I noticed in the recent issue of a popular magazine that Prince William will not be wearing a wedding band.
I wondered, 'Is that odd?'
I started combing the Internet to find out and found a 2003 article by Vicki Howard that traces both the history and gender theory implications of the tradition of the "double ring" ceremony.
Little did I know that the male wedding band "tradition" did not begin until after World War II. Prior to that time, only the lady received a ring, fancy or otherwise. But then in the 1940's, due to competition from department stores, jewelry stores began marketing wedding bands as a specialty for men both as a romantic symbol of domesticity as well as a masculine symbol of commitment to family and country. Howard shares how the spiritual meaning of the rings and incorporation into the marriage rite merely followed the fad.
As a Lutheran pastor, I always bless the wedding bands during a wedding ceremony, saying that just as a ring has no beginning or end, God's love for us is never-ending and inspires the love we have for one another. As the bride and groom exchange rings, they say these words of promise: "I give you this ring as a sign of my love and faithfulness." A symbol that will not be removed until death parts the husband and wife.
In hospice care, we see countless times how the wedding band of a dying spouse is not only a highly valued and public sign, that says without words, "I have loved someone deeply," but also becomes a treasured keepsake.
Like Marge, who lay quietly in her hospital bed nestled in the familiar surroundings of her family home. Her husband, Frank, sat by her side as he did most days, his hand resting softly on hers. His ring finger sported not only his wedding band on his first knuckle but her smaller ring on his second knuckle. Frank shares how several months ago, on one of their many trips to the hospital, Marge touched the tip of her finger to his, and they slid her wedding band on to his finger. He smiled with deep affection at that symbol that stood for their love, commitment, and family. After Marge died, Frank kept her ring on a chain around his neck; a way for her presence to remain connected to him.
Or this past year, I had the honor of conducting a wedding for one of our hospice patients. His final wish being that his longtime girlfriend and caregiver would be baptized and then marry him. As a hospice team, we pride ourselves in creativity and making the impossible happen, so we got to work. After a simple and sacred baptism in the kitchen sink, we began preparations for the ceremony and celebration. A wedding dress materialized, food was donated, a cake baked, and rings were given. With friends of the couple, our hospice team, and his bride gathered around his bedside, the exchange of the rings became not only a public symbol of love and faithfulness but a keepsake for a soon-to-be-grieving widow.
For both of these couples, their wedding bands were both tokens of intimacy and connection but also public signs of their commitment. And I wondered, what other public sign of love, faithfulness, and commitment do we have that also can hold such uniquely personal remembrances of a committed love?
I guess Prince William doesn't need a public symbol of marriage. Everyone will know he is married. But symbols always have both public and private meanings, and in eschewing this one, is he missing out on the richness of marriage symbol?
To read more on aging, death, and dying from Amy Ziettlow, visit www.familyscholars.org.