Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Patrick and Michelle's Wedding

I officiate my brother’s wedding in an old villa in the Massachusetts town of Manchester by the Sea. We never see the sea, but we pass stacks of empty lobster traps on the side of the road; inhale the faint fetor of fish and watch as the fog drifts over the pine forest, while we sit after supper on a stone terrace at a long table draped in royal blue linen.

My big brother, Patrick wears a cotton navy blue suit, a maroon tie and shoes of red brown leather. A plate of flower corsages is passed around and we all take and pin the stems with pedals to our suit jackets, vests, dresses or hair. We the wedding guests are all in shades of blue. There are only seventeen of us: two mothers, two fathers, six sisters, one brother, two brothers-in-law, one boyfriend, and three nieces under the age of three. For a little while, there is a photographer and her pre-teen daughter. And there is a little dog.

While we wait, we watch the babies play on the red rug in the main room where the ceremony will take place. They wear the matching blue dresses Michelle gave them. Amelia crawls and sits and crawls and sits, while my two-year-old niece, Lily runs around looking for snacks, smiles and songs. I give the girls blueberries until my sister Samantha warns me that if I give her daughter any more, I will be changing her diapers for the rest of the day. Dad’s guitar leans its neck against a white column in the corner. He asks me when he’ll go on. He’s singing a song during the ceremony and he’d like to know when he should get nervous. I show him my two papers of words and point to the place at the top of the second page,

“And then I’ll say, ‘And speaking of song, Dad?’.”

He’s chatty and excited. He says he usually doesn’t stand when he plays. He has a strap, but he still usually sits.  I don’t think anything of it. He’s played guitar and sung for us all our lives. Usually when he gets started, he’ll play for hours. He knows so many songs. His short, thick brown fingers picking and strumming as he sings.  Looking back, I wish I had realized he was nervous. I would have urged him to sit during his part.

Eventually, the hair lady leaves. Then the make-up lady leaves. Michelle’s friends say good-bye (though my mother tries to convince them to watch the ceremony from above, from the second floor interior windows, to which one replies that “that isn’t Michelle’s vision.”) Patrick and Michelle want a very small wedding. Her friends, whom Michelle has played maid to all their brides, understand. They arrived the night before to help and to celebrate and now their part is over.

In her mother’s long lace veil and her buttoned blouse and shorts, Michelle comes down to check in. Soon her sisters will strap her into her wedding gown. She gives my husband, Scott her cellphone and shows him the songs she’d like him to play.  She is giddy and pretty, smiling and laughing. She runs upstairs and a little while later calls down for the music to begin. I stand where I’ve been told, at the far end of the rectangle rug beside my brother. The music plays and as Michelle walks down the grand staircase with her mother and father, we all stare with smiles. She goes to Patrick. They hold hands and turn to me. I take a breath and begin.

Welcome to the wedding of Patrick and Michelle ---two people we all love very much. 

There are vows Patrick and Michelle will recite –grand little words above pyramids of moments, promises and plans—.   A vow is solemn… formal, dignified, not casual, not implied, but purposeful, specific and with lace, ribbon, smiles, flowers and with ceremony. A wedding ceremony like this one with mothers, fathers, three little nieces, sisters, brothers. A wedding ceremony where the bride and groom promise to take, to have, to hold, to give love and to be loved in health, wealth, illness and poorness, with the good, with the bad, with the happy, and with the sad.

He promises to inspire her. To tease, hold, and kiss her. He promises to eat her perfect apple pie and sip from her crafted porcelain pottery. She promises to soften him. To be the sugar to his salt. She promises to squeeze him and to tease him too. She promises to dream with him. She promises to make those pies and pottery and to sing for him and with him and to twirl on abandoned stages as the sun sinks and the sky fills with color. He promises to meet difficult discussions with openness and understanding. She promises to make coffee beforehand. He promises to eat a lot more bacon; have more opinions; buy more plain t-shirts and he promises that they will be safely, sweetly sheltered. She swears she’ll buy more boots and books and teach him a little something about doing nothing. And she promises to work hard. He promises to work hard. She believes in him. He believes in her. 

