On this particular Sunday, the rain thrummed mercilessly on the wedding tent. Inside, the guests sat talking in the lowering afternoon. They listened to the pelting and said, How mean of the weather on this wedding day. Later, a toasting uncle recalled that his father’s wise and determined response to weather like this was to embrace the challenge. It was one of those challenging days. A flutist, also merciless, attempted to lift the gloom, but it was a big job. A regiment of flutes would have struggled to raise the temperature even a degree or two. Fifes may have done the trick, but there were no fifes.
Thankfully, there was the bride. She came to her wedding beneath an umbrella, wearing rubber boots, on her father’s arm. She slipped from beneath the umbrella and through the opening in the tent. She was smiling, laughing, warming her chilled guests – playing the sun’s role, really. The groom, who was certainly nervous and may have been trembling as he helped with this or that last minute detail before she arrived, saw her and blushed. He knew a dream come true when he saw her.
The groom was just the fellow C.S.Lewis had in mind when he wrote, in an examination of love, that “very often what comes first is simply a delighted pre-occupation with the beloved – a general, unspecified pre-occupation with her in her totality. A man in this state really hasn’t leisure to think of sex. He is too busy thinking of a person. The fact that she is a woman is far less important than the fact that she is herself. He is full of desire, but the desire may not be sexually toned. If you asked him what he wanted, the true reply would often be, ‘To go on thinking of her.'”
Love, Lewis writes, “enters him like an invader, taking over and reorganizing, one by one, the institutions of a conquered country.”
From outside, as the evening darkened and the wet air thickened, the wedding tent glowed. The trees surrounding the small hilltop field where the tent was pitched danced and bent in the wind. Leaves spun frantically onto the tent and fell with the cascades off the sides. The effect was of a gigantic, luminescent sea creature breaching, far out on the tossing ocean, a creature inwardly lit and so bright that it banished the darkness and quieted the rollers; a musical creature, because inside, the dance band was having its way with the bride and her guests.
Weddings stimulate the advice gene in guests. Stay in college. Go to grad school. Stay in grad school. Grad school is a waste of time. You might try the law. Business school is the only way to get ahead. Get a good job with a good company and stick with it. I wouldn’t look too hard in the middle of the country, it’s the coasts where the action is. If you’re interested in tech, I know an outfit with a great future that is looking for someone. Remember, forgiveness is what it’s all about. No, it’s patience, marriage takes work. Don’t work too hard. Have some fun, kids will show up soon enough, then it’s all over. I worry ab out young people these days, it was easier in our day. Never let the sun set on a fight. Don’t pay any attention to what people tell you, you have to find your own way. Whatever happens, you’ve got each other. Let him think he’s the boss. Keep separate financial lives. Sign a pre-nup. Don’t sign anything without reading it. Love makes the world go round. You can’t live on love alone. Love won’t put a roof over your heads. Love is all you need. Love means never having to say you’re sorry. Love is bigger than both of you. Love doesn’t pay the bills. Don’t spend a night apart. Give each other some space.
Lewis wrote a long time ago. The culture he imagined is not the one we inhabit today. The answer today to the question Lewis posed to the smitten one might very well be “To bang the hell out of her.” Love may very well be a poorer thing than Lewis thought. But, even today love is not the pedestrian thing implicit in the advice one commonly hears.
Joan Didion knew better. In her commencement address to the 1975 graduates of the University of California, Riverside, she said of the world and what to do about it: “I.m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment. And if you ask me why you should bother to do that, I could tell you that the grave’s a fine and private place but none I think do there embrace. Nor do they sing there, or write, or argue, or see the tidal bore on the Amazon, or touch their children. And that’s what there is to do and get it while you can, and good luck at it.”
And, forget about the rain, it doesn’t matter.