A Chassidic Story.
In a faraway land, a council of Wise People provides their citizens with daily guidance and wisdom. One day, the Wise People get an alarming message. A kind of fungus has grown on some of the rye of the kingdom. Many have inadvertently eaten this grain, and it has changed them. They no longer see the world in the same way they once did. They think differently. They are transformed forever. There is no cure.
The council waits for further news. A report comes: the people who have eaten the rye are now suggesting to others that they, too, partake of the grain. It’s happening. Soon, everyone in the land will have eaten the grain. No one will be their old selves.
The Wise People have a dilemma: eat the grain, and lose their hold on reality, or refuse the grain, and before long, be rendered obsolete, unable to provide guidance and wisdom to a world transformed?
What do they do?
I’ll tell you later.
Obviously, I’m not the first person to get married. I’m not the first to write about the experience. And there’s tons of support and love from all around.
And before I say anything else, let me register this: I am thrilled beyond thrilled to be getting married to the most amazing person.
But the fact of the matter is, nobody can offer me real-time, “I know what you’re going through” hand-holding. Everybody sees my current state through their own filter – their own projections, their own memories. The result: lots of well-wishers, not a lot of true understanding, and a ton of unrequested advice.
My least favorite: “Just enjoy this special time!”
Yes, I know it’s special. It’s so special that I have almost nothing to compare it to, try as I might. “About to get married” is surreal, beyond comprehension, impossible to understand — for me, and for nearly everyone else. Every day in the U.S., about 6000 people get married. That’s 84,000 people dwelling, as we speak, in the “two week window.” That’s only 0.0056 % of the American population. Effectively, nobody knows what we “about to be married” folks are experiencing.
What about veterans who’ve been married for 42 years? What about newlyweds? The reality is: both are on the “other side of the veil,” so to speak. You can do your best to remember, but your status has been altered, your mind changed. You will never know the feeling of “never having been married” ever again.
And that’s why: “Enjoy this special time” probably feels like good advice to give.
Unfortunately, “enjoy” doesn’t seem like the right thing to do – any more than Jodie Foster’s Dr. Araway should enjoy the final hours before she embarks on her space voyage in Contact (1997). Does she want to go? Obviously. Is she excited to go? Obviously. But the encounter with infinity is, to borrow from German Theologian Rudolf Otto, one of “daunting awfulness and majesty.” Within this encounter of “mysterium tremendum,” there is the “uncanny…divine wrath…judgment…and the reassuring and heightening experiences of grace and divine love.” In her final days on Earth, it doesn’t seem like enjoyment can possibly be on her mind.
For me, getting married is a numinous voyage into space, never to return. And though Gabi is on this journey as well, only I know my own rocket ship and where it’s been.
Not much room in this tiny rocket ship for “enjoyment.”
This afternoon, Gabi and I sat by a beautiful water fountain and ate bagels.
This morning, I spoke with my mother and father about bringing to the wedding a photo from their own wedding, 50 years ago, and was filled with existential tingles.
Last night, I laughed hysterically with my future father-in-law, sipping whiskey and watching “Walk Hard.”
Yesterday, I had a phenomenal conversation with a friend about life and the ways our minds play tricks on us. I walked alongside a creek, watched the birds, and ate some tart wild raspberries.
Last week, my best friend conspired with my cousin and my future brother-in-law to spoil me with an afternoon of beach, bourbon, and buffalo chicken. Cigars may have been involved.
We returned to my cousin’s house to shower and freshen up for dinner, and standing in the living room in my towel, sipping coffee and watching the afternoon wind whip through the palm trees, I felt like a prince.
And utterly enjoyed it.
So what did the Wise People do, watching while the world around them progressed into a new state – Wise People, perched between obsolescence and the absolute unknown? Eat the rye? Not eat the rye?
Each made a mark on his or her forehead, to remind them, and to remind each other, that once, they were different. They made a mark, and together, they ate the rye.
This blog post is my mark.