Monday, May 18, 2009

When Words Fail

Since I'm a writer, I suppose people have a right to expect that I have a reasonable command of language. And some days, when I sit down to write, I’d say that I do just fine. I can get a sentence onto the page. However, in those other moments, in real life, when I’m required to speak, in either an extemporaneous or prescribed fashion—well, dang, sometimes I just can’t get the words out.

Take last week, when I had the occasion to call 911. Don’t worry--everyone’s fine. I wouldn’t bring it up otherwise. However, when I made the call, I didn’t know that everyone would be fine. The operator, a calm professional, tried to coax a few words out of me, but I was initially unable to provide much more than my name and street address. Fortunately, the woman sent out an ambulance solely on the merit of my heavy breathing. And after a few minutes, my beloved regained consciousness and was able to coach me from his position on the floor.

Okay, so when it comes to improvised speech under pressure, I am a failure. But what about a more controlled situation? Say, the ability to speak one’s wedding vows. Due to the survival and complete recovery of my beloved, I will have the blessed opportunity to attempt this in a few weeks. I’m a little worried…

First, we’re having a heck of a time trying to find the right words. We’re both in our fifties, and frankly, most of the wedding vows that I’ve read don’t really seem fitting. Fortunately, there’s a great anthology edited by Robert Hass & Stephen Mitchell, called Into the Garden which has a great collection of love poetry and wedding vows from many cultures and religions. This is not only great reading, but it’s helpful. However, since my beloved and I come from different religious traditions, no single set of traditional vows seem quite right.
Many people now make up their own vows, but I just can’t picture us standing up in front of family and friends and promising never to go to bed angry, to drink in the sweet nectar of our years together… Yuck. We will cobble something together at the last minute, using the best old, traditional vows we can find. We are, after all, veterans. Corny as it sounds, we do know what it means to say for richer for poorer, and for sure, we know what it means to be together in sickness and in health (i.e. when I am tongue-tied and you are on the floor). Maybe these old words, the vows that we have heard in churches, in movies and even in soap operas can not be worn out. In fact, maybe they have been polished by their use, and when the time comes, they will slide easily off my tongue.

Lynn York is the author of The Piano Teacher (2004) and The Sweet Life (2007). Her website is

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad it all worked out. SCARY!