Today is my sixteenth wedding anniversary. For our wedding, my husband and I flew back to Ireland from our home here in San Francisco. We were married in Lacken, a tiny village in County Wicklow where my father was born and raised. When I was a girl, Dad would often drive our family of eight down from Dublin to visit Lacken. By that time, Dad’s family had scattered elsewhere and his childhood cottage home had fallen to ruins and was no longer owned by any of his blood. Our Lacken adventures largely skipped over the remaining stones of Dad’s former home and instead we enjoyed the stunning Blessington Lakes, the surrounding scenery, and the tiny (but to us children awe-inspiring) church, Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
In 1996, the year my husband and I married, Lacken church was no longer in regular use and we required special permission to marry there. (I can write a hell of a letter when needed.) I wanted to marry in Lacken Church because I’m sentimental, because it was the only church I’d ever felt any deep connection to, and because I wanted my father to know that I loved him.
I would like to pretend that it was my mother, or that I can even remember who advised me, but shortly before the wedding, someone suggested I pause at the start of the aisle and take a moment to soak in everything: my family, friends, and guests in the pews, the sunlight spilling through the stained glass windows, the sharp incense, burning wax, and sweet flowers, and my husband standing at the altar waiting for me, his head twitching to turn around.
As I walked into the church that sunny Friday afternoon, my arm linked to my father, I had every intention of stopping as advised at the start of the aisle and taking my moment and committing everything to memory. However, just as I reached the aisle, my long, long veil (there are streams shorter) caught on a nail and tugged my head backwards. As I walked the fog-locked beach this morning in San Francisco, far from that tiny Irish village, I realized that my veil getting caught on that nail is one of my most vivid memories from my wedding day.
So much lately I’ve been asking myself what are the moments that stand out for me. Where are the nails? It seems the nails could be clues to who I truly am and what really matters to me. Last week, I attended The Rumpus party for Cheryl Strayed and the release of Tiny Beautiful Things, a ‘best of’ from her brilliant Dear Sugar column. As Cheryl Strayed radiated from the stage, I knew I was in the presence of someone enlightened and light-giving, someone who really knows who she is and what she stands for and what work she was put here to do. Me, I’m still floundering. Me, I’m still too full of fear. Me, who is me?
The constants in my life have always been reading and writing. That I know. My body, my gut instincts, have always guided me well. That I also know. It’s also true that I’ve grown into the kind of woman who would remain at the ruins of her father’s childhood home much longer than I ever did in childhood, paying homage and realizing how hard it must have been for Dad to see the cottage fallen to rubble, like nails through him. “We didn’t have much,” he once told me, “but we had a happy home.”
I’m at a point in my life where I’m reading and writing more than I ever have before, and yet my gut instincts tell me something’s missing, something’s wrong. Keeping this blog once gave me so much joy, so did social networking (Hail, Twitter, Hiss, Facebook). I love keeping up with online friends and the lit community at large, it feels important, vital, and less lonely and isolating. However, more and more, I bring little if anything to these forums and I’m getting back much the same.
Another vivid moment from my wedding day is right before the ceremony, when my father and I stepped out of the wedding car and through the iron gates into the grounds of Lacken church: Dad looked at me, his head tilted upwards, mouth open and his eyes shining, a look of wonder and pride pouring out of his face, a look I’d never seen from him before or since. His look was a nail of an altogether different sort. It was the kind of joyous, proud, love-filled look I want to be able to give myself in the mirror.
I’m going to take some time out and try to get quiet and still and to listen and see. I’m going to pray for help. Please God, show me how to live a life of meaning. Then I’m going to wait to be snagged by a nail.