Tuesday, December 20, 2005


I was being "thematic" or something when I wrote previously that "Semper Fi" would play its part in Saturday's wedding vows, but in fact those were the last words of the nuptial sermon just prior to the exchange of vows-- an appropriate (and socko) ending to a serious, meaty, and well-delivered address about the meaning of this day for my son and his bride.

There might have been pictures to share here (the happy couple under a sword arch was especially impressive), except that in my mother-of-the-groom dementia I became convinced that the batteries in my camera had died, and took no pictures of my own. In fact, I was merely being signalled that I should remove a used roll of film from the camera and re-load. Perhaps one day i will become more familiar with the workings of my own toys-- and perhaps I will stop pretending I'm not the least bit unnerved when one of my kids gets married...

It was a day that traversed the spectrum of emotion from duly solemn to downright silly (that was the younger generation alternating between hip-hop and line dancing), and expressed all that is genuinely human and deeply indispensible for the good of society. There were four generations of my family in attendance (if you count the little one peacefully gestating away within my niece), and the full gamut of my family's personality-- from my aunt, the Moveon.org devotee, to the five boys in uniform-- the groom, his three fellow Marines, and his cousin in Navy whites. One pillar of the sword arch is a soon-to-be-winged Marine aviator from my son's class; my sailor nephew has a couple of years left in submarine school; and the two other Marines were diminutive lads who looked about 16, each with a chest full of medals, fresh from a gruelling seven-month tour in Iraq.

But among other things, for my side of the family it was all about blood, in the best sense. Cousins I have hardly seen in forty years answered the call of the clan, and were deeply moved to see each other, and to see how far we have all come since we were goofy kids in surfer shirts. It was a day of new beginnings, I think, in more ways than the obvious one, with old ties strengthened as new ones are formed.

Forty years ago western society embarked on another "new beginning"-- an unprecedented "march through the institutions," which did its best to sack and pillage the social edifices built and buttressed over millennia: honor, fidelity, industry, sobriety, courtesy, sacrifice, self-respect, self-restraint, discretion-- marriage, family, religion, citizenship, public order, just restitution, protection of the helpless. There had always been corrupt elites, whose rising and falling fortunes affected the common man's life (usually for the worse) but did not co-opt it.

But the 1960's march through the institutions was unprecedented in the degree to which it was joined enthusiastically by the ordinary guy and average gal, who have, to this day, not entirely recovered. One never knows whether to be encouraged or despairing that, while marriage and family have enjoyed a "comeback" of sorts, they are seen all too often in a transformed state-- the marriage ritual become a crass pageant of material excess and adolescent vulgarity, as likely to be administered by an Elvis impersonator or a scuba-diving scientologist as by an ordained spiritual guide; family become a means of self-gratification, chemically plotted to be taken up when hang-gliding, cruises, and Armani suits have exhausted their attractions.

It is within this community zoo that one must find purpose in scrubbing one's own front stoop, in the hopes that beyond this inviting threshold will lie a sanctuary where soul and body find nourishment around a family table; and that those who march back over the threshold will go out into the world to build rather than sack, to endow and not to pillage. We polish up our little corner of the world knowing that, with each new life, nothing more important happens than that we merely change the whole history of the universe. Two of those new lives have now come together-- and today they visited Ellis Island, where the old Greek once remembered gazing through ten-year-old eyes at the great green lady in the harbor, and the red brick portico through which he was swept with the rest of the teeming masses, just about a hundred years ago. The universe shook with promise that day, and did again this day, though I suspect nobody took much notice.