Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Wedding candy

One evening recently, Em and I were planning our wedding, and trying to find a reading that is not religious, but meaningful and applicable.

My favorite short story by Robert Fulghum, from his book Everything I Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten, would be perfect in my opinion. Em thinks it's a little dark, referring to death, war and such. It's pretty short, so read it and give me your opinion:

THE RUSSIANS ARE A ROTTEN LOT, immoral, aggressive, ruthless, coarse, and generally evil. They are responsible for most of the troubles in this world. They're not like us.

That's pretty much the summary of the daily news about the Russians. But sometimes something slips through the net of prejudice, some small bit of a sign that is so clean and true and real that it wedges open the rusting Iron Curtain long enough for us to see not an enemy but fellow travelers, joined to us by membership in the Fellowship of Joy-and-Pain.

See Nicolai Pestretsov. I don't know much about him, I don't know where he is now, but I'll tell you what I know.

He was a sergeant major in the Russian army, thirty-six years old. He was stationed in Angola, a long way from home. His wife had come out to visit him.

On August 24, South African military units entered Angola in an offensive against the black nationalist guerrillas taking sanctuary there. At the village of N-Giva, they encountered a group of Russian soldiers. Four were killed and the rest of the Russians fled, except for Sergeant Major Pestretsov. He was captured, as we know because the South African military communique said:

"Sgt. Major Nicolai Pestretsov refused to leave the body of his slain wife, who was killed in the
assault on the village."

It was as if the South Africans could not believe it, for the communique repeated the information. "He went to the body of his wife and would not leave it, although she was dead."

How strange. Why didn't he run and save his own hide? What made him go back? Is it possible that he loved her? Is it possible that he wanted to hold her in his arms one last time? Is it possible that he needed to cry and grieve? Is it possible that he felt the stupidity of war? Is it possible that he felt the injustice of fate? Is it possible that he thought of children, born or unborn? Is it possible that he didn't care what became of him now?

It's possible. We don't know. Or at least we don't know for certain. But we can guess. His actions answer.

And so he sits alone in a South African prison. Not a "Russian" or "Communist" or "soldier" or "enemy" or any of those categories. Just-a-man, who cared for just-a-woman, for just-a-time, more than anything else.

Here's to you, Nicolai Pestretsov, wherever you may go and be, for giving powerful meaning to the promises that are the same everywhere; for dignifying that covenant that is the same in any language - "for better or for worse, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love and honor and cherish unto death, so help me God. "

You kept the faith; kept it bright, kept it shining. Bless you!

(Oh, the Russians are a rotten lot, immoral, aggressive, ruthless, coarse, and general evil. They are responsible for most of the troubles of this world. They are not like us. Yeah, right.)

I hate to admit it, but I can't read it without crying. That doesn't mean it's perfect to be read aloud in a wedding. Thoughts?


Violet said...

I agree that it is a touching story... However, I think that something a bit more "uplifting" might be better, but that's just me.

arthist99 said...

The sentiment is great, but the story might be a little depressing for a wedding. You want happy crying, not I-wanna-cut-my-wrists Romeo and Juliet crying.

Chris Johnson said...

I agree with Em.

Kim Leslie said...

Um, how 'bout this?

As you begin your journey as one, reflect on the gifts that you receive through each other’s love.
Where you had pain, there is now nurturing.
Where you found conflict, there is now balance.
Where you had satisfaction, there is now a miracle.
The miracle of your marriage extends throughout your family
and loved ones.

As you begin your journey as one, consider the power of your union. The power of your love contains all that you will ever need. All things done with love can only strengthen your bond.

As you begin your journey as one, embrace the lessons you will learn.
Lessons of understanding, of compassion, and of wisdom.
Lessons of trust, of patience, and of boundaries.
Lessons of commitment, of faith, and of enlightenment.
Lessons of strength and weakness.
And lessons of forgiveness.

As you begin your journey as one, take with you the love of this gathering of souls. For all who share in the celebration of your marriage are pure of heart, and illuminated by your sacred purpose here today.

You are loved.
You are blessed.
And you are whole, as you begin your journey as one.

Maven said...

I think it is a great piece of writing; however, it is dark. And granted marriages can have their dark moments. However, the "timeliness" of it (i.e. Russians being our enemy) might be lost on folks. Wedding days should be a bit lighter than this. But it should be noted that in Moscow, it is customary for brides and grooms to go to the grave of the unknown soldier, to pay respects to their dead.

Perhaps this could be recited at your rehearsal dinner, as it really does appear to have meaning for you, so you can have the solemness of reading it; and then the next day can be about rejoicing? Just an idea.