A Magpie recently asked me to recommend a reading at her daughter’s wedding. What sprang to mind first was “The Exhortation Before Marriage,” a pre-Vatican II relic that was at one time frequently included in sermons during nuptial Mass. My father has read this beautiful rite before each of the weddings of his five children, often holding back tears. I think frequently of its solemn words and especially of the following passage:
“This union, then, is most serious, because it will bind you together for life in a relationship so close and so intimate, that it will influence and direct your entire future from this day forward. That future, with its hopes and disappointments, its successes and failures, its pleasures and its pains, its joys, and sorrows, is hidden from your eyes. You know that these elements are mingled in every life, and are to be expected in your own. And yet, not knowing what is before you, you take each other for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death. Truly then, these words are most serious.”
What moves me about the passage is the silhouette of two hopeful people holding onto one another as they stand with their heels to a cliff. Marriage is an act of optimism. I mean that not in the cynical sense that relationships can fail, but in the sense that, in spite of the that fact that marrying someone else doubles the unknowns and the likelinesses that we will encounter heartbreaks and tough times, we opt in. Conversely, of course, we have twice the number of triumphs and windfalls to celebrate. Life has been rewarding to my husband and I during these past twelve years of marriage together, but not gentle. We have pioneered our way through, clinging to one another, occasionally — it has felt — against the wind. But we have also found joy, meaning, and pleasure in the adventure.
When I stood on the altar at 26, I did not see this clearly. I was acting solely and unconditionally out of love. I am glad for that ignorance, blessed by it. Even if I did not fully appreciate the seriousness and sacrament of marriage as I entered into it, at least I arrived un-freighted and with the purest and happiest of intention. I knew only that I had found a good man, as solid and sturdy as they come. Do you know how some people shapeshift and dodge? How they come and go? How they make hollow noises? Not Landon, not ever. Before we were married, we were driving on Route 66 in his boxy old Jeep and the engine gave out while we were cruising at 65 MPH. Only I had no idea that anything was wrong, or that we were imperiled. He did not say anything. He immediately and wordlessly shifted gears, put on his hazards, and safely pulled onto the shoulder. Once there, he did not complain about the inconvenience. It just was, and he was there to take care of it. That is his way: uncomplicated, straight-forward, what’s-the-use-of-crying-over-spilled-milk, with a touch of flinty determination. There are hundreds of stories just like this, but when I look back on myself standing at the altar next to him, I remember thinking: “This is a man who will stand, unflustered, with me, come hell or high water or engine failure on Route 66.”
I don’t know that the exhortation will be the right choice for the Magpie who wrote in, but I do know that its sentiment continues to ring authentic with each passing year. Every time I revisit its words, I find new richnesses, as though dough laminated with new folds. Truly then, those words are most true.
+I wrote about the exhortation here, too, just after my sister married her wife in a Zoom wedding!
+On ode to Landon’s Jeep — “his foil and ferry.”
+Sometimes I miss “the befores.”
+When a young Landon visited me abroad.
+Dudley Stephens is running an archive sale, with select pieces up to 75% off. I can’t believe this striped style is only $42!
+Absolutely love this tiered Ulla dress — eyeing for myself…
+I have used these inexpensive planners to organize my life the past two years and they’ve been fantastic for my needs. However. I’m kind of…wanting…to treat myself to this Smythson one for 2023? It is absurdly expensive but so gorgeous and for something I use heavily on a daily basis…it would spark such joy. I think the pages are too small, though. I create long to-do lists for each day and don’t think I’d have enough space. I also recently heard about the ones from Appointed, but they’re already sold out of the daily style for 2023. Worth a gander if you rely on weekly/monthly planners instead.
+While we’re talking Smythson: take a look at their incredible Black Friday sale section! This wallet is gorgeous, and how chic are these little notebooks for fellow list-makers?
+Word on the street is that these under-$30 leggings are VERY similar to Lululemon Aligns.
+An on the subject of Lululemon: these wildly popular sherpa belt bags were restocked. However, you can find a very similar style with 4,000 positive reviews on Amazon for $22. I love the chocolate brown?
+I have this moss tree in my cart.
+These sweatshirt socks sold out last year. Great stocking stuffer / secret santa gift / gift to self.
+You know I have difficulty saying no to a highlighter. I really love everything I’ve ever tried from Kevyn Aucoin — I feel like we don’t hear about that brand enough.
+Adore this wintry floral top.
+Grace + James is running a great sale and I wish this green velvet dress came in mini’s size!
+This SEA dress was a bestseller in the black colorway, but it’s on sale in a chic goldenrod hue here.
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8 thoughts on “An Act of Optimism.”
Thank you, Thank you for your response. This is beautiful and moved me to tears. I lost my husband unexpectedly five years ago and am now working through the marriage of our daughter without him. Your words ring true to my own marriage and thoughts on love and commitment. Your eloquence is appreciated more than you know. So grateful to you. Thank you.
I’m so deeply glad this spoke to you — thank you for taking the time to let me know. I am sure it must be challenging and emotional to be planning this wedding without your husband — sending you love.
wow, that reading on marriage – will be mentally bookmarking for my siblings’ future time at the altar!
two other things – FULLY endorse appointed products. i’ve used & gifted their notebooks for years, the quality is amazing (and i love that they’re a dc local brand – i usually order online and pickup at their storefront/mini warehouse nearby). also, i’ve been debating that sherpa lulu belt bag for weeks now (!). i have it already in black and use it constantly… trying to decide if i can justify a duplicate.
as always, love these posts!
Oo did not realize that Appointed was local! Thanks for letting me know — now even more intrigued.
I think you need the second sherpa bag. I use my belt bags constantly!
This is so beautiful, Jen. I am also Catholic and expected to make a speech at my brother’s wedding in December, What you wrote about marriage being an act of optimism is so perfect that I might just have to quote it in my speech – as long as that’s okay with you, of course!
Even as a lifelong cynic and serial non-monogamist, this post was so touching. Thank you!
I’m so glad this spoke to you – those words are just gorgeous. I would be honored for you to borrow whatever language you’d like for your toast!!
I purchase my planner every year from Gallery Leather out of Maine. They have a great quality item in all their planners.
Had not heard of this brand! Looking into!