• 64°

Wishing happiness to marriages

By TJ Ray

As a student of words, I often find myself at a loss for them. Sometimes it is the combination of simple words that gets my attention. For example, consider the stark language of a very powerful though: I am.

Even without a following listing of what I may be, those words make a powerful proclamation.

Thinking of short announcements that are highly significant, can you find one more meaningful than these: I do? How many couples will repeat that sentence before today is done. They will do it in glitzy wedding chapels in Las Vegas. Others will do it in small rural churches with a few friends present. Some will do it in cathedrals full of well-dressed folks and many attendants and flowers. And a few will repeat it in front of a justice of the peace.

At the quintessential moment a person says “I do” the world changes forever. Even the government acknowledges the change. Just ask the IRS. And quite likely, the two people saying those words have hearts jam-packed with a conviction that they will live up to the promises just posed to them by the preacher or JP.

It’s really not a complicated deal. Each one commits to caring for and taking care of the other for the rest of their lives. No ands, ifs or buts. They say in two little words “I will share my life in every way with you till the end.” The end of a happy marriage sadly is death. At that point the survivor finds himself or herself yet again in a new world, one that filters all future experiences with a shadow of the love that went away.

Sadly, the sanctity of that commitment is displayed in strange unions these days. We watch celebrities go in and out of marriages almost seasonally. We have a person seeking legal marriage with his dog. We still have marriages that have more than two participants. And we have many folks living together who never marry — which doesn’t mean they can’t observe the significant aspects of I DO.

And this month — surrounded by flowers and boxes of candy and other hoopla — people will celebrate all this on Valentine’s Day, a day named for an early Roman who helped Christian couples to wed. And lost his head in the process. As a medievalist, I am happy that one of “my” authors, Geoffrey Chaucer, may in fact have invented that special day.

No record exists of romantic celebrations on Valentine’s Day prior to a poem Chaucer wrote around 1375. In his work “Parliament of Foules,” he links a tradition of courtly love with the celebration of St. Valentine’s feast day — an association that didn’t exist until after his poem received widespread attention. The poem refers to Feb. 14 as the day birds (and humans) come together to find a mate. When Chaucer wrote, “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day / Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate,” he may have invented the holiday.

I hope I’m not out of line in wishing happiness and harmony to all folks living as husband and wife. Keep in mind one of the key phrases in that rite you participated in, “till death do us part.” My point is that as death is inevitable, you must be vigilant to share your love at every opportunity you have. When I hear the phrase “the love of my life,” my reaction is to mentally correct that to be “my love for life.” A fitting end to what I’m trying to say might be a paragraph from a Civil War letter Ken Burns used in his fine work: “But, O Sarah, if the dead can come back to this earth, and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you in the garish day, and the darkest night amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours always, always, and, if the soft breeze fans your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air cools your throbbing temples, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah, do not mourn me dear; think I am gone, and wait for me, for we shall meet again.”

T.J. Ray, a retired professor of English at the University of Mississippi, can be reached at tjmaryjo@bellsouth.net.