Love is full of surprises: intimacy and distance, control and vulnerability, security and jealousy. But sometimes the surprise is to the outside observer.
The event was billed as an anniversary party. Crayola England and Carrie Visser were completing one year of being in love. “Because you have shared in our life by your friendship and love,” their invitation said, “we invite you to join us in our celebration.”
For an unmarried couple, the anniversary date can be a tough call. Do you go with the first date, the first kiss, the first time someone said, “I love you”? These two went with the first time England asked Visser out, and Visser said no. They’ve got a sense of humor.
That was the beginning of their journey. Visser, a nurse, later made up for the insult with her attentive care when England broke her leg and was laid up for three months.
Their anniversary party was last week at Des Moines, Iowa’s, Raccoon River Nature Lodge. The invitation requested “casual black or white attire.”
England is a photographer with an edgy sense of style. Despite Crayola’s colorful name, she’s partial to black and white.
When Rob, my late husband, was diagnosed with a terminal illness, she invited us to a photo studio with the kids, all dressed in black. Against a white background, she took a sequence of family photos that would be the last chronicle of our lives together.
England and Visser are a unique couple. The first time I saw them together, just sitting and talking, there was an intimacy and intensity about them you could almost touch.
They also share a unique sense of adventure. With friends and families, including Visser’s grown children, gathered from Minnesota, Alaska and around Iowa, Visser took the mike.
She said each of us was there because one or both of them love us. She spoke of the unparalleled joy this romance has brought her.
And as pelicans and ducks glided by outside the picture windows, she announced she and England were getting married. Right then. Right there.
Like magic, a woman emerged from the crowd, a United Church of Christ minister, to perform the ceremony. She spoke of the love between England and Visser. She said there’s someone out there for everyone.
A friend read a passage from Corinthians. Another woman appeared with a dulcimer and a voice like silk, to punctuate the speaking with beautiful love songs.
Later there was champagne, a table groaning with cakes, and even an Elvis impersonator that a surprised friend had booked as a surprise gift.
Same-sex marriage is one of America’s most hotly debated topics – from the Democratic presidential candidates who say America isn’t ready, but how about civil unions? – to the Republicans who build political fortunes on fighting any acknowledgment that people can legitimately be in love with others of the same sex.
But since it’s not legally recognized, most Americans haven’t gotten to attend a same-sex wedding.
Here’s what they might have learned from this one.
Every aspect was crafted from scratch, since there’s no template – planned with special attention to the well-being of each guest.
Everyone, for example, got a name tag, that said, “Ask me about …” and a topic specific to each person.
The ceremony was personal, loving and about as threatening to anyone else’s marriage, or children, as the ducks to the pelicans sharing the river outside.
I’ve been to many weddings. Some, sorry to say, were clearly pairings destined not to last. Others you knew were matches made in heaven. And some were arranged, so the jury was still out.
What I’ve seen is this. Love alone can’t make a great marriage. Nor can commitment alone. But together, with community support, they trump most things. Even gender.
Yes, love is full of surprises. Sometimes for the woman who realizes she loves another woman. Sometimes for the observer who becomes part of something unexpected, historic and deeply moving.
Rekha Basu is an editorial columnist for the Des Moines (Iowa) Register. E-mail: mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org