for Alex and James
Everything was ready for the wedding last week at Red Clover in Vermont, where my brother Leon and his partner Deb have lived and farmed for decades. My nephew James was marrying his sweetheart Alex, and on the hillside overlooking the valley an arbor of birchwood stood festooned with sunflowers and goldenrod for the ceremony. In the meadow below, tables were set up in a big white tent and people starting to take their places alongside the pond while my daughter Rebecca took out her viola to play the processional music. The one year-old flower girl threw petals onto the grass and the bride, radiant on her father’s arm, took her first steps down the flower-strewn path to meet her groom beneath the arbor.
It was pure romance!
Waiting at the arbor, I noticed that James was fidgety, gazing up at the sky instead of towards his bride, and then I saw why. Puffy white clouds in blue sky were giving way to big dark thunderheads, and between one breath and another the air turned cold, the first streak of lightning tore down with a shriek and was followed immediately by an earthshaking assault of thunder and wild, torrential rains. The winds shook in sudden gusts as we all scattered, sloshing down the hill at a run, already ankle-deep in water. In the melee I bumped into my nephew and jestingly called out,
“Whadd’ya think, James?”
He hollered back at me, “It’s practice for life in the real world!”
He was right.
Like scurrying ants we crowded into the sodden tent where the wind was upsetting plates and wineglasses and flowers. Way too wet there, we made for the barn – too cluttered – then at last towards the 18th century farmhouse where we all crammed, dripping, into the ancient kitchen, laughing and shivering. The bride was crestfallen and the Red Clover community held her close.
These people – and I count myself an itinerant amongst them – had come of age as renegade hippies during the ‘60s, many on this very land and in this farmhouse kitchen, creating home and family while a mad war raged in Vietnam, learning how to farm and provide for themselves and their neighbors. Eventually, when the war was over, many spread out to learn trades, do good works elsewhere and raise families, though my brother stayed – long, cold winters notwithstanding – to farm and call the place home. But the original community has stayed tight and committed even at a distance and eventually purchased the eighty acres, returning to help with harvests and renovations, weddings and holidays, sharing costs and friendships over these many decades.
For me, it has been the home of my heart for more than thirty years.
Now, the original group are all grayheads with two generations of our progeny, and we squeezed chock-a-block into the old parlour and followed Deb’s lead. “Everyone,” she called out, “sit on the floor! Leave a path for the procession! The hearth is the altar! Becca, play! Now! Go!”
We squeezed in even tighter as Alex and her father emerged from the crowded kitchen to walk down the makeshift ‘aisle’ created by her soaking wet new family, and we all started crying.
“Turn around and do it again!” Deb directed – the old parlour being very small, after all – and they turned and processed back towards the kitchen, then back again into the parlour where Alex and James met by the hearth and her father backed out through the crowd. The stage was set, the officiant took her place, abandoned her notes and the improvised ceremony began. It blew all our hearts open.
We found ourselves bonded in community, then and now and forever, no matter what, and not one person complained of discomfort – not even the kids, who thought it all a great adventure. Taking place was simply the latest turn of events in the ongoing cycle of birth, life and death in this very room for at least two centuries, a wedding of lovers pledging to take on whatever joys and hardships their lives together in this time would bring.
Their marriage was witnessed and blessed by their community, again and again as we spoke our love and our prayers for them and remembered blessings from those no longer amongst us, and the old walls heard us, and we held one another tight and wept as the pelting rain lessened and the dark clouds moved on. The eaves were dripping their water music and Alex and James exchanging rings and kisses when someone shouted out,
“Oh my God, there’s a double rainbow!” and untangling ourselves off the floor we all rushed outside where, spanning bright over the wooded hills of this blessed place, two matching rainbows arched triumphantly across a rapidly brightening sky like a blessing, like a prayer, like an omen.
What had been a meticulously prepared-for event, no detail left out, became something else entirely, and exactly at the last moment! Brilliantly. In the twinkling of an eye, the will and love of a committed community of people alive with a sense of what was necessary in the moment created something new, magical and right. These folks had known one another through years of struggle, making their own lives in a world gone crazy and they knew that things often went wrong, but had learned that together they could take on what came up and do whatever they needed to do, and to do it well.
We’re all doing the same thing now, though the stakes may seem a little higher now. All the more reason to take heart and do the necessary, day by day, and to find our friends and come together in the community we all are whether we know it or not.
We did it at Red Clover when it had to be done, and I wager, with a little help from our friends and neighbors, we can do it in the world.
Of course we can! Whyever not?