Reasons to Believe

Change is on the horizon. I felt it so strongly yesterday, driving north along the eastern seaboard. Pulling onto the residential streets of Brooklyn, travel weary and over-caffeinated, I noticed the first dry leaves scattered amid the car tires. A week from today, I leap into a new adventure as a doctorate student in food studies. I’ve been wrapped up in logistics and planning, fretting and cleaning and trying to put everything in order around me, trying to stave off the inevitable messiness of life. It’s always a losing battle. I should know by now, but it took a weekend away in Frederick, Maryland to lend a little perspective. I got a good long run in along back country roads, walked around a beautiful historic town, took a great yoga class (the teacher made me cry when she said “in this time of changing winds, it can be hard to find your balance”), and listened to a lot of oldies. But the real reason I was down in the mid-Atlantic was my dear friend Meredith.

This past weekend, she and her beloved Dan invited their nearest and dearest to gather around them and celebrate their incredible love story, their deep friendship and the start of their new chapter as husband and wife.

Barn from my run– Frederick, MD

In my head, I’ve been imagining the toast I would have given to them. In front of a hundred people, it might not have come out like this. But here’s the gist:

Mer and I are soul sisters of sorts. We knew we were meant for each other almost immediately when we met. It was a beautiful October day, and we were sitting at a patio table a month into my freshman and Mer’s junior year of college. We were both pouring a lot of our energy into reproductive rights and sexual health at the time, and both had plans to deliver babies for a living. She had a smile that stretched from ear to ear, a bustling, infectious energy, and like me, a mom sick with cancer. Unlike me, though, Mer had already been seasoned by the rigors and roller coaster of care-taking, grief and fear that come with long-term illness. I was new to the game. I didn’t know then how much her resilience and arms-wide-open approach to life would guide me through my own waves of grief and change.

Downtown Historic Frederick

We spent time cooking together and taking walks. We, along with a whole crew of wacky, fun-loving outdoors folk, got naked as part of Tufts Wilderness Orientation. We studied together. We checked in on our families daily, taking care from afar and going home often. We talked about how the fear of losing the people and structure that we’ve come to take as givens makes us want to fill up our lives with more love, more life.

On Valentine’s Day of my sophomore year, Meredith sat with me for hours while we tried to coordinate  an ambulance dispatch to my mom’s house in New York from our student center in Massachusetts, then drove me home in the middle of the night so I could be with my mom in the ER. The next afternoon, Mer was supposed to take a huge statistics exam. But the moment I started to fret over my interrupting her near perfect academic record, she shushed me and calmly explained to me that she’d talk to her professor about what had happened. She was sure she’d understand. Meredith’s always had a little more faith than I.

Years have passed since then. Between the two of us, we’ve accrued two bachelors degrees, lost three parents and stood fast alongside eighteen years of cancer’s and loss’s Big Life Lessons. We’ve both loved a lot, and said bittersweet goodbyes. Separately, we’ve traveled. We’ve cooked. We’ve gone for runs, long walks, hikes. We’ve both done a lot of yoga. We’ve read novels and planted gardens and worked on farms. We’ve drunk a lot of wine. We’ve sat in chilly movie theaters and watched chick flicks and fallen asleep early. We haven’t once lived in the same city since Mer graduated from college in 2006.

And through it all– all the loss, and reeling, and grief and joy– we’ve both hungered for love. The kind that builds you up and fills you out, makes you burst with a sense of belonging and recognition and compassion. We’ve yearned to nurture and also to be cared for. We’ve looked for kindness and humor, sharp minds and good looks. And we’ve both doubted its existence.

But two years ago, when she least expected it, Mer met Dan. The first time we spoke about him, her voice sounded different, calmer. She was already sure, she told me, using the words kismet and beshert. And this past Sunday, she married him.

Mer at her Tish, sounding ever so sage
on matters companionship,
love and marriage

There was an incredible presence of love, contentment and community under that tent, as the rain poured down over the vineyard. There was a lot of talk about God being present. I’m still not sure what I think on that matter, but I do know there was a palpable energy, a force-field of sorts, surrounding Dan and Mer and, indeed, all of us under the pavilion roof as they made their vows. I cried. A lot of us cried. And as soon as the ceremony ended, the rain stopped and a rainbow arced over the back fields. A sign of luck and love from those not with us if ever there were one (I was far too busy making friends to go snap any photos). Inside, we sang and danced the Hora and drank lots of wine. Feeling a little overcome, I walked barefoot in the rain-wet field and looked up at the stars.

Mer, Dan and a handful of us stayed up late into the night. We laughed a lot, so hard our bellies hurt. New friendships were formed (not surprisingly, as the two of them only associate with the creme-de-la-creme of the human race, as far as I can tell), the ring of love radiating outward from the newlyweds.

Never, in my life, have I felt such faith. That things have a way of working themselves out, and life takes shape, curveballs and all. We can go along for the ride, or we can resist. Love morphs and ebbs, but, like matter, it doesn’t ever disappear. Not really. As long as we invite it in and tend to it kindly, it’ll tend to us as well.

So here’s to Mer and Dan. To many, many happy years. Thank you for reminding us all of the reasons to believe.