Saturday, June 20, 2009

Beginnings and ends

Today we went to the memorial service for a man from our Quaker meeting. It was my first Quaker memorial service, only a few months after my first Quaker wedding (mine). A Quaker memorial is much like a Quaker wedding: people gather in silent worship, with people standing to speak as they are moved.

His wife was sitting on the bench in front of me, her river of brown hair hanging in front of me. It seemed so unfair that Bill should be dead before his wife's hair has even turned gray. She sat on that bench in the beautiful old Cambridge meetinghouse twenty-some years ago at their wedding.

Quaker wedding seem especially intergenerational to me. Before you can get married under the care of a Quaker meeting, you meet with a clearness committee made up of experienced married people. It's pre-marital counseling in group form - their purpose is basically to ask, "Are you sure you know what you're doing?" Bill and his wife were on my clearness committee last fall. Together we talked about the various struggles Jeff and I were likely to have - money, children, how we function socially.

I was also remembering the novel I Take Thee, Serenity, a novel about two college students deciding to have a Quaker wedding. The author, Daisy Newman, had been a member of Cambridge Meeting, where we were today. Upstairs I found two illustrations from the book hanging on the wall. The book is pretty terrible as a story about young people - the author was clearly not as with it as she thought. But the book really shines when describing the old Quakers the young couple gets to know. As the pair is exploring the idea of marriage, they watch a husband care for his wife who has suffered a stroke. As community deals with the illness and eventual death of this character, the young pair sees what they are in for. To marry when they are young and impassioned means to care for each other when they are old and dying. The book is about the full cycle of marriage, not just the exciting beginning.

Today Bill's niece, a young woman round with pregnancy, rose and spoke about her uncle's legacy. She realized that her baby would never know this man, so it would be up to her to teach the child about the qualities she loved in him. His gentleness, his patience with difficult people, his humor. It seemed very right that in this hall where Bill's marriage started, we should be talking about how to continue him after his death. That's a kind of immortality I can believe in.

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