Last week I finished my summer hospital chaplaincy internship, and this weekend I flew down to Atlanta to officiate at my sister's wedding.
I saw a lot of love in the hospital, and a lot of marriages. Often, I saw this love, and these marriages, in moments of incredible crisis: either the sharp moments surrounding death, or the long slow suffer of walking with someone through illness and surgery.
Eventually, I came to see the face of grief as the same face of love, filtered through pain and anguish; I guess it's like what that book said that I quoted here a few days ago- every lament is a love song.
But it was pretty powerful to come out of the hospital, to take a step back from husbands standing constant vigil over sick wives, from the wife I saw trying to pray her husband back to life, from the man who rushed in to the hospital in the middle of the night because his wife coded, and then just looked at her. Because, the thing of it is, that man who came in looked at his wife, lying wordless and trached, in the intensive care bed, and she looked back. And it was the same look that Kate and Kenneth shared, as they stood in front of me, as I performed their wedding. This love is the same. And it is as strong as death.
The first song they danced to, at the reception, when I could finally cry my wedding tears and wasn't so caught up in my role that I had to take appropriate distance from my emotions, was this ben folds song, 'the luckiest.' The amazing bluegrass band that played there learned it just for them. The last verse pretty much says it.
"Next door there's an old man who lived to his nineties
And one day passed away in his sleep
And his wife; she stayed for a couple of days
And passed away
I'm sorry, I know that's a strange way to tell you that I know we belong..."
There it is.
And I am pained and proud to carry my identity as a lover into the hospital room and into the wedding feast. I got to write the pronouncement part of their wedding. I'll close with what I said there:
"This world is often full of struggle and hardship. We walk daily amidst sickness, amidst news of wars and death and tragedy, amidst injustices on a grand and intimate scale.
In the face of this, the greatest gift that one of us can give to another is a constant, faithful, loving presence.
Therefore, it is my great pleasure, to stand before the gathered community today, and to stand before Kenneth and Kate. I do not only stand for myself, but also for the gathered and the scattered Loved Ones, and for the Spirit.
Then, on behalf of all of these, here amidst these pines and these witnesses, I pronounce you Kate and Kenneth McGuinness, husband and wife."