My father's parents celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary last weekend, brought forward a few months to coincide with the wedding of their youngest grandchild, my cousin Laura. Here they are on their wedding day; that's the Rheinfall in the background. During the course of their marriage they've emigrated; had kids and grandkids and great-grandkids; started a business; spent decades working and volunteering; opened their hearts and homes to travelers of the geographic and spiritual varieties; rarely met a stranger; and been pillars of their community and of my little world. These are two people of courage and conviction.

One of the themes of the weekend for me was that when it comes to partnership, you can go your own way. Even in the context of highly centralized family authority, we in the younger generations, at least, have articulated our own norms without destroying the fabric of the family. My cousin Laura married young; her sister did the same, and converted to Catholicism. One of her brothers married in a humanist ceremony that included a call for marriage equality. At Laura's wedding reception, she praised them as an example of a couple that is committed without being married. I objected that they are married and she gave me a skeptical look: "I didn't notice very much that was Christian about that ceremony." The other brother is happily partnered with a great woman who shares his skepticism of the institution. The wedding programs put her down as "the bride's sister-in-law," which she took in the spirit it was intended, as an expression of esteem.

Looking at the family writ large, I see more friction from secrecy and misplaced guilt than from candor. Personally, I have a lot of internal contradictions on the subject of marriage, which I think is okay too. In any case, in honor of a marriage that has had a profound impact on a lot of people, I'll pass along my grandparents' advice for a long-term union. From my grandfather: be quick to say sorry, even if you don't think you were wrong; "repentance covers a multitude of sins." From my grandmother: no one is perfect, and so getting married marks a conscious decision to stay with the guy you chose, "unless he starts killing the dog or killing the kids or something." And can I add that my grandparents are a good-looking couple? The original Victorifox and Miss Army Knife.

09/20/2012 14:25

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