The questions had been accumulating for a year or so, and as my daughter Rebecca threaded her way through the maze that is eastern Jackson County, Missouri, I added one more: "Why are they" "they" being her brother and the putative woman of his dreams "getting married in a place like this?"
She said something to the effect that they had been out here before, and they liked it, which wasn't much, but it was enough to shut me up for the moment. Just as well. I still hadn't come to grips with the more important question, which was "Why are they getting married at all?"
I was still wrestling with that one, and trying to make enough idle chatter to conceal it, when she wheeled the truck into something called "Missouri Town 1855", on the face of it the very definition of prefab quaint, a low-tech simulation of how life supposedly really was back in the Good Old Days. Except that it wasn't all that prefab. A patient Parks and Recreation Department guy explained to the visiting skeptic that all of these buildings, presumably excepting the shed that housed the vending machines out by the entrance gate, actually dated from 1855 or a few years before the chapel, where the wedding was to take place, was built in 1845 and were moved, piecemeal if necessary, from various parts of Missouri to this remote corner near Lake Jacomo. A theme park, it's not; it's just a small monument to a modest people living in a simpler time.
I tried to keep this mind while I combed through the chapel in search of anachronisms. The suspiciously-modern-looking chimney above the old wood stove immediately hove into view; it didn't take much more detective work to turn up the AC outlet near the podium or the up-to-date deadbolts on the doors. "You can't have everything," I observed, and dropped out the side door and down a few steps to what, in a real Missouri town of 1855, would have been a graveyard. There was a stone, roughly hewn, and a monument, carefully sculpted, neither of which bore a name. And as I trudged back up the hill, noting with some satisfaction that it was impossible to see the power lines or the parking lot or any of the trappings of the present, the answers began to come forward.
While my cynicism regarding love and marriage knows no bounds, I always allow for the possibility, however slender, that I may be wrong. (Hey, it could happen.) And even when I'm right, I may have gotten there the wrong way. So there's a chance that I've completely misinterpreted the whole thing. But hear me out.
The ring, as geometry teachers and ministers of the Gospel will remind us, is a perfect circle: it has no beginning, it has no end. Quite clearly, mankind has a beginning we haven't always been here and inevitably, for whatever reason, we will have some sort of end. But our termination points aren't visible to the naked eye; we see ourselves, rather, as points on the curve. There is, somewhere, a place for each of us, somewhere in the continuum. And sometimes, if our dreams come true, a place for one becomes a place for two.
And while Russell and Alicia, twenty-first-century lovers in a nineteenth-century setting, pledged themselves to one another from this day forward, it all started to make sense. "We are today," they seemed to say. "But we embrace the past, even as we set forth on our journey to the future. The steps we take today are the steps by which our society renews itself. As it was then, so shall it be today, and for all the days to come."
They kissed, and the deal was done. And the old man saw, and was glad that he had seen.
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Copyright © 2000 by Charles G. Hill