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|The Three Marriages - Three Marriages 2|
The first marriage is the first of the three big marriages and the three big questions—the three questions others ask us repeatedly through our lives, and the three questions we ask ourselves repeatedly in the mirror: When are you going to get married? When are you going to get a job? And, when, oh when, are you going to grow up?
Most of us grow up only during a marriage or a work-life or a sweeping self-examination, not before then. Strangely, despite this fact, in the marriage ceremony we commit to all the ideals beforehand, in public, before parents, before friends, before extended family; as one comedian said, before strange foods we will never eat again, and I might add, before crowds of perfect strangers we may never meet again.
The act of marriage is an act of faith and an act of courageous imagination as much as it is an already established fact. In our ideal imaginations we stand together in a church in the Cotswolds, a cliff edge in Hawaii, a synagogue in Israel or a wide tent on the edge of the Egyptian desert, surrounded by a crowd of loving support. But actually, it doesn't matter; even if our declaration is limited to an elderly, hard-of-hearing Elvis impersonator in a Las Vegas wedding chapel, society and the state vests even in that lowly "king" the omniscient eye of absolute, lawful witness. We have been seen to commit publicly and the solid die for our future is cast. Historically, of course, the "king" has loomed much larger and the perceived witness has been much wider and deeper. In almost all societies we have committed in marriage beyond society, beyond the present moment of history, beyond any earthly king and given ourselves in a new way to God.
The first marriage, then, the one we most commonly use the word for—two people entwined for as long as we can imagine the future lasts—is emblematic; is a representation of, is in many ways a magnified dramatized public version of, all those other commitments we make in life, in work, and even in that third, inner marriage, where we forge the silent internal nature of our outer character. It is a code or cipher for the human heart, saying that we will manifest in public an original, very particular, very private and very passionate commitment, and abide by it through any dark loveless nights of difficulty ahead.