I’ve been thinking a lot about marriage recently. Marriages are good news stories, and there oughta be more of them!
My two adult children, both in great long-term relationships, have shown no interest in getting married. “What does marriage even mean?” they would say in my imagined conversations with them. “What could an obsolete idea of marriage possibly add to our relationship except force us through a meaningless ritual straight out of the old world?”
“Well, neither of you’ve been married,” I’d retort in my dialogue with them. “Maybe you’ll just have to take my word for it.”
Then I’d watch their eyes glaze over. They’d reach for their smartphones, check their Instagram feeds to escape another embarrassing harangue from their father.
And all I could muster would be a vague claim that it deepens your relationship with your partner. That by declaring your love for each other in front of your family and community, you’d deepen your bond, clarify and strengthen it, bring new and unexpected meaning to your relationship. And the result, in my experience, is a unique sweetness that lasts over time whenever you reflect on your union.
Enter Laurie Anderson. Many may remember her as the 1980s electronic musician who sang the song, “O Superman,” an enigmatic masterpiece of a pop song.1
An added tenderness
She is also known as the long-term partner of Lou Reed, another great musician, late of the Velvet Underground, who also had an enduring career as a solo artist. Yeah, Lou Reed is (was) a hero of mine.
Lou died in 2013, sadly, and Laurie Anderson published a beautiful tribute to Lou and her marriage to him in Rolling Stone. The article greatly affected me because she brought her poetic sensibility to the pro-marriage argument I try to convey to my son and daughter. Especially these few lines:
“When you marry your best friend of many years, there should be another name for it. But the thing that surprised me about getting married was the way it altered time. And also the way it added a tenderness that was somehow completely new.”
I’d like to ask Laurie what she means, exactly, by “the way it altered time,” but I’m sure it would resonate with me, somehow. But about the new, unexpected tenderness that comes from marriage, I know what she means.
I’ve experienced that in both my marriages (proof that this is a scientifically reproducible fact 😉!).
The declaration of love between two human beings is such an intimate act, sharing profound tenderness and vulnerability. Though there may be tentativeness at first, if it grows over time and the partners become more assured of their love for each other, a confident step is to take it into the community.
A thousand hands holding the couple up
Marriage can be anything we want it to be, but I’ve found it most potent as a celebration of love held and supported by the community that attends it. There is an implicit and explicit blessing of the union, a bestowing of approval as if a thousand hands are holding the couple up.
Yes! Marriage is a good news story! Here are two people bold enough to stand up and declare their union before their family and friends. This is love. This is what we value. And in blessing this union, we are all part of the union … in the figurative sense, of course.
It is a powerful ceremony that has been held in one form or another since time immemorial.
Go through that ceremony, and you see your lover with new eyes. There is something now that hadn’t existed before. And in my experience — and Laurie Anderson’s — that is a unique and unexpected tenderness.
Here that, my two beautiful kids? Laurie Anderson says the same thing as your old man! And she’s pretty hip! (At least she was back in the day).
Feeding the wedding guests
This past weekend there were at least two weddings on Pender Island I was aware of. For one of them, I had been asked to bake 300 burger buns. I’d twice baked at least that many hot cross buns, but it was no less a monumental task for this fresh baker. I rolled and shaped buns on into the night, fitting in a one-hour nap between risings.
They were baked and ready to go on time. Until I realized I didn’t know where the buns were to be delivered. Maybe the wedding was at the Community Hall, I thought. Turned out there was indeed a wedding there, but it was the wrong one!
As I walked back to my car, I saw a different bride and groom in the parking lot! This was MY bride and groom, just returned from their wedding ceremony, and we had a good laugh about the poor baker who had no idea where their buns were going to go! Luck!
“Drive down to the very end of Liberto Road, bear right, go past the boat and turn left onto the field,” the groom told me. “That’s right on the old airstrip. You’ll see a bunch of people, and that’s where you want to be.”
The two of them were floating, not in a dreamy sense, but excited, almost distracted.
Celebrating a marriage and gathering once again
The scene at the airstrip was like something from a Thomas Hardy novel. Smartly dressed people milled about in a field of long grass. Sounds of laughter and happy chatter. Kids lobbed bean bags across the reception area into holes cut into boxes. An enormous pig was roasting on a spit. Lights were strung along poles, tables laden with food and desserts. A barn with a bandstand and bar would nourish the evening with dance and celebration into the night.
It was a celebration of a marriage and maybe also one of gathering once again after a long period of isolation. People were maintaining their safe distances but also moving cautiously back into this most human form of festivity.
I stood awhile taking it all in, an exhausted baker, wondering where my buns would go, hardly recognizing a soul. The bride’s mother found me, greeted me warmly and helped me carry the buns to the food tables. She got me a glass of wine, and we had a lovely chat under the evening sky, sharing stories, watching people.
It was an honour to feed the wedding guests, a reward for being part of the celebration. I can’t think of a more excellent reward for working through the night than being a part of two friends’ marriage. We were all bound together in this act of sweet tenderness.
. . .
So hold me, Mom, in your long arms
In your automatic arms.
Your electronic arms.
In your arms.
So hold me, Mom, in your long arms
Your petrochemical arms
Your military arms
In your electronic arms
— (see full lyrics here)↩
5 thoughts on “Marriage, Laurie Anderson and the Weddings of Pender Island”
Hi David, Thanks for putting it out there. When I came to Pender to care for my aging Mom she said “Get a job!” One of several I secured was DJing – mostly weddings and some volunteer Pender community events. Many of the weddings were very touching for me – the effort and beauty created in support of the couples’ declarations of love. Pretty well all had lived together before taking another step. One couple, as they wer introduced after signing had me Play Queen “Another One Bites The Dust!” Many ways to celebrate!! And, Wendy and I have been quietly celebrating 30+ years – STILL COMMON LAW at age 73 both!
Kushad, you make a strong point here. While I found both my marriages moving and affirming, it is the relationships themselves that are, in the end, the most meaningful, most enduring. I was surprised to find myself standing on “the altar” declaring my love for my partner in front of family and friends. It was an affirmation, but also a connection to love and meaning in our community, our circle of friends and family. I loved that. But that’s not to say you can’t find the same meaning and fulfilment in a common-law relationship as you and Wendy have! A lot of institutions have lost their meaning in our time, and a marriage ceremony isn’t for everyone. What matters is the relationship. Congratulations on the 30+ years, the two of you! Life is grand, ain’t it?
Thanks for the yummy sourdough bread today. Got to share it with my brother who has not been here to visit since the beginning of pandemic. I came to Pender Island with my husband Keith, a family physician. He wanted to retire here for so many years. But we waited too long for retirement. He was already ailing when we arrived and only got to know, certainly not to enjoy Pender Island the way we wanted to, for a few months before he passed away at Christmas that year. I stay. He, Keith, was my 3rd marriage. Terry, my first husband had a very aggressive, non-remitting type of MS and only lived for a few years after diagnosis. Bill, my second husband, died from a sudden cardiac episode at age 31. He was a Canadian champion runner, certainly fit. Life has a way of humbling us. I celebrate 3 wonderful marriages, and have 5 beautiful children.
Thanks for this beautiful, poignant story, Elizabeth. It´s got sadness, but it’s also life-affirming. You’ve risen above that sadness and taken stock of the joy your marriages have brought. I do think marriages are special, but I also respect that others can find the deepest fulfilment in long-term relationships without marriage.