25 December 2016

20 (part 2): Well, I am not going to sing

So we're okay
We're fine
Baby I'm here to stop your crying
Chase all the ghosts from your head
I'm stronger than the monster beneath your bed
Smarter than the tricks played on your heart
We'll look at them together then we'll take them apart

Adding up the total of a love that's true
Multiply life by the power of two

Scheduled to begin at 2:00, our wedding ceremony nevertheless began at 1:53 in the afternoon on January 4, 1997. The church was pretty much at capacity at that point and there was no one else trying to get in, so we got started a little early.

Twenty-four minutes later, at 2:17 PM, we were done.

We had no attendants, no guest list, no decorations, and no formal reception; Jason played piano at the top of the service, Gerv played his guitar at the end.  A few random friends and relatives took pictures and sent them to us afterward.

Hundreds of our favorite folks showed up for our mid-winter wedding on a beautiful cold-blue Saturday afternoon, honoring us with their presence. Some brought gifts.  Some brought cookies.  Some didn't bring anything.  We didn't really care, we just wanted them to show up, and we were glad when they did.

I gave the pastor a check for $80.00 so that he would have the heat in the church turned on that morning.  Other than that, and the giant flat-sheet carrot cake that I surreptitiously purchased for $45.00 from Brandy's with Lisa and John written in frosting on its top, we spent nothing else on our nuptials (the ring I gave Lisa was a gift from my mom).

For our wedding ceremony, in lieu of candles and soloists and staid processions up and down the aisle, we wrote our own vows, kept them secret from one another until that day, and then said them aloud to one another for the very first time during the ceremony, in front of God and everyone.

My wife's vows were lovely.  Amazing, really.  And the crowd who had assembled to watch us wed that day laughed and cried along with her.  She's always been a natural on stage.  Our wedding day was no different.

As to my vows, well, all I can say is: I meant every word of them back then. And I still do today.  Wouldn't change a jot or tittle.

Without fail, we watch our vows once every year, on our anniversary, thanks to my mom's oldest friend, Valerie, who videotaped them for us that afternoon without being asked.  I transferred the tape to YouTube a year or two ago. If you like, you can watch it below.  Lisa's vows start at 10:45 and mine begin at 17:00.

I've included a transcript of my vows below the video, too.  Just for the record, I guess, filed here forevermore as one more piece of my life's archival footage.

This is my blog, after all, and that's what it's for.

"My vows have changed some.  I guess that's to be expected.  I tell my [students] frequently that nothing you write should ever be finished, and I guess, sometimes, I practice what I preach.

"I decided that the best way to relay all of this to you is to tell you a bit about how these vows finally came together.

"Initially, I thought I'd find a rather clever analogy to frame my vows in. As you know I like how a good analogy helps me feel like I'm a little closer to understanding something. So, of course, my first idea was to frame my vows to you around something that I know pretty well: bikes.

"I actually worked on this idea for a long time.  But in the end I decided that it was a little on the predictable side, for someone who knows me so well, so I decided to go in a different direction. But the main point of it was, that even as someone who doesn't know a tenth of all that there is to know about bikes,  I have developed, what some people might call a fondness for them. This is, in ways, similar, though by no means as intense as the way I feel about you.

"You see, I'll never know all that there is to know about you. You're far too intricate and wonderful for me to ever presume that. And, as you continue to grow and change, you will, of course, become somewhat different from the person that you are today. However, none of that will ever change the way that I feel about you. I will not stop loving you. The you that I know today, I love.  The you that I will know through many tomorrows, I will love just as well, if not moreso.  Nothing will change that.  Not a lack of cash.  Not a prolonged illness. Not an argument. Not senility. Nothing.

"So, once I'd thrown out my bike analogy, I began to search for some other device that I could use as a framework for my vows. And, of course, music came to mind. For a long time, I looked for a song that had some tugging set of emotional lyrics in it that I could sing to you during this ceremony... well, I am not going to sing.

"You see, through all my searching, I kept hearing just one song playing through my head, over and over again. A song that I've never heard anybody sing during a wedding ceremony, but a song that for me expresses deep sentiment.  My grandmother taught it to my mom, and my mom taught it to me.  It implies that you are the joy of my life.  That you heal me.  That the depth of my love for you cannot be plumbed. And please, stay with me for a lifetime.

"However, I decided it was a bit on the silly side, so I decided not to use it as the framework I was looking for. But the words to the song go like this:

You are my sunshine,
my only sunshine.
You make me happy
when skies are gray.
You'll never know dear
how much I love you.
Please don't take
my sunshine away.

