Being firmly (I think) in the middle of life, I find myself drawing far more than before on my own experience to understand life’s events, time’s passage and current moments.
While it is indeed and will always be true that all we actually have at any given moment is the present, it is also true that, more and more, I understand the present in light of the past.
I have a different understanding and appreciation of how hard it is to conceive and carry out major life endeavors.
I’m talking about big stuff here.
Like raising a child or finishing a book or sharing a life.
Dunreith and I got married three times.
The first was on Labor Day 2000.
She, Aidan and I stood together in a park we all loved under a tree that he had chosen with three roots that came together at the base.
Before Justice of the Peace Bruce Zeitler declared us man and wife, the three of us, holding hands in a circle, moved through the ceremony we had designed.
We celebrated by going to Whole Foods and Interskate 91 to rollerblade.
The second ceremony, a public one, took place 11 years ago today.
We returned to Look Park, but this time invited about 165 friends and their 50 children.
The hors d’oeuvres were potluck.
Dunreith’s friend Janet brought the flowers.
Our friend Carole, whose daughter had died of cancer the month before just shy of 30 years old and leaving three young girls behind, baked the cakes.
Dad and Diane bought a case of white wine from Washington State.
And Helen, my beautiful, beloved mother-in-law, after deliberately hanging back for months of planning, crammed more activity into the last three days than I ever could have imagined.
Dunreith, her father, Marty, Helen and I were at our apartment in Easthampton before driving to the ceremony in the same park.
Tired from all the preparations, I laid back on the couch on the first floor for just a minute.
“Enjoy it, Jeff, because tomorrow it’ll all be over,” Marty said.
He was right.
Helen prepared her only daughter for her walk down the aisle, and the three of them drove to Look Park in Cracker Curran’s vintage Ford convertible. Sitting in the front seat caused Marty’s balky knees to go halfway down his throat, but not so far down that you couldn’t hear his particularly hearty “Jesus Christ” in the next state.
But he kept driving.
Nothing would stop him from giving his daughter the day she wanted to have.
The two of them walked Dunreith down the aisle, too. Helen started an impromptu acapella version of “Here Comes the Bride” as they took the final steps before handing her symbolically and physically to me.
Bruce Zeitler opened the ceremony by saying, “It is a pleasure to be here once again in Look Park to marry Dunreith and Jeff.”
Mom read a poem she had written about us; it concluded, “The future looks good” – before Bruce once more pronounced us man and wife.
My friend Spencer Schock, a friend from freshman year at Stanford, married his lovely bride Heather on the same day.
This morning, 11 years later, we spoke.
He and Heather have made a life in Spencer’s hometown of Bend, Oregon and are raising their four children together.
Spencer and I mixed catching up on parenting, work and finances with references to humorous moments during our freshman year misadventures.
Today, while Dunreith took a walk with our dear friend Cheryl, I drove downtown to pick up my computer and do some data analysis on a new set I received on Thursday.
Mom and I spoke on the way down, and she filled me in on the Olympics’ opening ceremony.
After I returned, Dunreith and I went on a long, rambling bike ride, heading farther up north than we had ever gone before. The sky was clear blue with streaks of white clouds, the air was blue and we felt that we could do the 100-mile ride we have planned for two months from now today.
We stopped at the post office to mail the photos, video and audio commentaries to Russ Weller, the web designer who will help me move my book about former fourth grade teacher, mentor and friend Paul Tamburello to completion.
A few miles later, at the Starbucks in Glencoe, we bought a coffee and mocha frappuccino with whipped cream, savoring every last extravagant morsel of sugar and caffeine.
Then we biked north in earnest, ending up in Highwood, one of the state’s few majority-Latino populations. I walked into Nueva Imagen, a beauty salon, and chatted with Isidro, the owner and a Colombian who opened the place two-and-a-half years ago after working for someone else for a decade and a half.
When Dunreith and I were dating, she lived in Easthampton and I was in Boston. We talked every night. Among other things, it was the easy, intimate flow of conversation we shared that, for the first time in my life, made me feel that our relationship would never end.
The ride home was filled with that same kind of conversation I have always treasured. I shot hoops outside in our backyard for a little while, hearing the soothing sound of the ball passing through the net’s metal chains as my body once again answered the call of repeating the motion I have done hundreds of thousands of times during the past 40 years.
We ate some dinner and watched the latest series we are enjoying together. As I do nearly every night these days, I made popcorn, letting the canola oil roll around the bottom of the pan to make sure it was covered before filling the bottom and then some with the hard orange kernels.
Then I sat down to write this.
Much has changed in the past 11 years.
Marty and Diane left us in 2010.
Helen passed away last September.
Aidan is no longer a boy, but a young man with a full beard, deep voice, broad shoulders and his own decisions.
But what has not changed is the accuracy of what Marty said to me on our wedding day.
That truth can be extended to our life as a whole: At one point, it will be over.
But what is also true is that, if you allow yourself to do so, you can soak in almost unimaginable joy and gratitude from the memory of a public commitment based on present and betting on future love, from the pleasure of riding 25 miles with that same woman, from the laying the latest layer of a lifetime connection with family and friends, from the great gift of knowing what I love to do and giving myself the space to do so, and from the knowledge that we are working together to define and shape the life we want to live and to have lived.