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Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Marriage of Sorts

The Third Part of the Trip (you can read the first part here and the second part here):

The final part of the story is about something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue.

Before the kiss at the end of a Jewish wedding, the couple stamps on a glass, breaking it. There are a lot of reasons given for the breaking of perfectly usable stemware (stemware that could be used to imbibe large amounts of champagne if not for now being in three hundred and forty little pieces--though trying to keep people from imbibing large amounts of champagne is not given as one of the possible scenarios for the act). The most common reason given ties in the destruction of the Temple.

But I think it has to do with something else. You know, because I'm a big religious scholar and have the authority to dismiss the ideas of 30,000 Jewish wedding books.


Judaism is too symmetrical a religion to bring in some tangential piece of history without it having a counterpart in the ceremony. Which is why I think the breaking of the glass serves as a bookend for the breaking of the tenaim. Tenaim means "conditions" and when some Jews get engaged, they write out their vows to each other--all the conditions of the marriage. Josh and I did this, writing out all the unique things we wanted for our marriage and I painted it on a piece of pottery (a cut-paper version remains in our house).

We had our mothers smash the ceramic version of the tenaim and then put a piece of the broken pottery in a glass box and sealed it with a knotted ribbon. The symbolism was obvious--just like the broken pottery, our lives and possibly the lives of our families would be broken--unfixable--if we were to go back on these vows and not fulfill them. We gave each person in our family a piece of the tenaim so that we wouldn't have all the parts. It was the enormity of the commitment, but it was also a mindfulness as to what we were entering into by getting married. That once you start wrapping your lives around one another like that, it is heart breaking to rend the two lives apart. Do-able, of course, and sometimes necessary for the emotional health (or even safety) of the people in the couple. But it's a fool who thinks that divorce is ever easy or entered into without thought.

Shattered things are, by their very nature, painful.

The glass we broke at our wedding was blue.

Something Old

We drove up to Vermont in the rain. I wanted to go to the King Arthur Flour store. It is somewhat a baker's Jerusalem, a holy space with more meaning for me infused it in than a little store can handle. I have wanted to go there for many years--we are a King Arthur Flour house except for a few forays into Hodgson Mill (oh their vital wheat gluten; their vital vital wheat gluten). The ChickieNob and I love to go through the catalog together, moaning over the bread storage systems and specialty pans.

I'm not sure what I expected, but I had this buzzing in my spine that can only come from finally reaching a destination. It's probably more pronounced, let's say, for people who climb Mount Everest. But Vermont is a fair distance from D.C. and Norwich is a tiny town in Vermont--hardly a destination where you end up accidentally like New York or Chicago. You need to make a choice to go to Norwich, Vermont.

I ended up buying cautiously, keeping in mind the bags clogging the trunk from various stores we love in Massachusetts. I bought a bag of pumpernickel, a special rye blend, a rye flavouring, and a few bags of cake flour. Modest purchases with specific loaves of bread in mind. I just felt humbled to be in a space that I have loved from afar for so long.

Something New

Julie and her family met us at the King Arthur Flour store.

So why are the pictures from a Panera in New Hampshire? Because it also seemed like a good idea to play musical locations through two states.

This is what it was like finally meeting someone that I have read for so long. Actually, first let me explain my first date with Josh. Not that I'm planning on calling my mother at 11:30 p.m. again and waking her up for the second time to crow into the phone: "Mum! I just met the second person I'm going to marry!"

The best way I can describe my first date with Josh is that the conversation felt like standing in front of the flour display at the King Arthur store. I wanted everything there, by which I wanted to know everything about him. I had my first date with Josh several years after meeting him for the first time, therefore, I knew enough about him to know that it was worth investing the time in listening to his thoughts on everything from Ireland to sushi. With some first dates, you're simply trying to decide whether or not the person is worth engaging in detailed conversation; whether it's worth collecting and retaining all the small details that make up a person's life. I knew from the moment I entered his car that it was worth my time to remember everything he said because what he said was important. Fine, fine, all words are important, but the people you honour and respect deserve to have their opinions and desires and stories remembered.

And that is sort of how I felt about meeting Julie face-to-face for the first time. I knew enough about her from her writing to know that she was someone I was going to like and it was well-worth my effort to take in all of those small details because there was a lot to learn. Josh and Paul took the four kids to the Norwich library (after we gave them an impromptu snack of baked goods at their own kid table which included scintillating overheard conversation such as "do you like cars, Charlie? Do you like computers? Does your mommy let you type on her computer? I like to do Garage Band.") and we walked around the store, discussing everything from baking ingredients and cake disasters to other bloggers and writing in general.

