How Sweet It Is
by Shauna Niequist
In the backyard of their house with the very best view in town, looking over the river and out onto the lake, our dear friends Jim and Jodi were married. In the vows they wrote for one another, Jim talked about his life before Jodi, and how deeply he valued his independence. When he said it, we all laughed, because it was the understatement of the decade, like saying Janis Joplin valued a good cocktail. Watching Jim become a partner and companion, and more than that, a father and grandfather, has been a moving and very surprising transformation, and he’s more surprised than anyone. For years, he’s worked and traveled and built a company and skied and sailed on his own schedule, at his own whim.
And then came Jodi, this gorgeous woman whose deepest commitment is to her children and grandchildren, and the life she invited him into was more about Santa than ski season and more about naptime than staying out all night. And although there have been some parts of himself that he has left behind, those of us who love him know that the man who stood before Jodi that night is the best Jim we’ve ever known, and that what he gave up is nothing in comparison to what he has gained.
Last summer, Kaj, Jodi’s grandson, was on the boat with Todd and my dad and me, and I asked him conspiratorially, “Kaj, you can tell me the truth: who do you think is better at driving the boat, Todd or Bill?” And he looked at one and then the other, and he said, “Jim!” Jim’s name wasn’t even in the running that day, but for Kaj, it always is.
That night, Jim became a father and a grandfather, although really, Jim became Kaj’s papa long before the wedding. He became his papa little by little over five summers, playing in the sand and jumping off the boat and making sure Kaj’s life jacket was buckled right every time.
Just after the ceremony, back in the house for a moment, Jodi’s daughter, Josilyn, hugged Jim. “Hi, Dad,” she said, trying to make it sound casual. Neither of them was fooled.
In the same way that he became Kaj’s papa little by little over five years, he’d become Josilyn’s dad that way, too, on snowboarding trips and boat rides, helping with homework and watching her games.
That night didn’t feel like a beginning, the way that some weddings do. It felt better than that. It felt like a celebration for something that began a long time ago, and like what we were doing that night was stopping to notice and celebrate this glorious thing that had been inching its way into existence day by day, growing like a slender tough stalk, almost imperceptibly, until one day you realize it’s become a strong tall tree, providing shade and protection to everyone under its branches.
There’s something about a marriage of adults, -people who own homes and businesses and have families and patterns and traditions. Of course, there is something so sweet and shining about a young bride and groom, and their first home and first dishes and first set of towels. But there is a different beauty and a different force when two -people who have been down that road far enough to hit some bumps decide to bend themselves once again toward partnership. Where there was naïveté, here there is sobriety. Where a young bride leaves her family, an older bride brings hers with her. Where a young groom hopes all goes well, an older groom knows what to do when it doesn’t.
That night felt sacred and beautiful and imbued with something heavy. It was a hard-won celebration, a willingness to re-believe in love, to fall again, to teach and be taught, to enter through a door both had believed was closed forever. We danced and ate cake and toasted them with champagne and told crazy old sailing stories, for our own benefit, certainly, since every person there had heard them all a million times. We laughed and let the kids stay up way too late and watched the bobbing mast lights on the sailboats in the harbor, hypnotized by them and by the beauty and hope of that night.
Taken from Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequest. Copyright © 2007 by Shauna Niequist. Used by permission of Zondervan.