"One day, during church, Pastor Steve was talking about belief, and it got me to thinking about all the things that I believe in.  I started jotting down some things that I believe in and I began to think that this was the much sought-after framework for my vows that I was looking for.  I could talk about the things that I believe in, and eventually find some clever segue that would allow me to talk about you and me and all the things I believe about our future together.

"Well, after rereading some of my ideas several weeks later, I decided that some of the stuff that I'd written wasn't very meaningful for a wedding ceremony.  However, some of the other stuff I wrote about you and me was really nice. Stuff like:
  • I believe we will always be steadfast in our commitment to one another, in the same way we are in our commitment to Christ. 
  • I believe that patience, gentleness, and truthfulness will never fall out of fashion where we're concerned. 
  • I believe that you are now, and will continue to become, the most interesting, sincere, God-honoring, humorous, intelligent, and exciting friend that I will ever have, and I will strive to always be likewise to you. 
  • I believe that you possess genuine wisdom and that I will never be misguided by seeking out your loving counsel first and above all others. 
  • And finally, I believe that I was never loved in this way, nor did I ever love like this, until I met you.
"Regretfully, I never found the clever segue for this device, so I had to throw it out along with the others.

"I finally found the answer in God's word, the Bible.  Specifically on page 1337 of my Ryrie Study Bible, in a footnote. Actually, I'd found this answer years ago. However, in my effort to communicate my vows to you today, I came back to it not too long ago, and its message literally jumped off the page. In fact, I liked this concept so much that I had it indelibly etched on my finger, for the rest of my life, in lieu of a ring, and as a constant reminder to me, and the rest of the world at large, of my Christ-centered commitment to you.

"As you already know, these Hebrew letters spell out the word Hesed. The word means lovingkindness. Interestingly, this one rather unusual compound word occurs about 250 times in the Old Testament and it's used to imply all sorts of things about loyal, steadfast faithful love.  According to folks who understand Hebrew way better than I do, this word lovingkindness "stresses the idea of the way that those who are involved in a love relationship truly belong together." The word connotes all sorts of things that marriage partners should be able to provide for one another, things like deliverance, empowerment, enlightenment, guidance, forgiveness, communion, hope, praise, and preservation.

"That's some word.

"With all those wonderful things implied and understood, this then is, very simply, my final vow to you today. It's from Hosea, chapter 2, verses 19 and 20, where I first encountered the deeper sense of this word in a footnote. With only the slightest paraphrasing, it goes like this:

I marry you for all time.
I marry you in righteousness
and in fairness,
in lovingkindness
and in compassion.
I marry you in faithfulness.
And we will know the Lord."

We never had the money to arrange to take a honeymoon.

Instead, the day after we wed, we rather aimlessly drove to Painted Desert National Park, mostly because we felt like we should go somewhere and do something away from home that day.

It began to snow as we drew near the park and, by the time we'd paid our entry fee and driven to the first overlook, there was nothing to see. Everything was covered in snow.  I took one quick picture of my beautiful new wife, and then we turned around and drove home, stopping to eat an early dinner at Holbrook, Arizona's, finest (and only) Italian restaurant, Mesa Italiana, cloth napkins and all.

It snowed hard the whole drive back.  And it continued to snow for the next several days. By the time the storm was over, there was nearly 5 feet of snow on the ground.

School was closed for a whole week.  We claimed it as our honeymoon and spent it at home.

Snowed-in and alone.

Read 20 (part 1) And none the worse for the wear

20 December 2016

20 (part 1): And none the worse for the wear [UPDATED]

If they asked me, I could write a book
About the way you walk and whisper and look
I could write a preface on how we met
So the world would never forget

And the simple secret of the plot
Is just to tell them that I love you a lot
Then the world discovers, as my book ends
How to make two lovers of friend

I got my first tattoo 20 years ago, during the last week of December in 1996, at a now long-defunct place in east Flagstaff called The Blue Dragon.

It wasn't easy.

Not because it hurt.  It didn't.  Not at all.  And not because it took a long time or a number of sessions to complete.  It didn't require that either.  In fact the whole deal only took about 20 minutes, from start to finish.

No. It wasn't easy because the owner of The Blue Dragon tried to kick me out of his tattoo place when he heard what I wanted to ink onto my body and, most especially, where.

That all sounds pretty scandalous, and potentially salacious, too.  But again, it wasn't.  It was neither of those things.

You see, back on that December day in the late 1990s, I had entered that now long-forgotten tattoo shop with what was then a fairly novel idea.  I wanted to tattoo my wedding ring onto my hand to demonstrate to my new wife, and also the whole wide world, my abiding, enduring commitment to our marriage.  I wanted an indelible mark etched permanently onto my hand, as a reminder to me, and to everyone else, that I got married for a lifetime, 'til death do us part, as the saying goes.

