Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Every moment is magnificent (unless you're a worrier like me.)
"Has the most wonderful moment of your life already happened? Ask yourself that question. Most of us will answer that it hasn't happened yet, but that it could happen at any time. No matter how old we are, we tend to feel that the most wonderful moment of our life hasn't happened yet. We fear maybe it's too late, but we are still hoping.
"The teaching of the Buddha tells you clearly and plainly to make this the most magnificent and wonderful moment in your life. All you need to transform this present moment into a wonderful one is freedom. All you need to do is free yourself from your worries and preoccupations about the past, the future, and so on.
"The deep insight of impermanence is what helps us do this. It is very useful to keep our concentration on impermanence alive. You think the other person in your life is going to be there forever, but that is not true. So if you can do something to make that person happy, you should do it right away."--Thich Nhat Hahn, from You Are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment
I'm in Maine at the family cabin overlooking a pond. When I look up, I see the criss-cross of branches like a leafy dome covering my view of the blue sky. I am cold, having worn summer clothes on a September day in the north country. Even the two blankets that cover me up to my lips aren't keeping me warm. And yet, I'm on a hammock, reading a book, sipping wine on a beautiful near-fall day in the woods. I should drink this in, let the moment seep into my skin. Why worry about a little chill? Why think about the next thing I want to be doing? Didn't I wait for a chance like this all year? C'mon, appreciate this Jennifer, appreciate it, dammit!
Maybe I'm trying too hard to be positive and, as Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh says, "make this the most magnificent and wonderful moment in your life." That's a lot of pressure. The cliche goes that for women, their wedding day is the best moment of their life, and if it's not, then the marriage is a sham. I had so many expectations surrounding my wedding, starting with the impression I got from TV and movies growing up that the only happy ending to a story is a wedding. Then of course there are stores like Kate's Paperie that make weddings look like a great excuse to buy lots of pretty stationery. When I was single I would spend a lot of time sighing plaintively over bridal shower invitations with elegant typefaces and scalloped edges.
But when I got engaged on Christmas Eve 2005, I wasn't prepared for the mixture of emotions I was feeling. Of course, I was pleased, but I was also scared, nervous, speechless, and shaking. Suddenly I was having my moment, the one I had hoped for all those years of dating and getting dumped or duped or both. And I didn't know how to feel. The past snuck in there to remind me of the good parts of being a single girl in the city. The future elbowed its way into the moment, flashing images of me as an old, decrepit widow, staring at pictures of my late husband (who is seven years older than me. And women statistically outlive their men.)
That night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, my head was whirling.
This is the thing they never tell you about in all those whimsical articles in women's magazines like "How to get him to pop the question," which made me think of a question mark flying out of the top of a champagne bottle. The bridal magazines were no better--they were just another form of pornography, but one that was sanctioned by your mother and friends. They sold you desire in the form of gowns as rich as frosted cake, as much jewelry as you'd find in a treasure chest on a deserted island, flowing veils that could at any moment swoop you up and carry you away to heaven, even tiaras(!) I hadn't worn a tiara since I was six, but suddenly I thought maybe I wanted one. For a few months after I was engaged, I bought dozens of these glossy seduction manuals, dog-earring page after page of place settings and bridesmaid dresses and rules of etiquette for making seating charts.
But nowhere was their an article like "He Popped the Question--and the Bubbly is Making Your Head Spin." No ambiguous feelings allowed, the magazines seemed to imply. You are a happy future bride whose only focus should be on whether to go for a sweetheart neckline or an empire waist.
The wedding itself was beautiful and moving, but even on my wedding day, I was afraid to feel anything but absolute, undiluted bliss. I remember being nervous at the hair salon, staring at the grilled shrimp salad in my hands but not eating it. My stylist mistook my silence for calmness, and told me she was impressed that I wasn't freaking out. Not only was I not calm, but I was worrying about all kinds of stupid things, like wanting to be a perfect customer at the salon, not some pushy, demanding bride that they would all talk about later to their other clients. I was worried that I would not look the prettiest I had ever looked (as is expected of brides), or that the prettiest I could look would not amount to much. I worried about standing in profile in front of hundreds of people because I think I look better straight on. I wasn't even thinking about what the wedding meant, that in fact at around 4:30 that afternoon I would be married, that I would have a husband who I promised to love and honor for the rest of our lives. No, I was worried that I wouldn't be the perfect bride like the ones who filled all the magazines I'd been reading for a year.
A flute of champagne helped. So did the moment when my mother entered the bridal suite, late but nevertheless there. Seeing her finally arrive was the only time the whole day that I cried. I live several states away from her, and though I'm OK with that, at that moment I missed her terribly. She would tell me to relax, to stop worrying about silly things, to enjoy the moment and have fun.
One of my most joyful moments of my wedding day didn't involve anyone. It was just me, sitting at a table in my room the morning of the wedding, eating a simple breakfast of yogurt, tea, and a mini-bagel, writing out a card for Michael that I would have delivered to him before the ceremony. I thought of all the beautiful moments we had shared together in the past 7 years. I let myself free-write my thoughts in that card, not crossing anything out or editing myself at all. It was a quiet moment, the sun streaming through the curtains, me in my bathrobe and no make-up quietly writing and taking sips of peppermint tea, which soothed my nervous stomach. Sealing the card, I couldn't wait for Mike to read it because I knew it would make him smile, and maybe calm his own fears for the moment.