If he isn’t well, she will retrieve hot lemon tea, blankets and bowls of chicken carrot stew, and, if he’ll agree to go, she’ll take him to the doctor. He promises to lend her his shoulder and shirt sleeve and to take her to fields, mountain tops and to the seaside for better breathing, for healing. He promises to wake up early because life is good and best before the sun rises. He promises that he will not just sit on the train of life, but run alongside it because their lives don’t have to be on a track with a sad, monotone voice announcing mapped stops and planned milestones. Life is whatever they want it to be.  It is here for them to take and twist and turn, to shake, dance and shout. She promises to join him in the early mornings and to carry their babies in her body and to raise children with him. She promises they will draw their own path, he with his photographed and written roads; she with glossy paint, sand and song. 

And speaking of song…Dad?

Dad stares ahead at the floor, listening. He seems slightly surprised, but then he turns and lifts his guitar. He introduces the song. It’s called Danny’s Song. It was written by Anne Murray, he tells us, but it was made famous by Kenny Loggins. My mother urges him to begin, afraid he’ll talk all day if we let him. Oh, he’s nervous --I realize. He begins to pick the strings of his guitar and his voice of smoke, honey and (to me) the rawest, most tender of fatherly love wraps us all up.

People smile and tell me I’m the lucky one
And we’ve just begun, think I’m gonna have a son
He will be like you and me as free as a dove
Conceived in love, the sun is gonna shine above.

My sister Jessica was born exactly nine months after my parents’ wedding day. Patrick was born just ten months after Jessica –“Irish Twins”, they’ve always been called. He was born a little premature and small. The doctor took him away when he was born and wouldn’t tell my mother why or when she’d be able to see him. She didn't see him at all the day he was born. Back then, Mom and Dad didn’t have two pennies to rub together or a pot to piss in. Their little ranch house in Buzzards Bay, Cape Cod had pipes that would freeze in the winter and Dad would use Mom’s hair dryer to temporarily fix the problem. It wasn’t until much later that my grandfather, my father’s father-in-law, told him that the pipes could be wrapped to prevent freezing.

During his introduction to the song, Dad encourages us all to sing along if we want. We do want. Here is the chorus we kids know so well, a chorus Michelle has heard and sung with us many times too.

And even though we ain’t got money
I’m so in love with you honey
And everything will bring a chain of love
And in the morning when I rise
You bring a tear of joy to my eyes
And tell me everything’s gonna be alright

He starts to ease a little, looking over to Patrick and Michelle as he sings.

Seems as though a month ago, I was Beta-Chi
Never got high
Oh, I was a sorry guy
And now, I smile and face the girl that shares my name
Now I’m through with the game
This boy will never be the same. 

And again, the chorus we sing.

And even though we ain’t got money…
...And tell me everything’s gonna be alright

Pisces, Virgo rising is a very good sign
Strong and kind
And the little boy is mine
Now I see a family where there once was none
Now we’ve just begun
Yeah, we’re gonna fly to the sun

Again, the chorus.

And even though we ain’t got money…
...And tell me everything’s gonna be alright

Love the girl who holds the world in a paper cup
Drink it up, love her and she’ll bring you luck
And if you find she helps your mind, better take her home,
Don’t you live alone, 
Try to earn what lovers own

And we all sing the last chorus together.

And even though we ain’t got money
I’m so in love with ya honey
Everything will bring a chain of love
And in the morning when I rise
You bring a tear of joy to my eyes
And tell me everything’s gonna be alright. 

Dad brings tears of joy to our eyes. I continue.

