Today I’m grateful

I’m up early, rolling little balls of sticky sausage and cheese for breakfast. Not the most pleasant kitchen task, but the little bites of savory are perfect with coffee on a cold November morning. More than that, these little bites are a traditional beginning to our winter holiday feasts. So I roll, getting the tray of uniform balls ready to bake, ready to serve when the group stirs.

As I roll I think, my mind free to wander as my hands are occupied with the sticky dough. And this day in November, my heart is full of thanks.

I’m thinking of all those people throughout the country who are working quietly, keeping things running, humming, even on a week day when most of us are off and home with family. The healthcare staff, the police, the crews working at airports, the military who’re on duty today, the folks keeping gas stations and convenience stores going for the benefit of travelers; I think of the lights that come on when I flip the switch, the oven that heats, the warm kitchen…I’m sure there are crews monitoring the utilities of our lives, making sure the turkey can roast and the cranberry salad stays chilled. And tomorrow, and on Saturday, crews will be out, making the rounds in trash and recycling trucks, taking away the remnants of the feasting, and the shopping, and the gathering.

I am a worker. But I don’t keep life stitched together. I’m essential only to a few souls on earth, and even that necessity is limited to a supporting role. And I recognize that. In one sense, none of us is essential. No one is irreplaceable. Life teaches us that, sooner or later.

But some people have chosen to take on life tasks that make them, for a time, essential. The odd thing is that many of those tasks also are invisible to the average person. Who sees, or knows, the names and faces of service workers? Other service workers, and their family members.

People contribute in many ways. We have a lot of teachers in my family. We have ministers, mothers and fathers, doctors, nurses, a truck driver, an undertaker, IRS agents, a cartographer, business owners and executives, writers, publishers, engineers, security guards, counselors, IT professionals, farmers…who have I left out? What a splendid array of professions, now that I see the list on my screen!

But just today, I’m thinking of the ones who cover call, whose jobs don’t take a break because the calendar says to…the folks who know that their turn will come, if not this holiday, then the next…it will be their turn to work when everyone else is off, and keep essential services up and running. To those people, I’m especially grateful. My lights came on, and I know if I have an emergency, someone will answer the call for help.

Thank you for being there, even when I’m too busy, in my holiday rush of list completion, to notice. And just now, with my hands covered in dough, my mind is still, calm for a moment, and I picture you, going about your routine, keeping us safe, keeping things humming, invisible but so necessary. Thank you for choosing hard jobs, and long hours, and for doing the (often) thankless and unglamorous tasks. Thank you for giving up your family time, and for making mine possible.

Here comes the bride!

The Fairytale

It’s summer, the bridal season: the most popular time of year for weddings. I was looking through a Bride magazine a few days ago, waiting in the check-out line in the grocery, and a beautiful dress caught my eye. No, I’m not in the market for a wedding dress. I got married almost 30 years ago. My daughter got married five years ago, and she had a beautiful gown. She doesn’t need another. Hopefully the marriage she’s in will last her.

But though I’m not shopping for a dress, I couldn’t resist looking closer at the classic and elegant fairytale image on the magazine rack. And why is that? Does the dress make the event? Is it really the show-stopper? Yes. We all want the fairytale, and the dress, the big wedding, the traditions, the special touches all combine to convince us: this will last. This is true love.

I’ve had a plethora of relationship issues swirling about me in the past few months. Multiple couples in my life, at various ages and stages of relationships, are in trouble. I don’t want to oversimplify, and there’s no one fix for all. But as I was venting about one of these situations last weekend with Rob, he suddenly smiled and said that it would be more appropriate if couples got married in construction work clothes rather than fancy dress; more true to life if the bride and groom carried tools to symbolize the never-ceasing work required to build a marriage, rather than the classic bouquet and boutonniere.

I had to smile at the thought too. Imagine, instead of the fairytale scene of an outdoor wedding on a June day, or the symbolism of ancient traditions in a church, imagine you attended a wedding all dressed up in your finest Saturday paint clothes, or the outfit you choose for yard work? What if you and the others who attend the wedding to show support and love for the couple came armed with all sorts of items to help with the daily chores of life and marriage? Cleaning supplies, budget programs, self-help books, counseling resources, babysitters? What if each couple standing up to share their vows faced a sea of people visibly committed to supporting the marriage in good times and bad, with practical, emotional, spiritual and physical assistance?

Well, it would be symbolic, that’s for sure. I understand that in fact, many couples do receive support from family and friends, and many enter marriage at an older age and with more life experience under their belts. I know that wearing one costume or another doesn’t guarantee the degree of sincerity or the ability to stick with a hard situation, through difficult times. But I think that it might make a striking impression on everyone involved if there was a visual demonstration of the work a couple commits to with their exchange of vows.

I thought about the reality of that scene for a few moments…no, it would never fly. Most brides, or mothers of brides, want the photos, the memories, the big event. And I understand that. That’s what I had, what I wanted. So I came up with a compromise concept.

Here’s my proposal: Just like the work of preparing for a party comes before the actual party, so the symbolic work of getting married should come before the celebration of getting married. The wedding would be a two-part event: the couple invites guests to join them for the ceremony and the dress code is work clothes, the grubbier, the better. Each guest is invited to bring something to symbolize a part of marriage and family. The couple shares their vows, and then there is a short break for guests and the bridal party to move on to the second stage of the wedding: the fairy tale. This re-staging of the marriage vows, complete with bridal pomp and circumstance, is the celebration and the photo-op that is the wedding portrait.

Yes, a bit cumbersome to go through a double event to commemorate a marriage. But after all, if it’s really supposed to last a lifetime, surely an extra hour or two is worth it? And what better way to impress upon bride and groom, as well as family and friends, that the foundation of marriage takes work and effort, from the very beginning? The fairytale is important too, because it symbolizes the part we all hope for: the happily-ever-after, the beautiful bride, the handsome groom, the perfect scene.

I don’t mean to imply that anyone going through relationship difficulties hasn’t tried hard enough or worked at making things work. I know a lot of people do their very best, but that doesn’t always equal happiness or the ability to last. No relationship is fail-proof. I’ve had experience of that myself: my relationship has had it’s ups and downs, some of them severe. I know a bit about difficulties, and about overcoming.

Well, this probably won’t be the new cutting edge in weddings…too involved. But maybe the next time you’re invited to a wedding, along with the traditional gift of china or crystal, linens or kitchen appliance, you can add a practical tool or two to send the message: it’s work. It’s hard work. But don’t be afraid of it. Like most things that require hard work, making a marriage out of a wedding takes energy, creativity, passion, determination, selfless giving, and a lot of luck. But the result will be worth it. So worth it.

Photo from here