I thought it was a beautiful idea.

The owner of The Blue Dragon, however, did not.

"You need to leave." he told me bluntly, and more than a little too aggressively, after I'd explained to him that I wanted to get a tattoo on my hand.  "It's our policy to refuse to tattoo hands, feet, or ears.  Go somewhere else.  Goodbye," he said, matter-of-factly, pointing at the door.

"Can I ask why first?" I protested, genuinely curious to learn the reason my reception had been so cold.

"Because only criminals and gang members get tattoos on their hands, that's why.  And tattoos on hands and feet never last. They're a waste of time, so we don't do them.  We don't want any part of gang culture."

"Gang culture? I'm not in a gang," I explained.  A point I felt rather stupid making.

"Don't care.  I'm not doing a tattoo on your hand."

"Come on.  Just let me explain what I want."  I forged ahead, "I'm getting married in, like, a week.  I want to tattoo my ring on to my finger because a tattoo can't come off and it cannot be revoked.  That's all I want.  Just three little letters, a Hebrew word.  It means lovingkindness... my commitment to forever behave that way toward my wife.  See?" I said, holding out the small piece of paper on which I'd written the letters חסד, copied carefully from the pages of Strong's Exhaustive Concordance to the Bible.

"Still not interested," said the owner, stoic, arms crossed.

"Hey, let me see that," said a well-tattoo'd woman from the back of the shop.  She stood, parted the dreadlocks that fell over her forehead to both sides of her face, walked forward to the counter and took the note from my hand.

"I'm Jill," she told me, smiling.  "Gypsy Jill, usually.  But before I was Gypsy Jill I was Jill Greenberg," she said, carefully examining the letters I'd written on the paper.  "I went to Hebrew school when I was a kid.  I know this word.  Hesed. Right?"

"Yep. Hesed. Lovingkindness. Instead of a wedding ring." I repeated.

"That's cool!  I'll do your tattoo!"  The owner glared at her but said nothing.

"You don't care about the gang thing?" I asked.

"If you're a gang member, you don't exactly look the part.  And I don't know that I've ever known a gang member who cared much about Hebrew.  Come on back."

Jill's hands were pretty shaky that day and I had the sense she was probably a little stoned.  But I didn't really care.  I was getting tattoo'd.  That was it.  The fact that my tattooist was maybe a little more than a little bit inebriated was not going to deter me.

So I sat in her chair, an old repurposed white vinyl dental chair, and she got out her tools and a little jar of dark ink.  Everything looked decently clean and 'claved.  Her cat jumped up onto my lap.  She switched on the TV.  And we watched a scene from Pulp Fiction together, the one where they stab Uma Thurman in the heart with adrenaline, as she gave me my first tattoo.

"He's right about hand tattoos," Jill admitted near the end of our session.  "You'll probably need to come in for a touch-up sooner or later.  Probably sooner."

But I haven't.  And I won't.  Not because Gypsy Jill's inking that day wasn't wobbly and imprecise.  It most definitely was.  And not because the edges of my tattoo haven't blurred some over time.  They certainly have.  Nor will I because my tattoo has faded a bit, turning from black to dark blue-green, even though this is most certainly the case.

My tattoo has aged and changed.  Sure.  It's weather-worn now, gotten bumped, been bruised, and seen cuts, has bled, and been scarred over the course of the last 20 years.

So has our marriage been.

But like my tattoo, our marriage has survived.  Changed.  But intact.  The bruising and scarring, laughter and elation, and long stretches of simple, mundane, day-to-day living-in-partnership with someone you can stand most of the time, are all just parts of our narrative now, the course of time and the turning of events that have conspired to make us us.  Older, most definitely, wiser, indeed, and yet here we find ourselves on our 20th anniversary still together and none the worse for the wear.

So I'm not getting my tattoo touched up.

Just like we're not getting our marriage touched up.

I love what both of us have become.

I like us just the way we are.

Update: 04 January 2017

Last night at dinner, Lisa announced to Bekah and I that she intended to get a tattoo of the Hebrew word hesed on her hand to match mine.  She's always worn the rings my mom and grandmother gave her for our wedding and engagement, but her work this school-year has made her reluctant to do so on a daily basis because of the risk of injury they might pose to the kids she's working with.

So right then and there, she got on the phone and made and appointment with Jefé, our friendly neighborhood tattoo artist who keeps shop at Birch Avenue. About an hour later, he'd put this lovely fresh ink on her.

I am truly touched by this gesture, especially since it comes on our 20th wedding anniversary.

I'm also a little envious.  Her tattoo looks amazing, sooo much nicer than mine.

Read 20 (part 2): Well, I am not going to sing

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. -- Ed Abbey