Bearded Iris

                                     Marrying Good Men

                                               

            A month ago, I married two good men.  To each other.  You can imagine how this must have shocked my grandparents, with whom I continue to have a close relationship, though they died half a century ago.  Two good white men, at that.  Which must have made my grandparents, and parents, also deceased, incredulous, to say the least.  In their time, living black in the deep South, there were no good white men, except Jesus and Santa Claus.  One of my favorite things about being me (though this isn’t about me) is that I had both my parents while I was growing up; loving them, fighting with them, and orchestrating my little high school affairs without their knowledge, and so on.  I also had both grandparents, who lived near enough to be run away to.  There they sat, implacable in the face of life’s challenges, their tiny shack completely hidden from the world, their lives also.  Nothing seemed to faze them; besides, everything was so far away.  Still, in my lifetime, I’ve managed to rattle them a bit.  I’ve enjoyed doing it because I know they actually enjoy a good shock to their placid systems, and are, like most Southerners, entertained by whatever’s odd about any situation; just as I am delighted by their swift recovery time.  These folks are hip, I always think.

 And the way they sound.

            I love hearing them say, time and time again:  Baby Alice done what?

 

            So there we all were, about a hundred of us, at the beautiful Bel-Air Hotel in Los Angeles, down by the lake that is home to several swans.  One groom-to -be’s mother had already been ushered to her seat by a best man; the other groom- to- be’s father had been brought forth by another.    I was waiting at the altar, having been specially ordained to perform the service.  I had explained to The New York Times, where notice of the event would run, that no, I was not a clergywoman or a minister, but a priestess.  A priestess is like a minister or clergyperson, but is of the Pagan persuasion, or, more baldly, a worshiper of Nature and especially the Earth.  (There are other more sinister definitions of “pagan” but they don’t apply to me.)  They were having none of it.  In fifty years, of course, this usage, even in the Times, will be routine. This is how Aquarians think.  Anyway, coming toward me were Scott and Brad, handsome and vulnerable, strong of heart and very sweet.  My hands went out automatically to touch theirs, reaffirming the reality that we are all in this together.  New territory, new conviction, new life-ways, and that it is as exciting as anything.

            How did this happen? 

            I met Scott Sanders when he came to my house to ask if he could produce a musical of my novel, The Color Purple. I said I didn’t think so.  I liked him though, and over time he won me over.  We worked closely together for eight years to bring this story – in which I got to hang out a lot, in imagination, with parents and grandparents – to the public; first in a showing in Atlanta, Georgia, and then to New York City and Broadway.  At each of these events I ran into Scott’s mother, Leona, and she would comment on the beauty and power of the play, and I would comment on the upstanding character of her son.  Never once in all that time did Scott ever let me, and the ancestors, down.  He carried the story like the fragile and nourishing egg it is, with reverence and respect.  For this, he became one of the family the story created.  Which was one reason I knew my grandparents and parents might roll over once or twice in their heavenly naps as they contemplated the wedding, but would soon see all was well with my marrying Scott to the man he loved, and go back to sleep.

 I liked Brad as soon as I met him.  Others before him had had their charms, but I knew right away that Brad was the right man for Scott.  The son of a Quaker minister, and someone who’s known the suffering of substance enthralldom, Brad has become a Bodhisattva who goes back into the perils he left behind to show others, entire families, the way out.  I could see Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth in the work that he does, and this endeared him to me.  I also saw that, unlike certain earlier suitors, he properly appreciated, in Scott, the good man with whom he was associating. 

            So one pre-dawn day on a talk show stage somewhere, maybe in Cleveland or Chicago, as Scott and I were preparing to pitch our play to the early rising viewers, I said to Scott, just before the cameras rolled: “You know Scott, Brad’s really the right one for you; and if you ever want to marry him, I’ll marry you.”  Where did this audacity come from? I hadn’t the faintest notion what I’d have to do to accomplish this.  Scott’s jaw dropped.  It would be two years before Brad popped the question, and Scott would say yes.  Of course they thought about asking Brad’s dad, a minister, to marry them, but in the end, Scott and Brad asked me.  I was terrified and thrilled, which I think I like.

 

            The ceremony, designed to the last flower by Scott’s best friend and best woman, Susan, was beautiful in its totality, but if I tell you everything that happened, it will be too long. I will just say that, with Scott and Brad beside me at the altar, I was able to welcome the community that came out to witness their marriage.  Reminding them that we were lucky to be in the safest place of all: a place where love and freedom were honored. For, ultimately, that is the only safe place to be. I then recited the following poems: the first one for Scott, the second for Brad.

 

 

New Face

I have learned

Not to worry

About love:

But to honor

Its coming

With all my heart.

To examine the dark mysteries

Of the blood

With headless heed

And swirl,

To know the rush

Of feelings

Swift

And flowing

As Water.

 

The source

Appears to be

Some inexhaustible

Spring

Within

Our twin

And triple

Selves.

 

 

The new face

I turn up

To you

No one else

On earth

Has ever

Seen.

 

While Love Is Unfashionable

While love

Is unfashionable

Let us live

Unfashionably.

Seeing the world

A complex ball

In small hands;

Love

Our blackest

Garment.

 

Let us be poor

In all but truth

And courage

Handed

Down

By the old spirits.

Let us be intimate

With ancestral

Ghosts

And music

Of

The undead.

 

While love

Is dangerous

Let us walk

Bareheaded

Beside

The great

River

Let us gather

Blossoms

Under

Fire.

 

 

I wrote these poems out of the love I felt for my own non-black husband, a good man I married in 1967, a time when our marriage was illegal in the American South where I was born. 

 

Then, after Brad and Scott exchanged exquisite vows to each other and received their rings, came the words that I felt privileged to offer them in this beautiful, changing and challenging time we are living in:  By the power vested in me by the state of California (loud cheering) and a loving universe, I now pronounce you husband and husband.  You may kiss the groom.

           

Once upon a time, long ago, when I knew no gay people as friends, I still found it reassuring to see two men kiss, which they used to do all the time in San Francisco, in the Castro  -instead of fighting and shooting each other. I wrote about this wonder in an essay called “All the Bearded Irises of Life,” which is how such men kissing each other struck me.  Like flowers, and, like the iris, some have beards.  Now, years later, witnessing my two friends kissing each other, I, like so many others in the gathering, wanted to cry, because we were experiencing collectively something that is spiritually as well as physically, profound: that love is always holy.  Only I found I couldn’t cry, I was too happy.

 

Copyright © 2008 by Alice Walker

October 22, 2008

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