I've been living in the car. In the last few weeks, I've been four hours north, three hours west, five hours south, and nine hours east, all those miles in the comfort of a ten-year old gargantuan Buick, so it's not been tough. Still, all that driving leaves me tired when finally I hit the driveway. No matter how sweet a ride, no matter how many hours sitting quietly behind the wheel, the distances have been exhausting.
This weekend we chased across a couple states for the wedding of our good friends' son, a gorgeous affair. Weddings welcome us into intimacy like nothing else we do, I suppose, a whole congregation of dressed-up well-wishers oohing and ahhing, even applauding when the preacher, speaking for the state, allows the couple to stand up there in front of the multitude and celebrate their vows and their love with their very first married kiss. We're there. We see it. We're witnesses. We blush. They don't.
When weddings work, when they're wonderful, as most of them are, they're like no other public ritual of our lives; they make us smile, even laugh. We're witness to unsullied passion that's altogether too intimate and therefore inappropriate at any other time or day, endless nuzzling and smooching in a chorus of tinkling glasses. Even if there were nothing to drink, there's just nothing sober about a wedding.
The skies were overcast on Saturday, but when the photographer snuck the blessed pair away from the madding crowd for a few sweet shots, and the bride, right in the middle of a perfectly staged yet entirely beloved kiss, stood foon one foot and raised the other well-heeled foot up behind her, I swear the clouds disappeared.
There were two reasons for our trip--the wedding and a visit home, my childhood home. My mother will soon be 93 years old. If she had a choice and the end would come swiftly, I'm quite sure she'd choose to celebrate that birthday in the heavenly world to come, for what may well be her last days are no fun for anyone. She fell recently, doesn't know how or why. What she knows is back pain and the fact that, at her age, real healing can take forever. Pain-killers put her in an awful funk, and nothing inside her moves. She finds it difficult to get out of her chair, even though she knows that not moving is itself an awful sentence.
This weekend, I saw my mother in a way that I saw my father in the time before he died, helpless as a toddler, only more so. I saw my mother in ways she never saw her parents or her in-laws, all of whom died much younger than she's become--and they did so quite quickly, as if not to cause a fuss. We live in a different age now, when life goes on and on and on; and while we have cause to celebrate our new longevity, those added years are only sometimes a real blessing.
There's a semi-circle of pictures sitting on the coffee table in my mother's room, all her great-grandchildren lovingly assembled like a chorus. Those pictures--and what they hold--are just about her only joy in life. They are hers, after all, her legacy, her descendents; but they're also her link to what she remembers as promise and blessing and joy. They are life. She has faith too, although this weekend I saw and heard that tested.
We came home last night just after eight, nine hours on the road behind us. On the map, the distance was significant; but in the soul, the distance between loving on one hand and dying on the other was almost too exhausting.