Happily ever after, and after that, too

In some cultures, it's the custom to repeat marriage vows three times. It strikes me as such a responsible way to assure you fully understand the commitment marriage requires. "Do you take this woman?" "Are you sure?" "Are you absolutely sure?"

I think it forces additional thoughtfulness about such a major life transition and might even have a positive effect on divorce rates in certain cultures. Which reminds me — did you read about currently skyrocketing divorces among baby boomers, especially those born in the first 10 years of the baby boom? But I digress. This is not a treatise on dissolving marriages, it's about happily ever after and even after that.

We have just returned from my niece's wedding. She was a lovely bride; he was a strong and gentle groom. They are in their mid-20s. And they've been married three times. Once in a Zambian village (they were in the Peace Corps), where he wrote poetry on the walls of his hut (they read select poems at the wedding, of course) and she acquired malaria and a debilitating spider bite (he walked miles to get her the needed medication). It was a daylong ceremony where Zambian custom required neither could smile.

The second marriage was in front of a justice of the peace and scheduled once the couple realized their designated officiate for the family wedding, to which more than 200 people had been invited, did not have the appropriate credential to perform the ceremony. The queries that day were, "Kevin, do you want to marry Arianna?" and "Arianna, do you want to marry Kevin?" OK then — you're married.

At the third wedding, friends and family witnessed this young couple's passionate, well-stated public commitments to one another and their pledge to make positive change in the world community.

She's a self-defined "social activist" in graduate school. (Her many friends think she will "definitely be our president" some day). He's in his second year of medical school — entertaining the idea of a career in geriatric medicine. But again, I digress. Easy to do when you are thinking about young people who have the world in front of them.

The handsome couple stood under a Huppah, a decorated, cloth canopy crafted in the Jewish tradition, to make their pledges. This structure had been hand-sewn by the bride's mother, who is my sister and a force in her own right and has been married to her ever-caring husband for more than 40 years. Not a digression; just a fact.

After the vows were taken, we all danced the Hora to the music of the unforgettable "Hava Nagila," weaving and moving rhythmically as a group around a large, well-bedecked room. It's a fairly exhilarating, but entirely exhausting, dance and was led by the bride's 94-year-old grandfather. This oh-so-grand grandfather and his wife (who many might also have referred to as a social activist and a force in her younger days) have been married for more than 70 years. He wiped away a tear when he talked about their enduring love.

Weddings make you do that. They offer a time for poignant, teary reflection, rededication and recommitment. And lots of celebratory blessing-counting. Mazel Tov.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. Email her at s.johnson@oregonstate.edu or call 541-776-7371, ext. 210.

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