For the Newlyweds

For the Newlyweds September 4, 2015

18428477633_f488b3dd41_zMay you have the courage to let go of everything you know about yourselves—everything you have learned about yourselves up to this moment—that you may discover and create, invent and define new selves, a new braided Self. Like Sabbath candles that, at the start of Shabbat, stand side by side, each its own brilliance, its own accomplishment, may you move toward each other until you become like the braided Havdalah candle, its individual wicks joined to create of several a single, strong flame that is lifted into the sky at the end of Sabbath.

If I were called upon to offer a toast to the newlyweds, this might be the toast I’d offer.

Who dresses in the costumes of their ancestors, who signs the ketubah with the broken healthcare system and the cruel economy and anti-immigrant culture as their witnesses, the groom who is delivered to the mandap in a horse-drawn carriage, the bride who is walked down the grass aisle by her father and mother, divorced and united in love as they deliver their daughter to the huppah, the bride and groom who stand under the huppah-mandap where they vow and circle, circle and are blessed, these newlyweds. These newlyweds whose courtship was complicated by religion and love, politics and love, history and love, America and India and love, personal convictions and love.

Mandap and huppah: these shelters, these temporary shelters, these decorated shelters under which bride meets groom, groom meets bride as if for the first time—no, for the first time for real! The first time they meet since their match was determined, before they were born, in heaven. The first time they meet in a long time without having to negotiate the ceremony: whose and which traditions are included. Whose will bends under the pressure of parents? These fragile, temporary shelters, raised for a moment to receive this groom, this bride who can live, for this moment, freed of the burden of the past and fear of the future. Suspended in time, supported by love, held by the promise marriage offers: the gradual dissolution of the neurotic impulses that divide one person from another, one heart from another heart.

And the witnesses, for the moment, lay down their experience of the near impossibility of fulfilling the promise of marriage. And the witnesses of the passing generation, for the moment, lay down the urge to shape the future by kneading the clay figures of their son and daughter, their niece and nephew, granddaughter and grandson to form the idols worshipped by the aging, the old: the unchanged, unchanging past. And the witnesses of the present generation, sister and brothers and friends, surprised by the power of connection to others in the present moment, forget the digital interconnectivity in their pockets, purses. And the small witnesses of the future generation are enthralled by the ceremony which to them swells and subsides like a sea, unfolds like a dream.

Everything is recorded, every flower, eye, breeze, plate, toast, gesture, dance…. To remember, to be remembered. But there is no device that can capture what transpires in the hearts of bride and groom, none that can detect the conception of a new heart that may grow and survive to hold them both, husband and wife. And what about the soul? Forget about it. Neither groom nor bride can make a convincing case for its presence or absence.

What will be said tomorrow? They are perfect for each other.

Don’t! Don’t say it! Don’t curse them with perfection!

Leave them alone with their imperfections, whatever theirs may be: stubbornness, ambition, inflexibility, measuring their worth against impossible standards…

The dream of marriage is not marriage. The wedding is held here on this earth, exactly where the marriage must dwell. Here is the key to the apartment, here is the bed where what can be said will be said and what cannot be said will be withheld. Here are their parents’ hopes and disappointments, here are their own dreams and fears, here their future children’s bruises and successes. Here are the phones, the car, the kitchen, the neighborhood supermarket, here are the complex negotiations that continue all day, all night to make a life, to make a life of love together.


Richard Chess is the author of three books of poetry, Tekiah, Chair in the Desert, and Third Temple. Poems of his have appeared in Telling and Remembering: A Century of American Jewish Poetry, Bearing the Mystery: Twenty Years of IMAGE, and Best Spiritual Writing 2005. He is the Roy Carroll Professor of Honors Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. He is also the director of UNC Asheville’s Center for Jewish Studies.

The above royalty free image is attributed to CiaoHo on Flickr.

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