They hope to live together until they are ancient elders with soft wrinkled skin, white hair and wisdom. They hope to seek and see both country and city; to meet, friend and cherish both beautiful spirited souls and spontaneous pals; and to experience both tremendous moments of joy and important moments of growth. They hope that when death arrives, it is benevolent and patient ---that when their bodies quit breathing, their hearts stop beating, death finds them ready with relief, with acceptance, not fear. I speak for everyone here when I say that we all hope time is generous to you, Patrick and Michelle, that you have many, many more mornings of meeting the sun together. 

Michelle, you choose Patrick. Patrick, you choose Michelle. And together you’ve chosen today, June 4, 2016, to put your love into rings and writing for everyone to see.

Please retrieve your rings!  

I, Michelle, take you, Patrick, for my lawful husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part. 

I, Patrick, take you, Michelle, for my lawful wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part. 

Michelle, do you? … I do! She says.

Patrick, do you? …Sure why not! He says

By the power vested in me by the state of Massachusetts (and the Internet), I now pronounce you, husband and wife. 

As the world continues to frighten me, I retreat to these remembered moments where LOVE lives. Moments where I am reminded that it is LOVE that we all so desperately need. For LOVE saves, LOVE heals, LOVE connects, and LOVE creates us. Patrick and Michelle choose LOVE. They choose to unite legally, vocally, spiritually. My father sings with LOVE to his wife, his son and his son's wife, to and for us all --despite any fears that he'll forget the notes or the words to the song he's singing. After the ceremony, we all hug LOVE; laugh LOVE and kiss LOVE. It is LOVE that warms our throats and wrinkles our faces into smiles. It is LOVE and LOVE's partner, HOPE who whisper to us every morning, when we wake up, just what we need to hear, which is that, everything’s gonna be alright. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

She's a baby!

She wiggles free of me and crawls toward the tissue box or the picture frame (the one with the black and white photograph my brother took of her and me a week after she was born --"momma" I say pointing to my face); or to the edge of the mattress to slap it and screech at the dog who sleeps beneath her daddy’s bedside table. I pull her back to me, hold her close and sing. Put the baby down and walk away. They’ll cry the first few times, but eventually they’ll learn to self-soothe and go to sleep.  If I lay her in her crib, though, and she's still very much awake, she stands and smirks and bites the clothed bar. I try to never smile back or laugh or even get visibly angry, but still she knows that her little trick is hilarious and un-defeatable by me, her mother. Put the baby down and walk away! But when I do her eyes go pink and watery with immediate tears as she wails for me to reappear. I know it might eventually work, but I don’t like it, and so here I am, holding a stack of cardboard books she’d rather eat than listen to; a pacifier she's nearly outgrown; and a bottle of water.  We lay on my bed or on the love seat in her bedroom. I give her my body (my hair for her to hold, smell, and mouth until she pulls too hard and I must take it back and tie it up; my breasts and whatever milk they make; my mouth close for kisses; my strong arms for cradling; and my voice of whispered song). If I let her, she stands on my tummy (oh how unbelievable to remember she was once inside this squishy, shallow skin). Of course she’s scared to be alone! She’s a baby. She wants to be near me. She needs to be near me. I am her provider and protector.  I too need to be near her, for the sound of her sobs rattle my ribcage until my insides feel warm and I have a taste of metal in my mouth. I can't not go to her. Some nights I let her play on the floor because her afternoon nap was late. Sometimes I give her a second dinner at 8p.m while I wash the dishes from our earlier supper. I recently moved her bedtime from 7:00pm to 8:30p.m. and now she’s sleeping through the night most of the time. She still sometimes wakes around 4a.m. because she’s cold or hungry, but I don't mind. I haven't read many baby blogs or books. I don't want to bog my brain with expectations and time lines that won’t align with my child's inner calendar. Amelia began crawling at 8 months. She’s been standing and cruising since she was 9 months. She says "hi" now to us and anyone she feels like it and she can pinch food with her fingers to feed herself. And she can drink from a straw or a little cup (with help). She can wave and clap her hands. She is interested in stairs, trees, the dog, paper book covers and she loves watermelon as much as me. She might do some things “early”. She might do some things “late". She might be a big baby now at 23 pounds, while she was considered too small before birth. As long as she’s safe, fed and sleeping well, I’m happy.

