A Hopeful Day

I woke up early this morning, just like every other day. I wish I could sleep in, but some days I just can’t get back to sleep. The morning sun is streaming in the windows and its brightness keeps me awake.

My excitement also keeps me awake.

I get up, change, make coffee for Deborah, and go out for a run. The light is a little brighter. The air is a little fresher. The trees are a little greener. Even the sounds of birds are a little louder and clearer. And more hopeful.

Today is the day we are getting married. About a month ago—as we started planning our wedding—we were only concerned with wearing masks, social distancing, and getting someone to come to the house to marry us. These were problems easily overcome in a global pandemic. Even as stay at home orders began being lifted, a simple ceremony with guests primarily watching on Zoom seemed like the best approach for us.

We saw this as a happy time we could share with our friends and family at a time when people could use something to celebrate. Little did we know that events would occur that would begin to fray our society. The death of George Floyd was one more death in a long line of unnecessary deaths of African Americans at the hands of the police. The ongoing protests in support of Black Lives Matter have shed more light on police brutality, systemic racism, inequality, and white privilege.

How can we celebrate at a time like this? It is even more important to celebrate now because there is a path forward. It is not a time to normalize behavior or ignore what is happening and what has happened for decades. It is a time to embrace our differences, learn from each other, and do the work that it takes to move forward.

These are the requirements of a strong relationship, and mine is changing today. Deborah moved in with me when the shelter in place orders started because it made sense for us to be in lockdown together rather than separately. And we discovered that we liked each other even more while spending every waking moment together under the same roof. Love is one thing, but liking each other and wanting to spend time together is an entirely different emotion.

Even after almost two and a half years in a committed relationship, I had not expected marriage to feel different. We are life partners and we were making life plans that inextricably linked our two journeys. Why would a ring and a piece of paper change that? But it did. As soon as we decided we were getting married, it felt different. It shouldn’t have, but it did.

At this moment it hasn’t happened yet, but it feels like the public pronouncement of our partnership—even over Zoom—is the thing that makes it different. Love may be what underlies wedding vows, but the pledge is about so much more. Vows are a pledge about how you will treat your partner and how you wish to be treated. Sharing those promises with others makes you vulnerable. It tells others what your relationship really means.

We have a partnership that will be made stronger through sharing what it means to us. But our ceremony also exists within the institution of marriage and one of the ways to subvert that is from the inside. It starts with our ceremony.

There are no words that distinguish Deborah and me besides our names. We are partners. We are equals in our relationship, so we wanted our ceremony to represent that. Traditional marriage ceremonies follow long-standing, patriarchy-based customs where the man is more important than the woman and goes first in his vows and his “claim” with a ring. We have intentionally reversed that and Deborah will go first in both of those instances in our ceremony.

Are these small things? Of course they are. Do they matter? Of course they do. Change does not happen with revolution. It happens step-by-step with small changes that ultimately add up to large changes. It also happens from the inside, not the outside.

The Black Lives Matter protests can draw attention to the racism inherent in our society, but that is not where change will actually come from. Change will only happen when those within the institutions become aware of the depth of the systemic issues and work to change them. Little by little.

Today I am hopeful that change is possible.

Jeffrey L Cohen

Jeffrey L Cohen