My friend Leslie’s son was married in August, almost five years after Leslie passed away, shortly after her cancer made a return appearance. Paul and his brothers were in their early twenties then, nice boys on their way to becoming the fine young men they are now. When we entered the garden at the Minnesota Arboretum they’d chosen for their ceremony, I realized it was the first time I’d seen all three brothers together since Leslie’s memorial service. They are tall and broad-shouldered, all with dark hair, and I can see Leslie’s shining smile, or her eyes, in every one of them, along with some of the handsome features of their dad, my friend, Joe. The boys live in three different cities now, graduated from three different colleges, and are making three very different lives for themselves. But their camaraderie with each other, and with their dad, was warmly apparent as we waited for the ceremony to begin.
The officiant who married them made me laugh, and then wince, when he talked about the realities of marriage. How small things like toothpaste tubes and pen vs. pencil on the Sunday crossword can become really, really big. How patience and forgiveness are kind, and smart, and necessary. How being prepared to change your dream might be the secret to a lasting relationship.
In my mid-fifties now, and deeply in love in what feels to me like my first true partnership, I’ve let go of small annoyances like the toothpaste tube and the Sunday crossword. Of course. But I know that some things do not deserve our patience, and other things are unforgivable. I know that changing a dream can mean leaving to live your life alone. Sitting at the ceremony next to my beloved, and with Joe’s new partner, Sandy, I was aware that they know this, too. And yet, it still felt right, and good, to be present for Ashley and Paul that day, and to hope they attain enough of the life they promise each other.
At the reception, the bride and groom and their families had created a montage of childhood photos and family gatherings and videos of Ashley and Paul together from their earliest dates all the way up to the wedding festivities. It showed them in the reality of their lives, and in our lives. There was Leslie, proudly holding her two babies, Paul and his twin brother, Curt, on the first occasion they were allowed out of their incubators. Later, a smiling Leslie knelt with her two boys and their baby brother, Todd, all bundled in snowsuits. It hurt to see her radiant smile, and I saw most of the remaining photos through a blur. Then our friend Angie said that the only time she saw Leslie break down was when she mourned not being able to see her boys finish their growing up. “I want to see how it all turns out,” is what Leslie said.
It turned out even better than she could have imagined, and it is spectacularly unfair that she didn’t live to see it, and won’t see her grandchildren, or her sons’ graying hair, or their joy in their lives and in their own families. It’s not nearly enough compensation for that loss, but I have a happy life today because Leslie was my friend. Though she was famous for clipping interesting articles for her friends, she gave me advice only once. We were sitting on my front porch a few weeks before she died, and we had been talking about gardening. We hadn’t been talking about my problems, or about hers, though there was plenty of fodder there for a heart-to-heart. We just talked about flowers and foliage, and what colors look best next to the clear rosy-purple of Echinacea. Leslie had been looking out over my pond and the drying grasses waving beside it when she turned to me. “Life is too short to be unhappy. You know that, don’t you?”
I do know that. I do. And I understand what Leslie knew all along: Life is not fair, but it’s good. We get what we get, and we do the best we can. If we’re surrounded by loving family and friends, we’re the luckiest people on Earth.
Paul and Ashley, may you find happiness and peace within yourselves. May that deeply held contentment enrich and expand everything you share together, blessing you both, blessing the lives of those you love.