December 15, 2011
Ours was an outdoor wedding. We held it at the camp we had co-founded under a huge stone arch. Our loved ones sat in white wooden chairs in ideal weather – warm with high blue skies. Two dear family friends were our officiates. 12 friends and families stood with us as we said our vows. Susie was radiant.
It was perfect . . . until it wasn’t.
Midway through the ceremony, a 4 year-old boy separated from the congregation and walked behind our make-shift altar. We were actually standing underneath a stone archway that led to a meeting room with 10 feet high doors. The toddler found the doors and got busy.
He opened one. He slammed it. He opened another and slammed it as well. The room had 4 doors, so we got four openings and slammings. Yet he was not done. He then got vocal, “Mommy, look.” Slam. “Look!” Slam. “LOOK!” Mega-slam. Oddly, mom never did anything to retrieve him. After 5 minutes (which felt like an hour), he tired and moved on.
I thought to myself, “He is ruining our ceremony.” I then looked at Susie. She had an expression of patient amusement. Sensing my frustration, she gave me a loving smile and brought me back to the moment.
After the ceremony ended and we survived the wedding photos, I found myself getting annoyed again.
“Can you believe that he did that? Or that his mom did not stop it?”
“He’s just a little boy. He did not ruin anything. He just gave us the first memory of our marriage.”
This statement made a profound impact on me for two reasons.
First, I realized that I married very well.
Second, it taught me a lesson that has framed my personal philosophy ever since. Others have expressed this before. Voltaire is credited with saying that “the perfect is the enemy of the good”. Here is how I have come to understand it.
It is more important to be positive and present than to be perfect.
The “relentless pursuit of perfection” might be a fine manufacturing philosophy, but I think it is poisonous to daily life. You will not have a perfect wedding, or party, or spouse, or child. To set that as a goal is to embrace frustration before an experience happens or a person is met.
In fact, I would go one further. The imperfections of life are the sparks of its greatest memories.
Here is a sampling.
Friends and Food Poisoning
We honeymooned in Turkey. While there, Susie got some serious food poisoning. I did not want to leave my new wife’s side, but when I brought back food for lunch, she banished me. The very smell of food turned her stomach, so I had to eat away from her.
At dinner, I went to an outdoor café next to our hotel near Ephesus. While eating a sandwich, overheard a conversation. A couple seated near me was talking with the most beautiful of English accents. I was not really listening to the conversation, only the timbre of the accents. At least, until I heard this sentence,
“That was right after my semester at Davidson College.”
Each year, Davidson (by beloved alma mater) takes 4-8 English students into a special program. Davidson is tiny, with only 1600 students in attendance. To have someone from England attend is a rarity. To be seated 5 feet from one in Turkey boggles the mind.
I interrupted and introduced myself.
That is how I met Colin and Lucy.
We fell into easy and happy conversation. So easy and happy that I lost track of time. Meanwhile, Susie was suffering with a fever that led to odd hallucinations. She became convinced that I had been gone for hours (it was closer to 90 minutes). She then determined that I must have been kidnapped by Turkish hooligans.
She decided that she must save me. She left the room and found her way outside. Through her fever-induced delirium, she spots me. She then felt incredibly light-headed and started to faint. I ran to her, caught her (romantically, I would like to think) and heard these words,
“If . . . I . . . go . . . to . . . the . . . hospital . . . . tell . . them . . . to . . . use . . . clean . . . needles.”
OK, she might not have been cogent, but she was committed. At the time, none of that was fun, but we treasure that moment as a couple.
We became great friends with Colin and Lucy. They rearranged their trip so that they traveled with us in our rented car for 10 days.
Another imperfect moment that created a memory was the midnight drive during which our gas-cap broke. Our car would not work without it on. It broke into 14 tiny pieces. We had to re-assemble it using the headlight. I think that is the moment we went from convenient co-travellers to true friends. If you can spend an hour searching for small springs in the dust and reassemble them while having fun, that is a pretty good indication of true compatibility.
They visited us in Texas 4 years later. We stayed with them 2 months ago in London. Our children and their children became friends. We broke out the photo albums and howled at the pictures of the obviously pale and sickly Susie. Susie laughed the hardest.
Had Susie not eaten some bad lettuce, we would never have met.
The Yack Attack
When the twins were born, we went to Susie’s church in Wellesley for their christening.
While we stood at the front of the church, the pastor held Liam aloft to the congregation. He was wearing a gown that was over 150 years old that had been in Susie’s family for several generations.
In the front row was a group of high school students that were there to report on a recent service project.
The pastor held Liam like the monkey in the Lion King, with his hands under his armpits with Liam facing the congregation. He started to describe the history and significance of the gown.
As a child, Liam suffered from acid reflux.
At the moment that pastor finished his lovely description of the family gown, Liam produced a stream of vomit that shot 3-4 feet out toward the viewers.
Standing behind everyone, I could not seen the stream, but I could see the high-schoolers duck below the pews like soldiers avoiding incoming fire.
Going with the Snow
Every two years, Camp Champions has a ski trip between Christmas and New Years in northern New Mexico.
Three years ago, we had a great trip – great campers and super conditions. Susie’s parents were with us as well, making the event special for our actual family as well as our camp family.
On New Year’s Eve, our family was schedule to fly out of Albuquerque in the evening. 15 minutes before we were to board, an impenetrable fog rolled in, cancelling all flights.
Susie and I darted to the reservation desk to book ourselves on the next flight. To our deep chagrin, we learned that the next opening was in 4 days. Susie and I had booked a cruise that would leave in four days, so that would not work.
We decided to rent two cars and drive home.
That drive was transcendently beautiful. The fog also brought a huge dump of snow. As we drove south, we saw trees covered with snow, barbed wire that sparkled with ice and cacti dusted with frost. The desert can be barren, but it can also be sublime. On that first day, it was unlike anything I have ever seen.
As we drove, we played songs on the radio using my iPod. We shared songs that we had loved as teens. They loved some and mocked others, but we had a blast.
We celebrated the boys birthday at a Chili’s near Carlsbad. They saw their first episode of the Twilight Zone. We visited Carlsbad Caverns.
We drove on roads in West Texas with an 80-MPH speed limit. We visited my mom in Midland.
We talked and bonded. In some ways, the seeds of our previous trip to New Zealand and this trip were planted then. We learned that we can travel inconveniently and happily.
Let me be clear, I am not saying that we should be Ping-Pong balls on the river of life, floating from experience to experience. I believe in planning or preparation. As a camp director, planning is a critical requirement for a successful summer. But once you are in the moment, you should allow yourself to enjoy it and even celebrate the imperfections.
One of my favorite aspects of summer camp is the fact that it is a place that encourages people to be present, to live in the moment. It is a place where we find the joy in a 4-year-old slamming doors during a wedding.