Yesterday, my parents celebrated 35 years of marriage with an intimate, beautiful re-commitment ceremony. And as amazing as that may sound in itself, and the concept of two people surviving 35 years of marriage may seem, it is even more so because of who my parents are.
My mother and father are two incredibly complex people. They are both black. They are both bright. They are both ambitious. They were both brought up with the same bootstrap mentality and unapologetic middle class aspirations.
They are both fully formed individuals. They are lovers and fighters. They are deeply emotional. Passionate. Strong. Creative.
They are two incredible forces that have clashed just as spectacularly over the years as they have come together to make a way for our family.
They are formidable each on their own and even more so as a married couple.
I was overjoyed to be able to pay tribute to them, and I can only hope to one day have with my husband something like what they have with each other.
It was an unqualified pleasure to be a part of their re-commitment ceremony, to have the opportunity to tell them how proud I am to be a product of their union, and watch them revel in the joy of their accomplishment.
Because staying together through all the myriad changes of an adult life – with all the complications of gender, convolutions of heteromance, and crises of blackness – is not something people do accidentally. It is something they can only do through the strenuous exercise of will, character, commitment, and then love.
Love is first, but it’s also last, when it comes to making marriage work.
And that’s just one of the reflections I had during last night’s festivities.
Here are a few more . . .
Joy is a practice.
One of my best friends, Melissa, is a master at it. Even though she just caught a rough, completely undeserved break in her personal life, she still came out to support my people and brought all the love in her heart and appreciation for friendship and family that she could muster. I’m sure she had her troubles lurking somewhere in the back of her head, but she got out on that dance floor once the DJ got his set going, and she danced anyway.
You have to fucking dance anyway.
Thankfulness is medicine.
I had my own relationship drama going on in the hours leading up to the ceremony. I was really upset and wondering whether my husband and I might make it to this morning, let alone through 35 years of marriage. Yet, once I got up to the front of the room to speak to my parents, and I started telling them how grateful I am for their marriage, their love, their support, their example, I couldn’t feel anything except that gratitude I was expressing. I couldn’t do anything except open up to the truth of how blessed I am.
I am so blessed.
Love is the best thing to have in abundance.
This has been a rough summer for me financially. I didn’t get any adjunct work, and I didn’t run into any more luck finding a full-time gig than I’ve had over the last three years since I lost my last one. I taught for Upward Bound through the whole month of June, and then I had nothing to do. No income coming in, as my mom always jokes. But my shit has been decidedly unfunny. And unpretty.
Still, last night, again, I wasn’t worried about it. I didn’t have that skinless feeling of lack that’s been dogging me since the start of July. I felt so loved, talking, laughing, dancing with, breathing in my family and friends. I felt so lucky.
What they reminded me is – if I didn’t have their love, all the steady paychecks in the world wouldn’t do shit.
Vulnerability is worth the risk.
I am the softie in my nuclear family. My mother is the general. My father is the jokester. My sister is the thug.
I spoke first during the ceremony and spilled out all of my emotions in my typical fashion. It wasn’t intimidating for me in the least. All my years of undiagnosed, untreated ADHD have taught me that acting on impulse can be immensely satisfying. If situationally costly. Still, this was an instance in which I had nothing to lose. I wanted to make sure my parents knew everything I felt for them, and so I told them. No one in the room was surprised by it. They weren’t surprised by it. That’s my 1-2, to quote my sister.
What did surprise us – what surprised me – was how open my father and sister were with their feelings. My father generally hides behind humor in his best moments and sarcasm in his worst. And my sister is just a tough, yet entirely lovable, nut to crack. Yet, she got open and spilled her guts for Mom and Dad on their anniversary. My father said all the romantic things you hear movie or TV fathers say about their wives – that make you wonder why your parents never talk to or about each other that way. And I was moved near to tears.
And my mother – who is as pragmatic as they come – was giddy as a girl, standing there, wrapped in the spell of my father’s words.
She didn’t roll her eyes or suck her teeth, as she almost certainly would’ve if he’d made one of his classic jokes.
She beamed all of the love he was giving her right back at him.
Watching, I wanted to tiptoe over, tap him, and ask if her reaction had reformed the smartass in him for good.
Maybe. We’ll see.
Either way, I was thrilled to be there for that glimpse at that big ol’ heart my father is always trying to hide.
I was fully in the present, and it was a glorious space to inhabit for the few hours I was able.
Then, the clock struck on the event. I had to become Michelle again (with my family, I am Mikki). I had to become Mom again.
I went around and kissed everyone and bid them good-bye.
I told them thank you for coming. For being here for my family and me.
And I meant it.
As I get older, I try to take advantage of all the teachable moments in my life. Especially the ones like this. That instruct my spirit.