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Ghosts of Love

“The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but, it is fear.” Mahatma Ghandi

I was born to a woman, in a place I call home, in a culture I call mine, to a body I call me. My body is made of bones, nails, tissue, blood, bacteria and mighty, brilliant organs. I am an animal with language, work, and offspring. I need food, water, sleep, and shelter. Inside my skin, behind my ribs and lungs and skull, is my ghost. My ghost is my body’s guest. My body lives until my body dies (rotting eventually to dirt), but my ghost is like the water of our world, it can move and transform, but it never disappears. It is like the wind too, joining/building/blowing or sighing into the silence of solitude. My ghost is made out of love and empathy, melancholia and hope. It is fragile and infinite. It is wise, wounded and strong. It is evolving.                                    
I want my mother and all my lovers to live. I want all the people in this place I call home, in the culture I call mine to live too. And I want the people in the places I do not call home, in the cultures I do not call mine, and of the bodies I do not call me, to live as well and well, because a world made of only me and mine would be a terribly monotonous one. I am glad that God uses a palette of primary paints: of reds, yellows, and blues, so that we can be, see and know all the colors. We are all made of this mixed paint. To fear me is to fear you. You were born to a woman, in a place you call home, in a culture you call yours, to a body you call you. Your body is made of bones, nails, hair, tissue, blood, bacteria and mighty, brilliant organs. You are an animal. You have language and work. Maybe you have offspring. You need water and sleep and food and shelter. Does this sound familiar? Inside your skin, behind your ribs and lungs and skull, is your ghost. Your ghost is your body’s guest... So what happened? Why have you opened your body up and allowed this coward I call fear to enter and torture and fester? Please, journey to your humble ghost where it hides in your feet and feed it, clothe it, love it. You think we’re so different. That we don’t share 99.5% of the same DNA. But I beg you, look at this .05%. For in that little number is all the beauty of humanity. We are the same and we are all a little different and that is a fortunate truth, not a scary one.

Do you truly believe that the world would be better if it was only made up of you and yours? Do you really think there’s only one right and that you are it? That you are the right kind of person with the right kind of beliefs from the right kind of place, while me and mine are wrong, all wrong and therefore, we need to go away so that you don’t see us anymore, so that you don’t doubt yourself anymore? You want me to stop breathing. Stop praying. Stop working. Stop laughing. Stop loving. All this loving! Is that it? Have you no love left? Your ghost was once like us: made of kindness. I’m sorry that we didn’t save you sooner, before you fell ill with fear. Are you now soaked in its sweat? Do you shiver from its chills? We cannot live the same life. For a world full of you and yours would be an impossible one. Impossible because the place you call home is different from the place I call home, your culture is not my culture, your lovers are not my lovers, your mother is not my mother. So if you want to paint our world one color, you will have to kill me and all the wildflowers. You will have to pluck every weed in every forest, squeeze each root and burn every seed, stem and leaf.  Do you want to live alone in this world? Will you only then be satisfied?

Since the beginning of our mammalian history, love has been building an army. Now in the year 2017, it has grown to a tremendous, incalculable size. An unconventional force; we have no guns, no bombs, no tanks, no knives even. We are a parade of peaceful protesters holding hands, candles, posies, prayers and song. We want to press ourselves into the wounds cut and bled by your narrow mind. As you rally into violent mobs to fight for fear, out of fear, you will die trying and your ghost will be left to float like a child’s lost balloon until it pops and it’s rubber shell drops and flops into a pile of litter, while our ghosts continue to collect and connect into colonies of warm light. Have you ever seen a storm from the sun? That is what we are. The more blood and fear you spill, the more love comes shining down ---sheets of dry yellow rain. Come and see. Touch us even, ghost to ghost, for love is contagious and perfect and the only thing that will heal your fear.