by Robert P. Barsanti
At eight in the morning, the bride was running down Main Street along with her photographer, her maid of honor, her intended and two other guys in tuxedos. She was carrying her shoes in one hand, the hem of her dress in the other. She was flying on the wind of social media but the photographer wasn’t keeping up. You have got to get the light when it’s just right.
I was having a Billionaire’s Breakfast that morning. A coffee, a muffin, and the wide cloudless cerulean blue of Canadian air over-slipping the island. The nonbillionaires had taken the boat back to the savagery of Newton and New Rochelle, while the Members of the Club had flown in. Their houses that had been dark on Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Race Week, were now lit up in the cool of autumn. The Members retreated into their Nantucket safe harbor, away from the crash and din of summer. Walled-in by the hedges and guarded by the calendar, the Billionaires get the protection and the peace they were promised. And that autumnal light brushed on their lawns and tinted on the eighteenth hole.
The Weddings hope for that light. Against the still, dappled harbor, the loving couple absorbs this golden autumn and blossoms into it. Years ago, the Brides of Nantucket figured out that the weather in the fall was much better for photo sessions at the beach, on the harbor, and in waist-high beach grass. The spring had fogs, rains, and sweaters that hid the glory of The Dress. But, when the sun is in Libra, the colors pop, the stars spin, and we all throw bird seed at the beaming bride.
Wedding Weekends follow a familiar tempo. The guests arrive on Friday, for the rehearsal dinner and welcoming shenanigans. Saturday morning is reserved for leggings, sunglasses, and hydration. Some get in a run, some go shopping, some form quorums and power walk the bricks. The agenda is full: they review the old business before entertaining the new.
By the afternoon, the ceremony looms, followed by a reception, a change of clothes, and a long wait on Dave Street before Sunday’s promises, pictures, and packing. Before the sun sets on the weekend, the flowers have been cleaned up, the presents packed, and the beds made.
In between the coffee and the cocktails, amid the inns and the invoices, after the entrance and before the encore, something takes root. Something hard, something that sticks, something real is sowed in the sandy soil. At the center of all of this trouble, treasure, and travel, the couples look at each other, take a breath, and make a vow. In that moment, before the music starts and the dancing begins, they plant something in the beach grass and rosa rugosa. They hope it will remain and grow tough.
Our modern world has exploded the old; we have abandoned ritual for habit. We don’t go to morning mass, we work out. We don’t meet our friends after mass for coffee, we go to the gym and get a juice. And even that habit, on a dark afternoon, stays home and turns into digital lurking, swiping, and streaming. We work more, we marry later, and our lives are more digital than real. So when we marry, we fashion our own lonely rituals out of the Take it or Leave It of our pasts. We don’t make our vows in front of an altar and a priest, using the words of our grandparents: love, honor, obey. Instead, we root about in our scraps for the right words to plant in our sand. It’s hard to write your own Bible.
I have stood on Brant Point when Reverend Ted tied the knot, and I was there when Queen Catherine did it. They had their words: “the ring is a circle…” They both pointed out the horizon, not only that it represented the future, but the infinite. In front of the infinite, Ted said, we are all very small. And we need all of the help we can get.
Every vow asks the same thing. There is only one thing we can desire. “I know I will screw up, but will you remain?” When it all comes down, and we are sitting at the table, with coffee, at two in the morning, will you stay? When there is a knock at the door, will you stand with me? Will you be my safe harbor?
We know that we are losers. We have scars and tattoos and photo libraries that prove it. We carry cardboard boxes of trophies too painful to throw out. We have been guilty and guiltless, heartsore and heartless. When we made our first steps that brought us to Brant Point, we agreed to forget, to forgive, and to have faith.
Love isn’t a place but a verb. Hope isn’t a prayer, but a breath. A marriage isn’t a bed, but a table. That’s the vow. No matter what, I will remain.
On the same day that the bride whet racing after the light, another couple celebrated their forty-sixth anniversary. Nearly half a century of books stacked on the floor, magazines on the counters, and dog hair on everything. When this anniversary came, it walked in the door with the mail. It didn’t sing, it didn’t lead a Congo line, it didn’t come with a knock or with a handdelivered envelope. It just came, like everything else, with dirt on its shoes and a bad hair cut.
In that moment, when the two of them sit at the table and watch the years line up, they see the children, and the grandchildren. They see the friends, and the cars, and the dogs. They see the clutter that has come and the clutter that has remained.
For several years by a kitchen window in that house, an immense fat frog floated in a green bowl, surrounded by old bills and dead leaves. It didn’t leap, it didn’t croak, it didn’t die. Nobody took it from the water for play time or dress up. Instead, it ate, and lived, and remained. Such is a successful marriage. It remains.
The safe haven that the Billionaires seek out here may keep them from the chaos and the crazy of the future. It will give them tee times and reservations, it will save them from civil wars and climate change, but it won’t save them from time. Our only safe harbor is each other. We make promises to each other—vows— and we do our best to stay when we screw up, to sit down when we want to run away, to speak when we want to lock down in silence. Our only refuge is each other, tied wing to wing and oar to oar. That is how we will remain.