September 2003 #3

On Getting Married

It was my brother in-laws wedding last weekend. A time when the extended family got together with relatives travelling from Tasmania and Queensland to be there.

There was the radiant bride, the proud parents, the beautiful bridesmaids and the hunky best man and groomsman (or at least that's what the ladies were saying).

The ceremony was just how I like them. I call them time ceremonies. You know the kind; the siren at the end of the second quarter blows, the wedding happens and you're back on the sidelines cheering the team as they run out for the third quarter. Then there was the reception. Held at a classy place we had waiters, good wine and great food.

It was, to be honest, one of the best weekends I've had for a long time. When I began to reflect on why that was so I realised that it was because, other than an idiot in a Magna who decided to do a spin out in front of me (the weather wasn't too good in Melbourne last weekend), it was a relatively stress free escape from the pressures of the real world. I'm not saying that it was a fantasy wedding or that I treated it as a some sort of escapism, but rather it gave me the opportunity to reflect on why so many are working so hard to try and change the systems that oppress and shackle us.

There was joy, happiness, laughter and a few tears - which is a tradition in itself. There were the young kids running riot, the older ones sitting back with hat "been there, done that" or "do they really know what they're in for" look  in their eyes. It was the first time I felt a really 'tribal' connection to my kith and kin. Many of them, in fact I am yet to meet one who shares my passions, don't see eye to eye with me on much, but this wedding helped me understand that its not a clear cut case of right and wrong all the time. Rather it's a matter of degrees, tempered by love at one end of the scale and tolerance at the other.

The celebration was the culmination of 12 months of planning and all that goes with it. Here we were, lefty, conservative, orthodox, right wing and maybe even a few budding Christian Socialists gathered to break bread and share in the beginning of a new partnership.

As I looked around during the church service, the photo shoot and the reception, I had reinforced once more, the fact that life is bigger than the problems we face. It's a matter of how we face those problems and who we face them with. While some of my feminist friends may cry "patriarchy" over the wedding ceremony, I believe that at the point of uttering the vows there is a transcendent moment when power is removed from the relationship of the two and distributed among every individual who witnesses the ceremony. This occurs during that part of the ceremony when the minister calls on the witnesses to acknowledge the vows.

At that moment we are called to  not just watch but to become actively engaged in the action that is taking place. We are asked to not sit back and enjoy the free food and wine, but to join in the journey of the two people who are committing their lives to each other. Its all about that notion of obligation. We are watered and fed and given a good time in exchange for a few trinkets. But more importantly, from a tribal perspective, we are asked to enter into a commitment by pledging our support as we, collectively, watch over the new partnership that, if 'fruitful', will increase the collective wealth and prestige of the tribe.

While I'm not so idealistic to believe that partnerships and marriages should never fall apart, I do wonder how many might have been saved if those witnesses had remained more involved in supporting and encouraging the couples. Of course, the reality is that not everyone will stay with his or her original partner and that is neither good nor bad. Its just a fact of human relationships. In response to my feminist friends I can point to the many strong women who say enough is enough and walk away. And so they should if the male in the relationship refuses to change his behaviour. Many other women need to be empowered to do the same.

I guess over the years our liberal society has just got lazy as we, en-masse, subscribe to the idea of individualism and contribute to the atomisation of our society. That retreat into the back yards of suburbia where the fences are now taller than the clothes lines under which I can still recall my mother chatting with our neighbours while watching us kids play. Nowadays, if our council allows us to erect a clothesline - how many do you see in these new housing developments - the fences we put up prevent us from chatting with the neighbours anyway!

Next time you watch one of those garden or home make over shows take note of what they do to prevent interaction with the neighbours. What do we see in the back yards? Fences higher than the celebrity gardeners and builders are tall. If the fence is not like that when they start, they will tack a trellis on top and plant a climber, all the while describing how good it will look in two months time and how, once the climber is established it will prevent 'prying eyes' from seeing this wonderful creation.

These programs encourage us to create our own little paradises but not open and welcoming spaces. The programs encourage us to create privatised gardens of Eden that need to be shut off from the world and shared with no-one. This retreat into the private world of our own making is a demonstration of how out of control we are made to believe the world has become. We are told that it is much safer to stay at home and not become involved. In short, we are encouraged to refuse to become witnesses to what is occurring around us. Many of us choose to stay in our back yards or indoors in an environment we can 'control' (to some extent anyway) than to go out and engage the world head on.

This cutting off from each other was brought back into focus as the minister asked us to be witnesses to the wedding because it jolted me back to the reality of the world. While I was safe and happy, and the wedding was a welcome break from study, work and the despair I often feel, I realised that I was being asked to engage with this couple in their life journey. I had taken the trouble to throw on the bag of fruit (I even washed the car - can you believe it) and take a day out from the nice, safe controlled world of my studio/office and spent it with the outlaws and other rellies.

This simple, age old ceremony reinvigorated me. It would have been easy to walk away from the reception and think, "well that's the last in-law hitched", lets go home. That would have been the simple response. On reflection it became obvious that the day had been more than just a wedding for me. It had taken on the impetus of a rally call. A call to once more join in the daily struggle of those whose circumstance is not entirely of their own making. To remain vigilant and alert for the signs of what other good, just and right things are being stripped from us. And, finally, to remember what it's like to fall in love. I had a great time last weekend, with only one minor distraction. A bit of R & R can go a long way and if you have not had the chance to relax for a while, can I suggest you just take even a short walk through a park, or step outside and greet your neighbour. Of course this won't solve ongoing feuds or create world peace or feed the hungry or solve the debt burden. But it might just make you feel better and if you feel better, then you may just be able to better serve those around you. After all, we are truly witnesses of each other's life journey. The challenge for us is to become more than just watchers as lives pass us by and to actively join with them, hear their hopes and dreams and work in partnership to create a better world for my brother in law and his new wife's (future) kids.