This is a special day. It’s our anniversary, and also that of our friends who are driving a great distance today and will arrive for an eagerly-awaited visit later this afternoon. We were there in Virginia for their wedding, on the 5th anniversary of ours, all those years ago. More years have elapsed since we last got together, shortly after the birth of their youngest.
Collectively we and they have been hitched – not always a state of holy engagement, let’s be honest – for 27 years now. There were three of us and just the two of them, on the day of their espousal; now we are four, and so are they. More generational and experiential shingles, as memory deepens (but loses a bit of suppleness, alas) and as hairline recedes. (Speaking strictly for myself here, of course.)
It is a happy anniversary, I do have vivid and pleasing memories of events during the first week of June, in that first summer of the Clinton presidency. One stands out, or soars over: flying high over Captiva Island and the Gulf of Mexico, at the end of a very long tether secured firmly (I hope!) to a speeding boat. It was a great thrill, of the type that I habitually, reflexively resist in my constant, mostly-successful quest to avoid significant personal injury. That day, though, it seemed like the right thing to do. Marriage was a serious proposition, fraught with risk, but also intoxicating in its promise of life-transforming possibility. We were looking, or I was, for symbolic punctuation of the high-wire act that brings two kindred, but also stubbornly-distinctive spirits together and impels them to exchange sacred vows of mutual trust and commitment before friends and family (it was the last time Mom and Dad, then already long apart, were together in public). Philippe Petit being unavailable, parasailing seemed the perfect symbol of our connubial future. Controlled, but potentially dangerous. And thrilling to anticipate.
I remember soaring above the island and thinking about birds: not in fly-away mode, but as co-occupants of a perch, and a life. I thought about Wallace Stegner’s “spectator bird” – from whom we
drew the wedding memento scroll-quotation we gave our guests on that happy day.
It is something — it can be everything — to have found a fellow bird with whom you can sit among the rafters while the drinking and boasting and reciting and fighting go on below; a fellow bird whom you can look after and find bugs and seeds for; one who will patch your bruises and straighten your ruffled feathers and mourn over your hurts when you accidentally fly into something you can’t handle.
It has been something. I wouldn’t want to have celebrated our kids’ 23 birthdays without S. on the perch beside me. Career ups and downs would’ve been alternately less joyous and more painful alone. I’d not have a Ph.D on the wall, or a wall to hang it on, without my rafter-mate. I don’t know how I could have withstood the loss of both my Mom and Dad in the span of five months without her steady comfort.
Mine is a solitary nature, I fly solo in many ways. Too many. Summus quod summus, I suppose. Or as Bob McDill wrote and Don Williams sang, I guess we’re all gonna be what we’re gonna be. But I’m very grateful for the best of what we’ve been, and for the perch and the life we’ve shared. Happy anniversary.