A Poem written for Ana and Steven Kolb on their wedding day:
It was Christmas day. I was standing in a row of benches in a church off of a snow-covered highway. The building was old, like nearly each member. Christmas that year felt unusually cold and I wasn’t feeling much joy in the songs that December. Something was missing, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. In the pew directly in front of me were a man and his wife, maybe older than that church. His eyes were a little glassed over and his hands were stiff and swollen by his long life.
Can I ask you: what is holiness? What does it mean to be holy, if not becoming completely whole? It’s finding yourself not in the mirror, but in another person’s soul. Every time you see her, remember that. Remember she doesn’t need someone to blindly agree with her decency, she needs someone to understand her flaws, to love her where she’s at. By putting your knee down on that rooftop in her favorite place on earth, you were saying I know your defects, but I still see your worth.
I couldn’t see the woman’s face, her back was directly to me, but she was tall and thin, her body seemed hidden in her clothes. The song went on for a long time and in the middle of the drawn out refrain, I suddenly froze when the woman, overcome by some unknown strain, collapsed onto the bench seat. I thought I was the only one who saw her fall; I stood awkwardly, continuing to sing a little offbeat. Her frame was stiff and limp, like a rubber doll. I thought she was dead. I saw her face now; she had no color at all.
Holiness is wholeness. You two are holy when you remain whole; whole as in not separate, as in united and dependent. When you see him, remember that. Remember you cannot hate tokens like that flower he gave you after he messed up your date. That was only the beginning. Don’t expect the perfection you know you don’t show in yourself. Through poverty and wealth, through sickness and health, he is enough; he is enough on the days he remembers to put you first, and when he forgets.
The man moved his stiff body to where her head had fallen and he bent over as far as he could to look into her face. A wrinkled hand was placed on her shoulder; he shook her gently and spoke into her ear, but the woman didn’t move, didn’t seem to hear. I took in the scene then: the pale motionless woman and the man, touching her frail body, speaking to her again and again. After a few moments he looked up from his wife to the unresponding people nearby, questioning us silently.
Holiness began the first time your arms touched, the brush of skin sending a rush of delighted synapses saying: that was incredibly exciting. And holiness, or wholeness, is refined long after reciting your vows. It’s dancing through tragic questions and human honesty and ending with a deep bow in the arms of your choice. Don’t lose feeling in that touch on your arm; he’ll still be standing for you in thirty, forty years so forget what you won’t remember a month from now.
Finally, the woman shifted, lifted her head and tried to sit upright. Her husband continued whispering to her, supporting her back, asking if she was alright. As the rest of the congregation sang, the couple sat together. “Do you want to go home?” I heard him murmur. She shook her head and to my alarm decided to stand up again. “Just sit for a while.” He insisted, putting a hand on her arm, but again she shook her head no. With a sigh he unsteadily stood up too, staying close enough to touch her shoulders with his own.
You’re together today. You’re happy. Remember that. Remember the way you always admired her, how she walked to you down the street, the hallway, the Guatemalan mountainside, and now the church aisle. Remember him standing firmly on his feet in the field on game day, in church singing about Christ and the Bible, and while waiting for you to come down that walkway wearing his familiar smile. Life won’t be what you’re expecting. Now take each other’s hands. Go on, take them. Hold them. Remember that.
Their hands and shoulders were touching; they stood until the song was over. He took questioning side-long glances at her. When the room eventually fell silent again and everyone was seated, I couldn’t help noticing those two together. They sat so still and quietly. I don’t think it was their age that struck me as much as their mystery. What if he hadn’t been there? What if she had fallen alone on that church pew? Somehow I knew he was the one who gave her the courage to stand again.