When joy, grief share same day
I went to two weddings this month.
One of them was the wedding of my older brother's youngest daughter. It was held in the Provo Temple.
The other was the wedding of the middle daughter of dear friends from our neighborhood in Greensboro. The wedding was held in an idyllic spot in the mountains north of Asheville, in a meadow on the crown of a hill, surrounded by the summer-green Appalachian Mountains.
This is the point where I suppose I should make some smug comment about the difference between a temple marriage and all others. But you've heard that sermon a thousand times, and besides, what struck me was not so much the obvious differences, but rather the similarities.
In my niece's temple marriage, we knew that these two young people had been living according to strict moral rules -- rules that, when obeyed, bring them intrinsic blessings of trust in each other, of safety and health, besides the promises that come from faith in and obedience to God.
But as we listened to the vows between the young man and young woman on that hilltop in the wooded mountains, the words they said, in their self-written declarations, made it clear that they, too, had taken into their hearts the strict moral rules of their families and their Christ-founded religion.
They, too, called upon God to bless their marriage; they, too, valued in each other and in themselves their obedience to the laws that bring the possibility of happiness to all who follow them.
When the pastor called on our friends' daughter to promise to love her new husband "forever and ever," she added another, even-more-fervent "and ever." Of course I knew that such a promise only carries literal meaning in the temple; but we all understood it to mean the firmness of her commitment. In that sense, both weddings had the identical intent.
In this world, holding a marriage together till the end of mortal life is a great achievement. That extra "and ever" spoke, not just of the emotion of the moment, but of the seriousness of her commitment never to waver in her faithfulness.
At the end of that hilltop ceremony, the pastor invited all of the guests at the wedding to say, with him, "We now pronounce you husband and wife."
That was a profoundly truthful moment: Marriage is not a private event. It is not a mere exchange of vows between a couple. It is an act of the community -- a contract between the couple and the people around them.
We will take care of each other and of any children we have, say the new couple; we will not seek to mate with anyone but this spouse; and in exchange for our fidelity to this oath, the whole community will support the integrity of our marriage and family.
We live in a world where marriages mean less and less, because they are so breakable; and where the community treats its promises with contempt, making less and less effort to protect or sustain marriage in any way.
On that hilltop, as in that room in the temple, whole communities were represented by the people present. In the temple, God was the ultimate sealer of the covenant -- but the temple itself existed as a symbol that the whole community that built it would share in respecting all marriages made there.
And under the bower on that hilltop, the voice of the community was also heard. The covenant of couple with community was made literal. We pronounce you husband and wife.
There was another similarity between those two weddings. In both families, the oldest daughter, the firstborn child, had died years before, in the very bloom of adulthood.
I knew, seeing the radiant happiness of the parents, the secret that they had shut away from public view: that this day of joy was also tinged with grief.
The parents rejoiced for the bride's good choices, her well-founded hope of happiness in marriage. But the parents also remembered, and in private perhaps shed tears for, the children who would not marry, would not bring them grandchildren, would not grow old in the joy of seeing their own children marry.
In our friends' wedding program, there was only this: The statement that a particular floral arrangement was in memory of those who had gone before.
No one spoke of the missing children, just as no one at our son's wedding not that many years ago spoke of our other son, his younger brother, who, even had he lived past the age of seventeen, could never have married; or of our little girl who died the day she was born.
The funeral does not intrude on the wedding day.
But it is still there, in the parents' hearts. The memory of the missing children whispers to us, It will not all be happiness for this dear young couple; not every hope and dream will be fulfilled. There will be pain. Faith may ease it a little, but will not make it go away.
The marriage forges bonds that cannot be broken except in agony. Yet shunning marriage for fear of loss brings its own regret. What you build can be broken, at least for a time; but what you never try to build is lost forever.
Copyright © 2008 by Orson Scott Card
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