t intend for me to decide for her what her vows should be, but rather to already know what they would be. So yes, she jotted a few notes and I wrote the vows. Here they are:
Eric: “Diana, when I met you love was a feeling that rose and fell with the lightness and darkness of my heart. Love was a commodity that could be stolen or used up, or given more to one than another. Love was an appreciation, not unlike appreciating my VW’s gas mileage.
“And I guess love still is those things to some extent. I appreciate the mileage I’m getting out of you. But over these years our relationship, and my experience of HAI has pointed to a deeper meaning to what Stan dubbed the room of love. To me, Love itself is a room, a room I prepare where I can be myself and let you be yourself. This is a wedding ceremony so I could ask you to be true to me, but I’d rather prepare a room where you have no need to be false. I could ask for your intimacy, but I’d rather invite you to a room where you don’t need to hide. I could ask for your love, but I’d rather share a room where you need not fear.
“So if I have a vow for you, an intention, then let it be that I vow my love, and by that I mean my intention to care for and nurture that space where I can be me and you can be you.”
Then Diana said, “This is an unconventional wedding at an unconventional time. Instead of getting married and then living together for decades, we’ve done the reverse, and raised our children in the process. At times I’ve worked for you and now you work for me. We’ve taken life as it’s come to us without flinching. We’ve reached out for the opportunities that have called to us without hiding in the shadows of security.
“I first heard this Helen Keller quote at a HAI workshop:
Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.
“So if I have a vow for you, an intention, it is to continue to take life without flinching, and keep that flame of adventure burning, to see that our room of love is kept hot with passion.”
To tell the truth, although I wrote her vows according to her notes, I did take some license and added the “hot with passion” part. Hey, who could resist the temptation to get her to declare that in front of witnesses?
The first wedding was an amazing collection that ranged from Diana’s family friends of 57 years, to the guy who serves us at the hardware store. There were HAI friends, family from California, neighbours, old folkies and some store customers. After Isaac, Diana’s son shuttled folks from the parking lot and ran and found his camera, we were ready to start.
As the minister and I with my son and best man waited under an apple tree in the front yard -- one whose branches I had pruned into a canopy, a sort of chuppah -- Ava stepped out of the forest carrying a bouquet of flowers, followed by Lauren and Sarah in dresses of rich, exotic colours. Then a moment later Diana descended. It was all so lovely and pristine, like a covey of nymphs emerging into the afternoon sun.
Everyone loved the ceremony, stayed for tea (at a string of tables stretched across the veranda to seat all 50) and a BBQ later that evening. We visited, met new people, sang songs and sat around a bonfire. I was left with a sense of wonder at the disparateness of this group coming together from different walks of our life, intersecting and luxuriating in the joy of celebration under the aegis of a loving day.
Two weeks later we repeated the event for our HAI friends, about 70 folks gathering from Ontario, Michigan, Ohio, Massachusetts and as far away as Germany. They were dressed in their wildest regalia as we are wont to do, and my eyes watered over in gratitude as I looked down from the veranda to a waiting crowd that resembled a scene from Fellini yet the most functional family I know, our chosen family.