It was an amazing convergence for me where the old--flour I've used for dozens of years--met the new, and both switched in a Freaky Friday-sort of a way. The store made me reexamine what I knew about baking as well as the shortcuts I'm prone to take. And being with Julie, someone relatively new in my life, felt so old and familiar. I was entirely comfortable with her from point one, which is a huge statement since I am generally quite shy and awkward and prone to vomiting when nervous. I only wish we had more time to talk--I had one thousand questions and only so much time to ask them.

Julie is exactly what you'd expect from her blog: intelligent, funny, circumspect, thoughtful, kind, and warm. She knows how to walk that fine line of teasing without drawing blood; the sort of teasing that sets the other person at ease and makes them feel as if someone small aspect of their life has been noted, made important enough to tease.

Maybe a better explanation of Julie, again in a story:

One time I wanted to get this writer's signature. He wasn't signing books, in fact, he infamously almost never signs books. But he was on our campus and I knew that he was at a reception in this particular room, socializing with some of the professors before he spoke to a small group of writing students. I walked into the room and entered this circle that the professors had made around him, hanging back towards the edge, just listening to him tell this story. But suddenly, everyone noticed me and was staring at me. The story stopped and my professors were glowering and one asked what I was doing in the room. I remember standing there, trying to think of how I could back out of the room, and the writer leaned forward and took my book out of my hands as well as a pen out of his pocket. He gave a laugh and a wave to the professors as if to say that it wasn't a big deal at all and they shouldn't make it a big deal. "She just wanted her book signed. No problem." He scrawled an inscription and handed back the book graciously. And then my professors made it clear that I was to leave immediately.

And that was what it was like to be with her. She held the graciousness of that author, the ability to make another person feel welcome. The ability to put others at ease is a gift.

And she is twice the writer of the unnamed author. I have a lot to learn by reading her work.

Something Borrowed

We borrowed a room in my aunt's house. The last time I was up in Vermont was more than ten years earlier. My cousin--her daughter--and I had driven up to her parent's house to get away from Western Massachusetts. We went swimming in the quarry. We made tomato sauce. We all ate out on the porch.

My cousin is my human harbour, more like a sister. She lived in Western Massachusetts at the same time. It is continued symmetry: our mothers were each other's bridesmaids and she was one of mine. I had tried to talk her into meeting us at her parent's house during the trip, but she had to work. Maybe I was trying to recreate the missing piece of taking back the area. How could I take back Western Massachusetts without incorporating the harbour that protected me emotionally those years? My cousin is my heart--then and now.

I told Josh that I wanted to go to Vermont for the flour store, but as we drove back towards Massachusetts, he asked if it subconsciously had to do with running away to the area I always ran away to towards the end of my time in Western Massachusetts. When I could no longer go out to study in Amherst or Northampton and risk running into people, I would drive up to Brattleboro and take over a cafe table up there.

When we drove up towards Norwich, stopping in Putney at the Sugar House, I felt a lightness. It was just like the lightness I felt when I drove up I-91, trying to escape even knowing I was going to return. Driving back down the highway after leaving Julie, the pit in my stomach returned once we exited onto Route 116 and we drove through my old town, the stretch of empty road to the school, the college buildings.

That is the problem with borrowed things--you always need to give them back.

Something Blue

I have always been a blue person. When I think of myself as a colour, I think of myself in hues of blue, even though orange is my favourite colour. My blueness has always been something that felt like it needed fixing, much like Western Massachusetts. Who wants to be blue? Who wants to be sad? It is something we strive to fix in this country.

When we drove back into Amherst, the sky was finally blue again after a long period of greyness. Not just figurative greyness, but the literal greyness of rain and clouds. I put on my sunglasses for the first time in 48 hours.

We went to the Eric Carle Museum and learned that we had the closing time wrong; there were fifteen minutes left in the day. The woman at the desk possibly could sense how much it meant for us to check our final item off the list. It might have been my voice cracking as I explained that we couldn't come back, we were returning to D.C. And that this final piece had to happen.

We ran through the exhibit as best as one can do with fifteen minutes to see multiple rooms of amazing illustrations. At first I tried to teach the twins Eric Carle's form of cut-paper art, but finally gave up and just let them enjoy the images.

