Monday, April 9, 2012

A Paperless Marriage

Carnegie Hall
Feb. 2, 2012
Yet another lesson from my time with Rahima: "Better to keep a vow not made than to make a vow not kept." I offer this not as a knock against the institution of marriage or my previous two marriages. Rather, I am writing it down here as an affirmation, a discovery that is consistent with my intent to live with my feet on the ground and my eyes and heart open.

From the start, I knew that Rahima was special. We had only been dating two weeks when I asked her to move in with me. She thought that was a crazy idea. So I said, "May I ask you again tomorrow?"

About six months later, during her treatment after the initial cancer diagnosis, she did join me in the second-floor apartment I was renting on Madison Circle. After an initial adjustment period, that arrangement went swimmingly well, shattering one of my personal myths that I may be likable but I'm impossible to live with. Rahima loved living with me. Moving together to the house that she purchased on Haywood Street was a natural next step.

We got together in the spring of 2009 and we never spoke openly about marriage until the terminal diagnosis in January 2012. "This would have been a great marriage," I said ruefully one day. Or, "My most successful marriage wasn't, on paper anyway." In our recent sharing, she told me she had a startling vision of us as a married couple in a former life. Should she survive, we both saw it in our future.

Nonetheless, in truth we met the standard of a healthy marriage:
  • fidelity—"I will never leave you" was her mantra to me, especially in the early days
  • deep friendship—we actually liked each other's company, it was easy to be together for hours
  • comfort—we created a home space that was comfortable for us and our loved ones; our children felt secure and happy with us; we delighted in welcoming people into our home for parties, groups and get-togethers
  • communication—learning to listen well was a top priority for both of us; we worked ceaselessly at the risky task of speaking truth in love
  • spiritual grounding—we shared a sense of transcendence and sought to enliven the spirit within 
  • forbearance—"great forgiveness, great compassion" was a catch phrase for our interpersonal work, and we faced hardship well together
  • love—she showed me exquisite tenderness in body, mind and spirit
  • fun—we delighted in doing countless activities together
I am most grateful to have succeeded with Rahima in the realm that marriage attempts to codify, in effect to have had a "paperless marriage."

A deeper paradox for me is that the acknowledgement of Rahima's terminal condition, first to the Society of Friends, then the Amandla Chorus and ultimately at her memorial service, had the effect of a wedding announcement in the presence of beloved friends and family. In these sacred circles, a testimony of our great love was held in community. Further, Rahima expected that I would find such a love again after her passing. These observations are all rather confusing to my conventional mind, but wonderful just the same.


What does marriage mean to you?


  1. Andy, I remember talking to my mom on the phone after you guys had broached the marriage subject for one of the first times. I can't remember the conversation but she was just telling me about how happy it made both of you to realize that you were both open to it in the future. I think a paperless marriage is smack dab on the nose what you guys had. Love you and miss you.

  2. Andy, I would agree with all of the points that you have made here. I find the above-mentioned quote quite provoking, as I feel that that there is no real need for labels and a piece of paper to ascertain the feelings, commitment, and devotion between lovers. Love can certainly be a beautiful thing.