Yesterday, early in the morning, we hugged our college friend goodbye. One of the benefits of travelling is getting to see old friends along the way. Yesterday, because it was August 6, my spouse said, "And say a little prayer at about 8:15."
Not everyone would understand the reference, but I knew that he was talking about the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. As we drove down the road, I thought about the ways we've honored the anniversary in the past. Sometimes we've read parts of John Hersey's Hiroshima together. Some years we've gone to peace demonstrations. Some years the anniversary slips by almost unnoticed.
My spouse used to sink into a deep depression as August 6 approached and August 9 went by. In fact, when we planned our marriage and talked about dates, he suggested a time between August 6 and August 9 as a way to alleviate his annual depression.
My mother had been used to our non-mainstream values, so when I suggested those dates, she didn't offer much in the way of protest. She simply said, "But those dates aren't on a week-end. It will be hard for people to come."
Happily, my spouse decided that the risk of being deeply depressed on his wedding day was too big a risk if we went with his plan, and so we chose August 13. In hindsight, that date might not have been the best either, as it is also the birthday of my young nephew (son of my spouse's brother). Now I might make a different choice, but at the time, we needed to get the wedding completed before grad school started again.
Why did we need to do that? I'm no longer sure. We could have waited until a later date, or perhaps gotten married earlier. I suspect that as we compared everyone's calendars, the date of August 13 seemed to work the best for everyone. My nephew was turning 2 that year, so I likely reasoned that it was less of a conflict than if the child had been 10.
The larger question: why did I feel compelled to get married at all? I remember feeling like I either needed to marry my college boyfriend or we needed to split up. But why did I feel that way? Why did I bow to a societal pressure that I said I didn't really feel? We had no pressure from our parents. We would get no special tax or insurance benefits. We had no plans to start a family, so there was no biological clock to consider.
Even at the time, I wondered at my bowing to marriage. I thought about my gay friends who couldn't marry. I thought about refusing to marry until everyone had the right to marry.
As I think back to my student days, I'm intrigued by the issues which moved me to fierceness, and the ones that clobbered me. The woman who helped hang paper cranes in protest of nuclear proliferation, who protested against apartheid in front of the South African embassy, the woman who went to abortion rights rallies--that woman decided to marry? I was that tiresome student who was always declaring that marriage was a trap, yet I entered that trap willingly.
As with so much, my youthful self was both correct and terribly wrongheaded. Maybe I'll write more about that later.
Today I want to remember that time period between May and August of 1988. At the time we announced our engagement, the Soviet Union began leaving Afghanistan. Through the summer, it seemed that the Iran-Iraq war was coming to an end, and indeed, a truce was signed shortly after our wedding. There were protests here and there behind the Iron Curtain, and people lived to tell about it.
The irrational, Romantic part of me thought, hey, we should have gotten married earlier--it's as if we've created a warp in the war-peace continuum, and peace is gaining a foothold. I had an older friend in college who, during a discussion of marriage in a Sociology class, had posited that people in union have a chance of doing more good in the world than individuals working alone. In my loopier moments, I wondered if this was what he'd meant: two peaceniks marry and bring peace to the Middle East!
My mother always contrasts the wedding ceremony experiences of me and my sister. With my sister, my parents had to be very clear about what they would be affording. My mom once said to me, "With you, I felt lucky that you didn't insist on being married in a field."
I was that intense adolescent that worried about the morality of spending money on a wedding dress when so many people couldn't afford clothes. So, we bought a dress on sale for $100, which still caused me concern, but my mom and I agreed to compromise.
I was that intense student who worried about spending gobs of money on a reception when so many people had no food. So we made the reception more like a meal, with sandwiches so that our relatives could head for their distant homes with full tummies.
We spent a brief honeymoon in Asheville, North Carolina before returning to plunge back into graduate studies. Our first meal together, we splurged on dessert: we shared a slice of cheesecake with blueberries, and we each got our own cup of coffee.
Ah, those days when it seemed a splurge to get my own cup of coffee that I didn't have to share with anyone: those times seem both very close and very long ago. I'm still wrestling with the best way to live a life in sync with my values. I don't expect to ever call that battle won.
But my Romantic side still believes that when people join their lives together, peace and good have a better chance at prevailing.
The Summer of Reading
5 weeks ago