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Kittredge: Independence And Union

The wedding season is in full bloom. In the past decade Vermont has become a destination wedding resort, with venues, caterers and musicians getting booked a good year in advance. So much attention is paid to the guest list, the invitations, reception and surrounding events that the ceremony can dwindle in importance. With no marketing attached to the service, no commercial entities vying for favor, the question of what is actually said and done during the ceremony is left quietly to the couple and their officiant. 

I've had the great honor of presiding at close to two hundred wedding ceremonies. It is wonderful to be a part of such a hopeful time. My general practice is to meet with couples three times to plan for the ceremony but more importantly to talk about what it means to join together in marriage. Since these meetings take place in my study at home, my family is peripherally aware of what is going on; they no longer marvel at the spent tissues upon the couch. Planning a wedding can be stressful but planning a life is a tender endeavor requiring honesty, vulnerability and love. Ironically, though couples may feel themselves fortified in joining, they also are opening themselves up to heartbreak. For when one member’s body, soul or spirit slips, the other’s does as well. It's a dizzying proposition holding a marriage together, an odd mixture of surrender and responsibility, of assuming in some measure the life of another while simultaneously giving your own away.

On the 4th of July we observe this country’s independence, it’s severance of the yoke of bondage to Great Britain. We march in parades, send off fireworks and kick up our heels in celebration. But there's  another side to this holiday as well, one that merits perhaps even greater recognition. Though the chains of servitude were broken, our ancestors immediately set about planning for the future and setting down the terms of their commitment to each other and this country. With the Declaration of Independence and the later drafting of the Constitution, they sought to form “a more perfect union,” in the interest, among other things, of ensuring “domestic tranquility.”

Domestic tranquility seems an archaic phrase, evoking images of smiling families and fresh strawberry pie. Tranquility is hard work; what it requires, perhaps most of all, is mutual respect, honesty, care and listening. It is as true in a marriage as in a democracy.

Though we all want to be told we are loved, when someone says it, it can often be more about them than us. “I love you; this is how I am feeling.” To say instead, “How are you?” and be prepared to listen attentively and quietly is to live out that love.

Perhaps this coming 4th of July what we should be asking of ourselves and of this country is “How are we?”  And be prepared to listen with a celebratory cool drink and the box of tissues close by.

Susan Cooke Kittredge is Associate Pastor of the Charlotte Congregational Church.
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