"When we get married, we'll have a big celebration."
Guess what I did on my summer vacation? I went and got married.
It was to the same woman I've been hitched to for the past 20 years, so maybe "married" is not the right term. Maybe I should call it a "remarriage" or a "recommitment."
Or an "ordeal."
Granted, that doesn't sound as romantic as the others, but it's a lot more accurate. You want to break an enemy spy? Forget chemicals and beatings. Just make him plan a wedding. He'll break in three days flat, I promise you. This particular wedding required more extensive strategizing than the D-Day invasion. Caused more sleepless nights than major surgery. It was difficult, it was time-consuming, it was complicated.
But at least it was hideously expensive.
Seriously, I could have bought a car with what I spent here. I'm talking the luxury options package: CD player, seat warmers, the works.
Eventually, I found that the only way to keep my sanity was to pretend I was spending Monopoly money. And I'm thinking to myself, what a difference a couple of decades makes. The first time Marilyn and I got married young couple in L.A., poor in everything but love we rented a chapel in Hollywood for a couple hundred bucks. Few hundred more for the dress, the tux, the cake. Held the reception at my mother's house. The whole shebang probably cost us a grand.
This time around, the photographer alone cost more.
And what did we get for our investment? We got to say our vows and then retire to a hotel ballroom where friends and family from all over the country stood and told gracious lies about our wonderfulness. We got to hear our 18-year-old testify publicly that we had been pretty good parents, notwithstanding dozens of previous claims to the contrary. We got to have kids blow soap bubbles toward us as we danced to "our" song, an obscure number you've never heard of whose opening line says, "You're the smile that I've searched for on a thousand different faces."
In a word, we got to get married. Again.
I don't mean to sound too smug about a mere 20th anniversary. Mainly because, every time I've ever been tempted toward self-satisfaction about a marital milestone, some older person has cheerfully assured me that it wasn't diddly squat. Wait till you've been together as long as we have, young feller, they say. Then you can talk.
But you know what? In a world where nobody gets married anymore, it still feels like ... something. Some triumph of covenant, maybe. Some rejection of impermanence. And maybe that seems like a big deal to me specifically because I'm a member of the generation that once declared marriage moribund and commitment passe. It's a lie we sold so effectively that, decades later, it sometimes seems there are no more wives and husbands. Just "the mother of my children" and "my baby's daddy."
There was a time when family was bedrock. Now it often feels as fleeting, as evanescent, as ... well, soap bubbles. We are less anchored than we once were. Less centered. And it happened largely though not solely because my generation discarded ritual and held ceremony to be empty.
But we were wrong. I understood that all over again as the music swelled, the bubbles fell, and my wife and I danced with children and friends and family all around. It occurred to me that this moment wasn't empty. Indeed, it was almost painfully full.
Summer vacations are seldom cheap, I suppose. One year, I spent a fortune to stand in long lines at the Mouse House in Orlando. Another year, I broke the piggy bank to watch water fall over the cliff in Niagara. This year, I stayed home to reaffirm the promise I once made to a smile I'd searched for on a thousand different faces. Know what I got for my investment?
Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald.