Shortly after our wedding this month, Arline and I spent some time on the Oregon coast. Every day Arline would ask me: “Are you going to wear your ring to the beach?” Yes, I would say. “Are you going to wear your ring to the coffee shop?” Yes.
Arline was afraid of her ring getting lost or scratched or stolen. Wedding rings are meant to be worn, I said. Her ring was my great grandfather’s, and it hadn’t been lost or stolen while he wore it. The gold has some scratches, but to me that means the ring was much loved.
I had found it interesting to notice, as we developed our secular ceremony with our officiant and friend, Juan, which rituals from the traditional Christian wedding we retained and which we didn’t. The ring vows — I didn’t know there was such a phrase — turned out to be important to us. Of course, we didn’t want to say, “With this ring, I thee wed,” so Arline and I talked for a long time about what rings meant to us and why we were going to wear them.
For me, the circle of the ring symbolized our connection among a sea of intimate circles — my original family, her children and their families, my mother’s and father’s families, our friends and their families. For her, the circle extended backward and forward in time, linking her to my great grandfather and her own ancestors as well as to whoever might wear this ring in the future.
We were walking the stretch of beach past Haystack Rock, encrusted with seagull nests and barnacles, when Arline said, “I wonder if your great grandfather died with this ring on?” Someone must have removed the ring from his finger, soon before or after his death, and cradled it, cherishing the love that had prompted him to keep it all those years. The ring is engraved with his and my great grandmother’s initials and the day of their wedding, January 12, 1909.
Arline held out her hand in the sun, and the ring burned with the heat of that history. I thought of the Iron and Wine song with the almost unbearably sad line: “One of us will die inside these arms.” And one of us will remove the other’s ring. And maybe someone younger will wear it. Or, as I did with my grandmother’s and great grandmother’s rings, melt them together and make something shiny new.
It was Arline’s idea to say, as she slid the ring over my finger, “With this ring I honor the many who have come before us who made this moment possible.” It was mine to add something cheesy: “And I commit my heart and soul to you.” As we spoke our ring vows, I felt the love of our friends and family gathered together. I felt the others, the ones who came before us and the ones who will come after. Because the circle is never broken. It gleams, wheeling us forward and back, ever around.