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Good Letters

20110805-native-land-by-kelly-foster“I was a wanderer
who feels the solace of his native land
under his feet again and moving in his blood.”
—Wendell Berry, “The Country of Marriage”

After a several year late-twenties lull, my last four summers have been dominated not just with weddings, but with the major weddings of family and intimate friends. I have not been able to make it through any of these weddings without the copious shedding of joyful tears.

Age and experience have made me more, rather than less likely, to be sentimental and awe-struck as people I’ve known for years make their sacred and audacious commitments before God and sundry.

With each wedding, different memories stir—the first time you saw the two of them together, the first time you met each of them, long conversations you’ve had into the night about not knowing and not being ready—and now this giddy celebration. Even for one who comes of Puritan stock, it makes me want to dance. My feet and hands do involuntary things. I clap. I skip. I smile so hard, my jaw aches for days. I belly laugh myself into tightened abdominals.

The timing of Phil and Amanda’s wedding was particularly sweet for me. Just two weekends before, I’d been privileged to attend the eightieth birthday party of my sister-in-law’s great aunt in Naperville, Illinois. We’d gotten to know each other at the bridesmaids’ brunch and my parents had now been to stay with them and visit several times since.

So this summer, because of my brother’s wedding four years ago, we were in a room outside of Chicago with my sister-in-law’s wonderful sprawling family, my parents, my boyfriend—with so many people I adore. And beyond even that large joy, we found out that same weekend that the baby my brother and his wife have been expecting is going to be a girl and she now has a name. Emerson.

So with new life and old life in mind, I wandered around the eightieth birthday party with tears in my eyes. Everywhere you went, there were pictures of this woman and her utterly surprising life—medals from a forty-mile marathon, newspaper articles she’d written about sex for seniors, testimonies from former students, pictures of her with her sons as infants, messages from her husband and family about what she’d meant to them.

In essence, I got to see, with heightened joy, all that can happen after a wedding—the joining of disparate families, the expectation of birth, the fecund way life proliferates again and again and again, even on days when we think it never will again.

And so I watched Amanda walk down the sloping hill towards Phil this weekend, tears in all our eyes. She’s from Sao Paolo and had not seen her family in years. But here they finally were beside Phil’s family from California and around them all those of us who could not love them more if they were family.

Our friend Reva performed the ceremony. Every three or four minutes, she would pause and allow the translator time to read out the selected portion in Portuguese. At the end of the wedding, Amanda’s father came forth to bless them. He placed his hands upon both their heads, said a prayer, and spoke a word about love—about the force that brought us varied exiles together into that green space to welcome them as they moved forward, we along with them.

Then all of us, wiping away tears, walked off together to participate in the life that continues and grows after lovely weddings.

At the reception, I watched these friends of mine I’ve loved and known for years play songs and read poems, the gifts of the past and future converging into a present moment almost too poignant to be borne.

And I realized aloud what I have known for years: I’ve had so much love in my life—both in being loved and loving. I known and loved so many places in my life—the way Highway 49 turns north across the loess bluffs into Yazoo, the way a loon sounds echoing across a Minnesota lake, the Chicago skyline against Lake Michigan, a window nook in a house in Boston, getting to hear my friends laugh in the next room.

I am older now, but what I know is, I’m coming into native land—and the land is not any single place, but all the places I’ve gotten to share with all these loves of my life. I watched Amanda walk down toward Phil, I panned the crowd of smiling faces, and thought to myself, native land. These people I love, all of them, scattered so far and wide, they are my native land.

Once on a spring afternoon in Boston, with a vase of fresh lilacs on the table, I read this passage of Annie Dillard, then recently discovered, aloud to my friends in our big house:

“That the world is old and frayed is no surprise; that the world could ever become new beyond uncertainty was, and is, such a surprise that I find myself referring all subsequent kinds of knowledge to it…I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. I am aging and eaten and have done my share of eating too. I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wandering awed about on a splintered wreck I’ve come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe a delicate air, whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions, and whose beauty beats and shines not in its imperfections but overwhelmingly in spite of them, under the wind-rent clouds, upstream and down.”

And so may the good world always remain, new beyond uncertainty, beyond the footfall of weddings and into later years.

Under the wind-rent clouds, upstream and down.

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Written by: Kelly Foster


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