Moonlight and Roses

The candles burned brightly from the polished candelabras on the altar of the historic church on Savannah’s Chippewa Square, setting the faces of friends and family aglow with anticipation.   In their black tuxedoes, groomsmen flanked the nervous man standing at the end of the long, flower-lined aisle, as the robed minister nodded a beaming welcome to those gathered in the pews on either side.

Bridesmaids in delicate gowns began their march toward the handsome group, carefully carrying bouquets of creamy white orchids to the strains of the classic Rondeau. The doors at the rear of the church closed as the last enters, only to reopen to the flourish of trumpets announcing Wagner’s Wedding March and to the starry-eyed young bride holding tightly to her father’s arm.
One guest later confided that she had never seen such a look of adoration as that passing between father and daughter as they began their march into the church.  Only the father and daughter knew the tender words he whispered in her ear:

“If you start running now, you can still make a break for it.”

And so began the ceremony uniting Lewis Frampton and Susan Roberts in holy matrimony.  This spring marks the thirty-third anniversary of standing in that doorway, and I still remember the laughter bubbling up in me as I looked up at my dad.

“Marriage is more than moonlight and roses,” the minister solemnly read from the works of the poet Kahlil Gibran as my groom and I stood before him.  “More than singing love songs and whispering vows of undying affection.”
Ask anyone who has been married more than a month, and they will attest to the truth of the poetic words.  But if they seem cautionary at first glance, perhaps we’re looking at them from the wrong direction.  If the truth be told of moonlight and roses, the two romantic icons are not necessarily all they are cracked up to be, and those slightly afraid of the dark, with limited gardening skills, heave a sigh of relief to discover that they aren’t the end-all to a happy marriage.

Everyone looks better by moonlight, but though it is lovely, much can be hidden in its shadows. It is in the glaring luminosity of day that marriage is really put to the test.  In this unforgiving light the imperfections in all of us are laid bare, and the choices we make daily to squint our eyes and work around the flaws are far more telling than the glimpses of each other we catch between moonbeams.

Take for example the way my husband mostly overlooks my annoying need to always be right, my refusal to bait my own hook, and my desire to remain totally uninterested in what makes the car’s engine work.  Likewise, I turn a blind eye to his inability to find anything without fins, fur or feathers, to his adamant belief that mushrooms cause warts, and to the tea pitcher he puts back in the refrigerator with less than a teaspoon of tea left.  Admittedly, there are moments when we have to squint really hard.

And let’s talk about roses.  For their part in romantic images of marriage, they are irrefutably beautiful and fragrant symbols, but a real pain in the rear to keep up in the flowerbed.  All that spraying and pruning require far more maintenance than most of us have time for in our busy lives.  In reality, Florida betony in the lawn is a much better symbol of the kind of commitment and perseverance one should seek in marriage.  Unlike roses, it is not delicate or fleeting, though it does lack something in the fragrance department.  (Look it up! You’ll find it in the gardening book under the heading of “things that never go away.”)  Resistant to wilt, it will never, ever be vanquished.  It doesn’t look great in a vase, but what could better represent an enduring relationship?

As for singing love songs and whispering vows of undying affection, the poet got it right.  There is far more to be said for hearing the dogs howl in response to an impromptu, heart-felt rendition of “Ring of Fire,” and a note left by the coffeepot, than there is for violins, harps, and a recitation of words strung together simply because they rhyme.

There is a great deal more to marriage than Hallmark cards and movies would have us believe. There is happiness and aggravation, frustration and fulfillment, learning when to give and knowing when to take.  There are murderous moments and tender thoughts, shared joys and solitary griefs; times to reap and times to sow, and times to just close your eyes and fly blindly.

It hardly seems possible that a little over three decades have passed since the moment we pledged our troth, but the calendar leaves no doubt that time has made note of the passing years.  I’ve never asked if his father offered up the same opportunity to make a run for it that mine did, but I don’t think it occurred to either of us to stash running shoes under the seat.

In retrospect, if offered a do-over, I would have done a few things differently over the years.  I’d have started by reminding us to pay more attention, so that we wouldn’t forget a minute of it. I’d have had a little more patience and a little less panic over the small stuff, held more tightly to those we would lose along the way, and stopped to realize and be grateful for our many blessings.  I’d have done all these things on that night in May, and I’d have done all of them every day since.

The minister and the poet gave to us a great gift thirty-three years ago, and each passing day I am grateful to that moment when we were reminded that marriage is indeed more than moonlight and roses.  So bring on the bright sunlight, and let the tenacious weeds grow wild.  Knowing how much more there is to it, none of us should ever think of settling for anything less.

By Susan Frampton