In the dark night of the forest, in a small clearing illuminated by a fire ring, we sat with our teenage children, and sang.
We sang campfire songs, Beatles songs, favorite pop songs. We sang:
If heaven and hell decide that they both are satisfied
Illuminate the “nos” on their vacancy signs
If there’s no one beside you when your soul embarks
I’ll follow you into the dark
The band calls itself “Death Cab for Cutie.” After this song, I guess, where one lover pledges to be the Death Cab for the other.
Not long ago, a couple asked my husband to play this song at their wedding.
It’s a moving song about eternal love.
But I would not choose it for a wedding. I would not want to sing about death while embarking on a new life. Or express intimacy by pledging to spend the afterlife with someone.
To a Christian sensibility, it might seem natural: After death, our true natures are realized. Our goodness rises to the surface, and we are rewarded with heaven, even if our earthly lives were filled with pain. Our love can be truest and strongest after death.
But this view of human nature is not part of my cultural thought. Jewish prayers and rituals do not root us in an afterlife.
Perhaps I could sing this song at a wedding if I see it as a metaphor:
My love, when you can’t find a resting place between sadness and happiness, between illness and health, I’ll walk with you into that dark place.
That’s what my partner has done for me and I’m grateful.
On the plane home from Stacey and Adam’s wedding, I watched a movie, Never Let Me Go. Children conceived through cloning grow up to be organ donors. They spend their young adult years living in hospitals and care centers, as they prepare and recover from multiple surgeries. They undergo as many procedures as their young bodies can stand, and then they die. A few serve as caretakers for their peers until it’s time to start their own hospital routine.
My heart broke as I watched young adult actors play at the lives their elders actually lead.
Some of the characters hear rumors about a deferral. If you are truly in love, and you can prove it, you can get permission to put off your first surgery. You can enjoy a few extra years of love before entering the medical system.
But of course there are no deferrals.
Not in the movie, and not in real life.
You don’t get more time just because you love passionately. Not with your parents, children, partners, or friends.
You may get a deeper life. Love calls on you to accept others, even in the face of surprises and disappointments. Love pushes you to let go of judgments, categories, and lists of things you swore you would never understand. Love helps you live more fully.
But maybe all this is what Death Cab for Cutie’s lyricist means.
I love you. And I know this does not earn us a longer lifetime together. Already I know I want to walk with you for longer than we have.
Whatever you turn out to be, whether you are someone who knocks on the door of goodness or badness, I will accept you, and walk with you.
Of course there are exclusions and limitations to both sentiments.
But at their wedding, a couple is allowed to sing an idealistic song.
Photos: (1) Hillary & Eli at Cathedral Park, by LDK;
(2) Laura & Chas at the ALEPH Kallah on Erev Shabbat, 20 years into our marriage, by Ann Silver