I’m getting married soon. It’s a door I’ve walked through twice before, and some of the rooms I know well. I’ve stood in the vestibule of good intentions, peering down the dark halls, a chill on the spine, and for good reason! But I never made it to the hallway’s end, to the high arches, to the great winding stairs that lead down and down, ending somewhere I can’t imagine, to rooms that open on what rooms become after years, but not just years, effort, but not effort alone, for I’ve paid in years and effort and didn’t get to the heart of the house, not having discovered the way to my own heart.
Now I’ve beat a trail there, a narrow path that circles itself uncertainly where shadows still menace. But I walk it, trusting it more than the broad boulevards that beckon with every freedom, thrills without chill, houses you can be sure of. And it leads me to this door, this house haunted and blessed.
I enter it with a wife, my two daughters and her son — branches of other trees, a “family,” but not really: when the children are with us, we act that way; when they go, branches scrape the heart. Their room, empty, breathes quieter than their softest breath. Softer still the tears at the damned goodbyes.
God, too, enters the house. Otherwise, we’d be fools to try. People change; commit to sunshine, get the darkening sky. Romance is no shelter; it’s a shack built of lies. We build to last; hurricanes last as long. So God bless the storm.
Love is no lie. And no lie is loving. Once, I lived a lie for a year, thinking I was protecting my family. I’d fallen in love, and fell like a stone, and the stone, gathering speed, almost killed me. My family it broke in two. I hadn’t learned that truth and love are the same. If, in the name of love, I make something more important than truth, it’s a forgery.
But talking about truth isn’t the same as being truthful. A cheap drug, talk, but we never stay high. In every song, the off-note, the bruised air, the echo of hurts not shared. Keeping it in, even as we talk about it. We can talk ourselves into anything — even a marriage — and out of it, too.
Silence teaches what no words can. Not the awkward silence that denies the heart, but the silence that shuts out the din of me. For just a moment, perhaps; for that moment I’m free. A tap at the window. Old friend insecurity. Would I like company? Wordless I sit, and chip away the misery.
Each day, Norma and I sit in silence and prayer, together and unspeakably alone: serpents are there, wrecked hopes, driftwood dreams. Alone, we face the waves that pound Mind’s shore. Its changing shore, on which we think to build — a home? The pirate jeers. A life? An old hulk washes up, some forgotten disaster that once, too, caught the light. There’s no hope, really, no dream that time won’t twist, such ancient grief in all of us, tears to fill the sea. And deeper still, the deeper mystery.
Call it God or Christ or love. No matter. If empty I call, emptier it calls to me: to lay down time’s arrow and the mind’s long bow, my shield of separateness, my clanking pain, and come without protection to the home love kept for me. No lie this love. No false signature this holy name. No lover’s touch this touch that dissolves time’s chains.
No easy faith, but harder not to believe, take the wind-rippled surface for the deep, the wave-tossed plank for the living tree. No easy thing, a marriage, a life. Other voices call. Death, with dry throat, rasps our name. The world’s neon whine promises no end to pain.
Which voice to answer? The vow is made on the wedding day, the marriage itself of the clay of days, shaped by an imperfect love, the human heat of choice, made again, and again, and again.