Mainers know that mid-September is an unpredictable time, weather-wise. It might be cold and rainy, warm and humid, foggy, frosty, stormy or any combination of meteorological iffiness. And yet, it’s the time Douglas and I chose for our wedding, gambling that the weather gods would smile on our union.
And did they ever.
Saturday, September 12th dawned clear and bright, not a cloud in the sky or a haze on the horizon. The protected waters of the Portland shipping channel shone a silvery blue, with the gentlest and freshest of breezes wafting landward across them. The air temperature drifted into the low 70s and stayed there.
Our mid-morning ceremony brought together a small group of friends and family who pledged to uphold this marriage through time. Though neither of us is formally religious, our service drew on the deep traditions and familiar language of the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church, used for over five centuries to bind couples together in matrimony.
Like the early-fall weather in Maine, marriage can feel like a gamble. Given today’s alarming statistics — the last I heard, more than 50 percent of marriages can be expected to end in divorce — it’s a wonder that anyone summons the courage to tie the knot these days. And yet, we do. In droves, it sometimes seems. And not just the young, beautiful and naive, but also the seasoned, weathered and wise.
The weekend after we said our I dos, Douglas and I were in Hancock County to celebrate the marriage of two friends — like us, midlife sweethearts who met online. While we were toasting their happiness, we learned that yet another mature couple we know — in their 50s — recently eloped to Maine’s western foothills to marry in private at a secluded hunting lodge.
I think this is remarkable. Not just that we persist, as individuals, in making these intimate, lifetime commitments to each other, but that we gather together as families, as friends and as a society to celebrate and uphold the commitments of others. We dress up, set out the good china, fill the house with flowers, strike up the minstrels, give gifts, pop the corks, make speeches and dance the night away to show our joy and support.
We do all this despite the gloomy statistics. In many cases, we do it in the aftermath of our own pain at the failure of a previous marriage, or the disappointment of hopeful young romance that has worn away to resignation, or the terrible loss of a loving spouse to death. A survey of the kindly company toasting our marriage last weekend would find all of these fresh wounds and battle scars, and others, as well. Douglas and I, too, each have our histories of love lost. And yet.
There is something strong at work here, something essential about the desire for the deep knowledge of a chosen other, for physical and emotional intimacy, for companionship and creative collusion in the adventure of life. We celebrate these connections at every age, in recognition that, when they work, they provide stability to our families and communities. They are the warp and weft that support the tapestries we weave in life, the core of our belongingness. We believe in them. We want them to last.
My marriage to Douglas took place on an uncommonly fine fall day on the beautiful coast of Maine. We have weathered a few minor storms since we met four years ago, but overall, it’s been a sweet, smooth sail — in part because we understand more about ourselves and what’s really important in life than we did when we were younger.
And yet, as we cruise through our 60s, the phrase “till death us do part” means something more tangible and immediate than it did in the past. We don’t have forever, anymore, to accomplish everything we dream of. We have weighty choices ahead about how to spend our time, energy and money. But the most important decisions have been made. We have chosen each other. We choose hope, and we choose love.