Promises, apologies go together

6 mins read


It’s Thursday afternoon, and I’m sitting in “The Log” in Williamstown, Mass. At the moment I’m having a bowl of soup, a local beer, and trying to avoid the ever-changing images on the billboard-sized television screens — compelling, insistent images that distract one from the murals that adorn the walls of this historic Williams College hang-out.

Earlier this week, my wife and I drove north to a wedding in central Vermont. Actually, it was not a wedding; rather it was called a “commitment ceremony” lacking the legal consequences attached to a state-certified contract.

Vermont does not encourage its residents to “live free or die” — that’s New Hampshire. 

But this is a culture that encourages detachment and off-the-grid independence. As one drives its back roads, one sees small mountains of firewood in everyone’s front yard. These stacks of wood announcing a contempt for the local power company and a sense of self-sufficiency.

Although we got “marriage lite” — there were promises made, music played and food consumed by the 150 or so guests who gathered in the flower garden adjacent the historic farmhouse. There were, however, differences between the Vermont commitment and the South Carolina contract.

The invitation made it clear that one should bring their own bottle of wine if one was going in that direction. So we had fair warning there would not be any alcohol drinking before or during the ceremony itself. We did bring our own wine.

Sure enough, there was a Bridgestone Radial-sized wheel of Vermont cheese and a large jug of iced tea on the back porch when we arrived.

I’m not an alcoholic but believe that hearing self-written vows (“I promise to give you the space to create, and to fail, and to be you …”) while one is completely sober is a reliable recipe for cynicism. I would later learn — to my chagrin — that most of the guests were Buddhists and got their equanimity without assistance from distilled spirits.

By the time the vows were done and we had marched over to the restored barn for the reception, I was ready for a glass of any fermented grape, domestic or foreign, whether aged in stainless steel canisters in California or oaken barrels in the Piedmont.

But we couldn’t find a corkscrew.

At this point, someone said there was a “tall man” at the reception and that he had a corkscrew in his pocket. This rumor spread through the crowd, triggering a frenzied interrogation of any man 5-feet-6-inches or taller. But if there was such a “tall man” with a corkscrew, he did not admit it.

Finally, completely frustrated, there was a covert, self-help mission to the farmhouse kitchen that produced a seldom-used, vintage corkscrew that allowed us to sip wine as we settled into the huge, covered-dish, mostly vegan meal.

After a second glass of Bogle Chardonnay, my corkscrew anxiety began to subside and we leaned back and engaged the other people sitting at our table — people we did not know.

These conversations began with the coming winter and huge stacks of firewood in front of every house. Then we moved to the proposed deployment of F-35s to Burlington (they don’t want them); to Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream (Half Baked is the best flavor ever). 

But for me, the real attraction of weddings — whether full-bodied or lite — is discovering those things that make us different; and those things bind us together.

What made this wedding different was the fact that most of the guests were in their 60s and 70s — the men with ruddy, weather-sculpted faces. The women were slim, healthy and wore their gray hair long. They dressed in embroidered, ankle-length dresses that took one back to the 60s. Seeing this crowd, one got the notion that maybe a meatless, smokeless, alcohol and gluten-free diet made a difference. Maybe there is something to be said for chopping one’s firewood before breakfast.

I am a Notary Public, and in South Carolina, a Notary can endorse the contract of those who have acquired a marriage certificate. Over the years I have “married” a half dozen couples, and in most cases, those marriages remain intact. 

But there is no guarantee. There is no vow, venue or number of bridesmaids that will ensure the “death do us part” promise. 

But I do think this is the time and place for one to make promises, to pledge one’s heart, and to apologize. Yes, I said “apologize.” 

It would go something like this: “I apologize for the tedium and exasperation you will inevitably feel from my comments and conversation; and I apologize, here and now, for the heartbreak and sadness I will inflict upon your head and your heart in the course of our life together.”

Well, you get the picture.

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