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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Circle of Life*

Crystal and Andy, glowing.

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat April 29, 2007
as "Another family is created in circle of life"

Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Couey

There are certain events that, as they occur in our lives, serve as markers, signaling the end of one thing and the beginning of another. Graduations, marriage, births, and deaths are some of the events that mark the passage of time.

On a certain weekend in early April, I found myself in a church standing in front of a couple, a young man in a rented tuxedo and a young woman in a long, white gown. The young woman was my daughter and it was my responsibility that day to seal the covenant of love between them.

A minister (or priest, or rabbi) is someone who becomes intimately familiar with life-changing events, since we seem to be involved in so many of them, both joyful and sad. We officiate at weddings and funerals, baby blessings, we conduct spiritual counseling during troubled times, occasionally contributing prayer at a graduation. We spend a lot of time in close proximity to the raw edge of human emotions, so it becomes our duty to always be the source of serenity in the face of life’s storms.

As anyone who has been a part of one can attest, the run-up to a wedding is a maelstrom of events, often seeing the ship of careful planning founder on a storm-tossed sea of the unplanned, unpredictable, and unavoidable. Sometimes, the wedding itself almost seems a let-down after the muss and fuss of the final few days. Some late RSVP’s led to a renegotiation with the reception caterer and the inexplicable bankruptcy of the restaurant where the rehearsal dinner was supposed to take place added to the general chaos.

I did my best to be that rock for everyone else, despite suffering from my one and only cold of the entire winter. But on that day, as I faced my daughter and her husband-to-be, I found myself to be struggling with emotions of my own.

There is that moment as a father, when we find ourselves replaced as the leading man in our daughter’s life when we have to struggle to redefine our position in the universe. A man, a real man, dedicates his life to his children. His own dreams and plans, wants and desires become subordinated to the needs of his offspring. Once you spend 20 or so years in that pursuit, it can be hard to surrender to that reality. The true definition of a man, after all, is the guy who sticks and commits. The rest are just smelly fertilizer.

My daughter’s choice had passed that rigorous test. He is a strong, intelligent, able man with a tremendous work ethic and an unshakeable commitment to excellence. He has proven his honesty, character, courage, and his commitment to her on many occasions. He is thrifty by nature and faces challenges without flinching. They have a very bright future together and I know she will be safe with him.

But as I spoke the fateful words, “I now pronounce you husband and wife,” a little of my purpose in life slipped away. And as they walked back down the aisle, I could not help but feel a little empty.

The rest of that day, I watched my daughter, radiant in her joy, at the reception sweep the room with her grace and beauty. Our world has changed. The tectonic plates have shifted and there will be a period of adjustment as we all settle in to our new reality. I know that they will have their rough times along with their happiness; all couples do. But they will survive, and in the great circle of life, another family has been created. The future, I realized, is built on change and we must face that future willing to embrace change. It is how we will define our purpose and our place in the universe.

It is also, for all intents and purposes, the true meaning of life.
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