Saturday, June 14, 2014

On Premieres and Promises

Earlier this month I went to my first movie premiere (in New York City!) to see The Fault in Our Stars, the film based on that book author John Green dedicated to my daughter, Esther. But you knew that. Beforehand, I wondered, would some of our story –our love- be on the movie screen for all to see? There’s a bigger story here because that day was also the celebration of our 30th wedding anniversary! On June 2, 1984 Lori and I said “Yes!” for better or worse and there’s surely been a bit of worse (mostly self inflicted) and a lot of better (also mostly self inflicted).

I married a fascinating woman with amazing integrity, an engaging personality and we both had 20-something bodies, believe it or not! I loved that woman then and I love the one I share my life with now. The gift I was given has only grown richer and I am grateful. But you know that, too. Here’s the thing. The poets urge us to remember that love is not love without an object and can find itself only in its giving. Love cannot be hoarded. I signed up then for this lifetime of loving but I’ve since learned that there’s an agony to intimacy, a terror in this twosome. You can’t get close without hurting each other. Pain should be written up in the vows: “You’ll feel betrayed; you will be betrayed. You will feel devastated and you will be devastated...” Yeah. Every successfully married couple speaks of this mutual dying.

When we first read TFiOS, Lori said it was like the “love story Esther never got to have.” That took my breath away!  And recently our beautiful and gospeled Evangeline (her name means “one who brings the good news”) wrote that John’s story seemed a kind of sequel to Esther’s interrupted life. As I sat in the theatre at the premiere, I was worried that I would see Esther again and I was sure it would be impossible for me to know her as resurrected only to once again lose her with the lifting of the lights. A second death is a forever death. But there, in that packed movie house with my beloved wife and daughters by my side, my heart said okay and so it was that, yes, I saw her there. Many, many moments and places were familiar to me, and to us.
As I watched Gus work his magic, I remembered Wayne-the-young-man and recalled how hard I had to work to win the affection of Lori-the-teenager. And then, one day as I stood in our college parking lot and stared at her, it happened. Uncomfortable with my staring she said, “What? What are you looking at?” (Forget John Green the teen whisperer -he’s a Human Whisperer! All love is unique; all young love is alike.) I then asked her to “turn around, turn around slowly” which she did, thankfully -though reluctantly! “Why? What are you doing?” she said as she turned slowly and perfectly, smiling at me, playing along. “Why?” I said, “Because you’re beautiful.” I really said that! I was already in love and, in that moment she said yes to my love and willingly offered her own. (The wedding was just the telling-everybody-else-part of our love story.)

I think TFiOS has resonated with so many not because of engagement with existential questions about life and death but because it focuses on questions about life and love. Someone once said that we miss our dead because we loved their bodies and that’s why it hurts so much to lose them. It’s an unnatural ripping of the flesh. I used to think it maudlin to read of an earlier time when lockets of hair were kept and worn as mementos, specifically because of the physicality. The dead brought close through morbidity seemed a bit ridiculous to me, even absurd. I wish I had a bag full of Esther’s hair now.

We lose the body of the other in death, or divorce, and a myriad other lesser losing’s and we eventually lose our own bodies and ourselves as well. (Those who’ve given birth must understand this at a level I will never comprehend.) Personality can be kept, captured seemingly forever in amazing digital images and one’s beloved embeds even deeper in the neural pathways of the brain, but nothing is more enduring (spiritus-infinite?) than loving another with an open heart, and choosing to receive in kind. I think that’s the message of Fault and, for me, it's worth a second 30 year, I Promise. So “catch my hand..." But coupled or not, romantic and otherwise, all our loving will include a measure of “weeping in the night” as the Hebrew Scripture says, and along with the tears a promise of temporary orphaning for, “Joy cometh in the morning.”

“Our love was made for movie screens”? No. Something bigger. But, then you already knew that.
"Newly Engaged!" Idyllwild, CA Summer 1983.