Saturday Single No. 23

Originally posted July 28, 2007

I probably should have done this last week, but things tend to slip away, and I missed it. That’s okay, though, because one of the points I’m pondering this morning – one that I touch on with frequency, whether I intend to or not – is the slipperiness of time. As Pink Floyd sang on The Dark Side of the Moon, “And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.” Only in this case, it’s thirty-five years.

It was a horribly hot and muggy day, July 22, 1972, and there I was, sweltering in a tuxedo. I was an usher, and the folks I was seating were roasting as well. Almost as soon as I handed them their programs, they began using them as fans. As I walked to the back of the church after seating someone near the front, I saw a sea of white programs waving like flags, doing nothing at all to stir the still air inside the church.

It was the first time I’d been in a wedding, and the folks I was seating had come to see the ceremony uniting my sister and my brother-in-law-to-be. They’d met between two and three years earlier, when she was a waitress at the local Woolworth’s restaurant and he was a regular customer. (I still think there’s a song in there that I haven’t bothered to discover.) And in those two to three years, they’d decided to put their lives together into one life.

That can be a scary decision at any age, and the two of them were young, he having just turned twenty-four and she having not yet reached the age of twenty-two. As I – three years younger than she – seated guests and then watched the ceremony, I know I had no idea of what a commitment like marriage entailed: The patience, the tenderness, the time, the sheer work and joyful play of melding two lives into one were things about which I knew nothing.

All I knew was that she was my sister and I loved her; he was a nice person and she loved him. That was enough for me to know. So I guided guests to their seats. And after the ceremony – with perspiration running down my face – I nodded time after time to allow the guests in each row to file out to the doors and greet the couple who were now Mr. and Mrs.

While the guests headed toward our home, we in the wedding party drove to a park next to the Mississippi River for photos. We had just finished posing and were heading to our various cars when the skies opened, and the downpour that had been threatening became reality. Those of us whose cars were further away along Riverside Drive were drenched. I was drenched, too, as I ran to get the car in which I’d driven the newlyweds to the park. The newlyweds sought shelter as they waited for me, and, as I recall, stayed relatively dry.

One can find a metaphor there. From the outside, it seems that their thirty-five years have passed without their having been caught in a major storm. Oh, there were no doubt difficulties; all lives and marriages have them. And there was grief, certainly for the loss of aunts and uncles, parents and grandparents and possibly for other events. But it seems from where I sit – which I think is fairly near at the family table, as it were – time has treated them well, and they’ve done well with their time.

They’ve each had a solid career: He, now retired, was in telecommunications for more than thirty years; she, close to retirement herself, has been in education since the autumn after their wedding. They have two splendid children: Their son works in Information Technology for his home school district, and their daughter is an attorney in a respected firm in Chicago.

As I thought about them this week, about that hot Saturday and about thirty-five good years, I looked, as I frequently do, to the music. And I decided that the song that was No. 1 on the pop charts on that distant day – Saturday, July 22, 1972 – provided another good metaphor for a marriage that has endured and succeeded. That’s why Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me” is this week’s Saturday Single.

Bill Withers – “Lean On Me” [1972]

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