Shalome Knoll writes of her mother, Susan Nelson’s wedding to Gerard Fahey. Susan and Gerry were married under the care of Victoria Regional Meeting.
We are seated in a series of concentric circles, like the rings that eddy out from a stone dropped in water, ripples, circular amassing. At the centre is a small table draped in white lace and set upon it a cluster of wildflowers, a pen, two ring boxes, three certificates and a celebrant’s book; the tools of marriage. Around us, tables are laden with sweets and cheeses ready for a celebration. We are silent and remain unspeaking for as long as the ceremony lasts.
The quiet, like a hand lain upon us, rests ever so lightly and ever so firmly on our heads. We itch to take it away, to grab its wrist and twist until it mewls with pain. But out of love and respect we sit and let it hover. Silence is at first like loud banging, filling spaces without names and sounding back our thoughts in a thundering voice as if mimicking us, teaching in a round about way the folly of our daytime obsessions. Silence comes to rest in and around the edges of things, like a waft of desert-scented air reminding us that life flourishes in empty places, in the spaces that have no names, and eventually we become easy with the thought of that hand, and we arrive at the well of silence willing to be blessed.
The celebrant stands and delivers a short description of the service. The children, she says, have colouring books, which will ease the task of quietude. When the couple are ready they will stand and say, each to the other, the words by which they will be married. They will exchange rings, and sign the certificate and then we will sit in silence. During the silence, if you feel so called to speak, please speak. Speak loud enough so that everyone can hear.
The little sounds, the small sounds that denote small forms, or small movements, or far away things, these are what I hear. A lawn mower on the next block, birds in the shrubbery, feet on the carpet, hands clasping and unclasping. I think I hear breath, lots of breath, a whole room full of breath. The breath is like undulation, a complex arrangement of patterns built up and broken down. We assemble and disassemble in the air, taking the parts of each that each has given, entering the silence as small particles, that mingle, are re-fashioned and reabsorbed. In the silence we are atmosphere, dense and porous as a cloud and held together by the gravity of our promise, by the goof of being fallible, fragile, meek. We are all kneelers on the threshold, waiting to be let in.
We wait for someone to stand and speak. The couple sit in the inner circle, in the lip of the cup from which we drink, we await their signal to stir and take notice, to hear the words they have to say. They sit still, holding hands like two small children on the first day of preschool, like friends never parted and never made bereft; their love is as gentle as seeing. The stillness of the wind suddenly strikes us as monumental in purpose and meaning. The wind, which makes the leaves of the banksia claw the wall. What future can we hold against such force as this, such gentle persistence?
It settles again more firmly, the silence. It bears down and raises up. Sitting still is like fighting, it’s like falling over and standing up, we raise our heads to see and meet the eyes of another across the room, weighted in silence. This glancing up, this meeting of eyes kills the silence, strikes it dead. The hand lifts and takes from us it’s blessing. The conscious mind perks up again, running tape after tape of mediocrity.
In their standing, the couple stir the air around them. It ripples outwards: clasped hands unclasp, bowed heads straighten, we peer uncertainly into the centre; there are two people standing, there are two people face to face, holding hands in the clear space in the middle, in the space we have made for them. Their faces are like the surface of the moon, they reflect light. There is a whole landscape in their cheeks, eyes, lips, brow, nose and jaw, a territory unexplored. We wait to be received into that landscape and offered up into the light. She opens her lips and words come out. He opens his lips and words come out. Nothing means anything except that they are speaking and looking and their faces are showing us what it means to be promised and wanting and suffocated and released. This is not what I expected, this radiance, this light.
We sit and are shown the meaning of silence, the meaning of mercy. Rings are placed upon fingers, pens are clasped and unclasped, lips meet and withdraw. Hands are raised to faces in the silent salute of tears. We have reached still water; our fingers have found the warm loving hand.
We sit and acknowledge that kneeling is not as difficult as it seems, that silence is painless. Breath drifts in and out of the room, free to go now that the words have been said; we let it go. We are all here now, present in the silence, resting. A woman stands to speak, speaking loudly so all can hear. Words flourish and die, sounds widen. Life flourishes, in the desert, in the mingling, constant air. Love babbles like a stream of mediocre thoughts. This is why we have come.
The celebrant stands and reads the words by which they have married. We rise in celebration and praise of all that life has offered up and all that life has taken away. We have sat in silence and witnessed the landscape of the moon, we have been blessed by a strong and fragile hand, we have knelt and mingled and become breath. We have dwelt in the silence, rested there and passed through and together we have promised; firming and affirming the love and life that is joy.