with both arms. It is very heavy,
but you must hold it up, or else
it will fall down on you. Your arms
are tired, terribly tired,
and, as the day goes on, it feels
as if either your arms or the ceiling
will soon collapse.
something wonderful happens:
Someone, a man or a woman, walks into the room
and holds their arms up
to the ceiling beside you.
to take down your arms.
You feel the relief of respite,
the blood flowing back
to your fingers and arms.
And when your partner's arms tire,
you hold up your own
to relieve her (him, sic) again.
And it can go on like this
for many years
without the house falling."
--Michael Blumenthal, "Marriage"
It all began on a snowy night in Louisville, Kentucky. Well, not really. It really began at a Pizza Parlor in St. Matthews, a suburb of Louisville. The year must have been 1958. My buddy and I got hooked up with blind dates--twins. Interesting, I thought. Never dated a twin. But that night, with pizza and candlelight--I looked across the table at, I think the prettiest girl I ever saw. I really should say--at the prettiest girls I ever saw. They looked smack-dab alike. Blue eyes the color of light blue marbles. Blonde hair. Sorta quiet--and a smile that was sunshiny great. I thought it would be the last time I ever saw her. How could I, a peasant from Georgia, possibly be loved by this gorgeous girl sitting across the table that candlelit night?
Looking back I now know that miracles really do happen. She saw in that fat guy with Gary Cooper glasses--studying to be a preacher, for God's sake a whole lot more than this insecure 22 year-old ever imagined. She had to swim against a very strong tide to say "yes" on another moon-lit night. Her Mama had one strong word of advice: "Never marry a preacher!" The girl was a fine, fine musician. A pianist taking from the best piano teacher in Louisville. And he loved her. And he warned: "Don't throw your life away. You'll end up in some god-forsaken place like Anniston, Alabama." I had no car. We either dated by bus--which was ridiculous or sitting in the back seat of a friend's car as he drove. I had no dowry to bring. No ox, sheep, goats--or chest of gold and silver. Just me.
And so--she took an enormous risk. Not me: no risk--except I felt I was not good enough for this wonderful person. It was the best thing I ever did. Even after 53 years I can say it now louder before the mike than I could back there: it was the best thing I ever did. I kid you not.
So we were married that snowy-night ten degrees below zero. I think our two-night three-day Honeymoon at French Lick cost $53.00 (meals included). We came home absolutely broke. We both graduated that Spring--me from Seminary and she from college. And so the journey began. There must have been days when she must have said to herself: "What in the hell have I got myself into?" Our first church was way out in the country. A tiny house of four rooms, a Warm Morning heater that did not do the job and mice that ran sometimes across the kitchen counter. I made $70.00 a week. She taught third-grade a class she had no training for--and I was the village Reverend--with plenty of training and zero experience. We had a beautiful red-headed curly haired daughter born there. We left after three and a half years. I told a friend that wasn't a very long start. He said: It was as long as World War II. Seriously--I considered this my internship and they taught me much more than I could give.
Time after time she must have mused: Maybe my Mother was right. But she kept her peace. She survived Churches that expected Bee-hive hairdos and a praying, pious Pastor's wife that they thought would be their Head Majorette (like the last one!.) Not. She survived Sunday School classes that preached the borned-again gospel of Republicanism and praying that the nigras would calm down and find their place again. But she held her ground. And went her own way--and so in every church that we ever had there was this cadre that followed her everywhere. More than one Pastor's wife would exclaim: "Gayle Lovette is my model of what a Preacher's wife ought to be."They loved her independence and her strong and sure self-image. And all the time I was out somewhere serving the Lord--she was home raising two kids and doing it with grace and love and care.
Once when I resigned without a place to go at age 55--I was sure it was all over. And she said: "Are you crazy? You are good and you will find something." And I did. She had said that year after year and place after place.
And so here we are. She's still here. Despite the dangers, toils and snares--emphasis on all three--she is still here. I remember what Loren Eiseley said of his wife as he stood by her grave: "You have come all the way."
I hope my wife lives and lives. But I can say that now. She has come all the way. And, I repeat myself: Marrying her was the best thing I ever did.
I bumped into an e.e.cummings poem which says it for me:
"i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go, you go my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
no fate (for you are mt fate, my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)