There are two parallel themes running through my week. I keep coming back to two words: Shakespeare and love. (No, not Shakespeare IN Love starring Gwyneth and the awesome butler from “Downton Abbey.” Yes, he’s in it.) The two words are forever intertwined, of course, and keep appearing as a pair…
I have been reading a book called The Conscious Bride (which I highly recommend for any engaged or recently married person) and just finished it. It speaks of marriage and wedding preparation in a way that not many books or resources do, steering us away from idealized images of perfect, beaming brides, and invoking words like ‘sacred’ and ‘rituals’ and ‘rite of passage.’ It asserts that there are myriad emotions that come along with such a huge life transition and all of them are not only permissible, but beneficial, to really feel to their extent, and none of them diminish the love that is at the core of such a union. It’s a relief of a book, and it ended with a love letter. Not a love letter expressing love for the reader, but a letter written by an older couple who has been married for 53 years about what kind of love is involved in a relationship of such longevity. Here’s where Shakespeare comes in, as they quote his famous Sonnet 116: “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments…” As they translate it: this kind of love, among other things, is the kind of love that is “constant and well-fixed and is not enticed away.”
On Sunday, I experienced the fierce depth of love in an expression of grief from a mother to her now departed son, in his memorial service. I was once friends with him, and just before Christmas, he decided to take his leave of the world. There was much poetry being quoted in the service; he was a frighteningly intelligent and passionate guy, and he clearly surrounded himself with people of equal mental and emotional dexterity. I’ve never heard life and grief discussed with such articulation so consistently in a room full of people. His mother closed her tale of his life with a quote from Romeo and Juliet, interestingly enough. Interesting because in the play these words are spoken at a time of lightness and joy and innocence, by a young girl about her first love:
…And when (he) shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.
My friend’s mother was sobbing so inwardly at this moment that the words were almost indecipherable. She had named her son Carey, because it means “My beloved” in Old English.
The author of my book speaks of a key feeling that many brides experience as they approach their Big Day: grief. The book makes a lot of comparisons between saying goodbye to one’s past life as a “maiden” and mourning a death. (I’ve not experienced this part yet, but hey, I have almost five months to go.) We, as soon-to-be wives, are encouraged to process this grief like you would any other: head on. So you can move into the next phase of your life having properly completed the last one, and with little residual confusion and sadness. This is the grief of a beginning, and a love story.
And as I sat in Sunday’s service, it was plain that the love these people felt for their late son, brother and friend, was undying, and his spirit would become part of theirs. They will carry him with them always, and never truly move on. Even my own feeling for him, which was always of distant admiration, became closer to love in his death. This is the grief of an ending, and a tragedy.
Do the two kinds of grief feel vastly different? I don’t know, I’ve not yet experienced both. But from the outside, both kinds are so beautiful in their own rights; they are about gaining and losing that strong, strong love. It’s the dark side of love that makes it real, right? So many of us are scared to love for fear that we’ll lose it, and so many of us approach love (ahem, marriage) with the fear of losing everything else.
As part of the pattern that may or may not have been the universe telling me something, I was poking through my dusty stack of plays the other day (something I’ve not done in a long while) and came across my old book of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. It occurred to me that I want to read them before my wedding. Not just because no person ever wrote of the complexities of love like the Bard, but because I am getting married in a place called the Shakespeare Garden, and it feels apropos.
In any case, I wish I could hire old Bill to write my vows. But since he and Carey are hanging out somewhere together, probably comparing poetry, I’ll have to settle for the words he already gave us.