A date announced itself on this summer’s calendar, swooping in to mark what is known in our household as an anniversary “of significance.”
Such milestones ordinarily are divisible by five, and are of extra note if divisible by ten.
If Jim were here I’m fairly sure that for this wedding anniversary he would have spirited us away to some outdoor place where we could behold birds and summer flora. Chances are high that an ocean would have been involved. He would have done all the planning, certain to minimize travel and avoid tiny modes of transportation: I always viewed as suspicious the smaller ratios of protective steel girding to numbers of passengers.
No camel safaris would have been involved.
If he were here I still would be profoundly afraid of flying, so he likely would have kept us close–perhaps winding up the coast of Maine to Bar Harbor. If so, he undoubtedly would have been at the wheel.
In the steady comforting voice that still greets me on two of our children’s telephone messages, he would be reassuring me about my cataclysmic geopolitical fears and my worries about our children, each one of whom has now graduated and set out into this dazzling world without him.
He would have securely packed up what I think of as the “real” camera equipment to photograph what we saw, carefully waiting for images to take shape. He would carry home these preserved pixels, refine them, and catalogue them; he would pare them dispassionately and keep only what was worth keeping, then tag them and star them so he would know where to find them.
I, on the other hand, would have merrily clicked away on my wee camera’s “Auto” setting until the battery, memory card, and/or shutter plum wore out. I would have been photographing him and other people instead of landscapes and seascapes. (I haven’t quite finished psychoanalyzing my change of subject matter yet.)
“In dark New Hampshire where his widow wakes.”
Widow “wakes”–not “awakes” or “awakens.” A far cry from “rises.” It’s not simply alliteration. If I am in any way typical of what happens once those wedding vows have been lived out, I remain mired in the moebius of my spouse’s last moments: now that I have occupied the marriage alone for years, my senses often revert to an echo of a wake (though we did not have one), by his side as he and I were then, as if both of us had stopped aging at the end of his life. Our almost-anniversary preserved in amber.
Poet Donald Hall recently passed away. He had first lost his far younger wife, poet Jane Kenyon, and written of the osmosis that continues in a marriage that endures after a spouse’s loss: “In the months and years after her death, Jane’s voice and mine rose as one, spiralling together the images and diphthongs of the dead who were once the living, our necropoetics of grief and love in the singular absence of flesh.”
In his case he found that some of his wife’s poetic voice had slipped into his, the rhythms and soul of her writing transforming his own poems, making them into the best artifacts of both.
“Memories will rust and erode into lists/Of all that you gave me/A blanket, some matches, this pain in my chest/The best parts of lonely….”
Before another summer wedding, I met someone who voiced the sentiment that a spouse’s death signifies the death of a marriage as well. I turned to a friend who was herself at the wobbly state of raw widowhood that rendered it necessary gently to physically pry her from her house and into a world of suddenly conspicuous couplehood. We simultaneously shook our heads with the loudest silent “No” we could muster: “Dead wrong.”
At the ceremony one of the bride’s friends would read the same passage from 1 Corinthians 13 that the bride’s mother had read at Jim’s and my wedding
: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
Love endures all things, even death. If love never ends, the marriage does not die with either or both of us.
For better, for worse.
So I suppose my view of the marriage I still celebrate boils down to a cross between Corinthians and a Canadian singing group.
When one spouse departs this world, he or she doesn’t leave the marriage, but does leave behind, for whatever we earthbound spouses make of them, both the best and worst parts of lonely.
As long as we both shall live.
And then some.