Folks, my sweetheart Iola Humboldt and I have eighteen grandchildren and twenty-three great-grandchildren. We keep their names, with their pictures, on our refrigerator. Last month, Iola said, “We need a bigger refrigerator!” We had just returned from another family wedding: one more picture and name to learn.
“We could buy a second refrigerator,” I said. “I’ll put my family on one, you put yours on the other.”
“Weddings make me feel closer, not farther apart,” she said.
“I was teasing,” I said. But Iola had taken it wrong.
I waited a day. “Maybe we should say some vows,” I said.
“I’ve liked the weddings where they quote First Corinthians,” said Iola. “The love verses.”
“Love versus what?” I teased. She was hurt. “I’m sorry,” I said. I went for the Bible. Iola found the verses:
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. That’s you,” she said. “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
“Love is patient and kind,” she continued. “Or else it SHOULD be. Love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
“Could you say all that?” Iola asked.
“Don’t know,” I said.
“Quit teasing,” she said. “Be serious for once.”
“I don’t like to idealize love,” I said. “How about you say First Corinthians. I’ll say something like, Love is hard work with wonderful moments of rest; love is muddy, with clear water running beneath; love is frustrating in the short run, but rewarding in the long run; love is compromising until you know your limitations. It most certainly is rude, insistent on its own way, irritable and resentful. Still it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love endures a cluttered refrigerator, covered with names.”
“You certainly lack sentimentality,” said Iola.
“Not really,” I said. “Love is like this refrigerator. Each picture is an individual working to make a relationship. You stand back and look at the whole thing. It has no name. It is too big to think about. It’s hard to put that into vows.”
“Let’s not try to do it, then, ever again,” said Iola.
“Again?” I asked.
“Yes, again. You just tried. When I’m feeling in need of vows, I’ll inspect the refrigerator with its mix of fresh and moldy, spicy and bland. Then I’ll shut the door, back up and try to take in the whole cluttered, beautiful thing, inside and out.”
“I love you,” I said. And that was vows enough for us.