My favourite pictures in the museum aren't actually in the exhibit. They're in the hall before you enter.

The canvases are enormous, demand attention. And they create a mood for the space. It is lighthearted, it is visual, it is joyful. The museum is just as much a showcase for the images as it is a celebration of illustration in general, the act of creating a picture.

Blue doesn't always have to be a sad colour. It doesn't always have to be a negative, something to fix. Blueness also brings with it other positive traits that other colours lack--a calmness, a slowness. Blueness, the waters, gave life to everything on earth. Blue is not necessarily a terrible colour to be if one needs to be a colour.

Because the problem with a synecdoche is that it dismisses so much of the heart, the fact that there is a convergence in most aspects of life, a symmetry. The yin and the yang. Hues of blue are not just a colour of sadness, but also great joy. Things that are old can become new with a visit and things new can feel quite old, as if you have known them for twenty years. The breaking of the glass bookends the spectrum of the betrothal--from engagement to the chuppah. A symmetry.

I learned from this trip that things that have shattered probably can't be repaired. But sometimes, things that you think need fixing are fine on their own. You can't take back a space and you can't repair a broken glass, but you can return, again and again, putting yourself into those terrible feelings because something beautiful can grow out of them as well.

And now, the story is complete.


luna said...

this is just a lovely post, a perfect contemplative end to this series. it sounds to me as if your trip was quite healing.

and wow, I didn't even know there was an eric carle museum!

sunflowerchilde said...

Beautiful story. I am so jealous both of your visit to New England (I went to school there, too, and although I hated the school, I miss New England very much) AND your visit to King Arthur!!!!! How I WISH I could go there!

battynurse said...

What a great post. I agree with Luna too that it sounds like the trip was healing. I also love the part where you talk about your wedding and giving the parts of the vows away.

Jennifer said...

This is an awesome post and it made me smile the whole way threw :) Thank you for sharing :)

Lori said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lori said...

Is this your way of revealing you are a Broncos fan (orange and blue)?

Seriously, though. Your last paragraph is poignant. Even though you may not have "fixed" what's broken, by recognizing its wholeness (both terrible and beautiful) you have reclaimed bits of yourself.

Going to check out your retweet button.

Somewhat Ordinary said...

Very lovely story! I really enjoyed hearing about the tenaim. Your words in that part of the post made me think of my own marriage and some struggles we're going through. It opened my eyes a little...thank you Glad you were able to heal a little through this new journey.

Kristin said...

What an incredible story. The way you have told this story really leaves me in awe of your writing ability.

Anonymous said...

I have loved reading this--all the parts of it, and you have left me wanting more and more, so hungry for more details.

I am a blue person, too. I also think that blue is not always sad. I think of blue skies, the blue of the ocean...there are myriad shades of blue that bring much joy and depth. I tend to think of blue as more of a deep color than a sad color--kind of like how I think about you.

Was that too cheesy? :)

bleu said...

Oh to visit King Arthur Flour store, what a treat!!!

I love your writing but still feel as if I have missed something about the Western Mass story, maybe due to my lack of internet time.

I send much love to you though, and blue..well I see it as protective, healing, soothing and calm.

Lorza said...

I am so irritated. I just typed a huge reply and I deleted it homehow. UGH. Gist of it was that I love the post- fishes beautiful.

Blue is my fav. color..same as the ocean- calming, cleansing and strong.

few. It was prettier the first time. :)

Jennifer said...

I was so excited to read this! I made myself wait until I could do it properly, with no interruptions. The last paragraph particularly is inspiring and thought-provoking...I'm so glad you found beauty and maybe even healing in the end.

Deathstar said...

Your whole post was beautiful, but the last paragraph really resonated with me. I feel like that broken piece - so hard to tell anyone that - they just think I'm being depressed when really I'm just stating a fact.

Oh, and a question - what's the best cake flour? And can I get it here?

Susie said...

You visited many of my favorite spots on your trip. I'm glad it was so healing.

Bea said...

I had a great comment and I lost it. It was awesome - probably more profound than anything you've ever heard before. Alack, forgotton in the interim.

I love your last paragraph. It's true - sometimes it's ok that things will never be the same again, even though it sucked to have them torn apart.


Jen said...

What a beautifully written post, and how exciting to get to meet one of the interwebs greats!