I've been to a couple weddings this summer -- I've even officiated at one -- and it's got me to thinking about my own nuptials 36 years ago. That's especially noteworthy today, August 14, because that's the day I married Pam Shannon. And I'm happy to say we've been together ever since!
Strangely, as I look back from here, what strikes me most about that day aren't our hippy-dippy outfits (more mine than Pam's) or that we were married in her parents' yard or that there was no mention of God in the ceremony or any of the other things you might associate with an "alternative" 1970's wedding.
No, what hit me, and has stayed with me, are the influence and words of Kahlil Gibran. Now, before you groan, understand that Pam is part Lebanese and that her father is a first-generation Lebanese American -- and a Christian one like Gibran at that! All things Lebanon, Gibran included, are sacred with the Shannon (originally Shanin) family.
Of course, the crazy thing is that while for us Gibran was essential, practically familial, everyone else at that time -- and millions since -- have included excerpts from Gibran's The Prophet among their wedding readings. Why is that?
I think some of it has to do with who we were and what we were like in the 1960's when The Prophet's popularity soared and it became one of the bibles of the counter-culture. Many of us were sick and tired of dogma and orthodox religion and here was someone who was dogma-free, unorthodox and non-judgmental, yet spiritual. Plus, the language has a flowery, poetic, quasi-magical feel to it that appeals to old English majors like me who also adore William Blake, one of Gibran's idols.
The BBC broadcast a program on the enduring popularity of Gibran and The Prophet last May. In it, Dr. Mohamed Salah Omri, lecturer in Modern Arabic literature at Oxford University, shared his insights: "It (The Prophet) serves various occasions or big moments in one's life so it tends to be a book that is often gifted to a lover, or for a birth or death. That is why it has spread so widely, and by word of mouth," he says, pointing out that The Prophet has inspired song lyrics and political speeches, and the Beatles, John F Kennedy and Indira Gandhi are among those who have been influenced by its words.
And what words they are! Simple, warm, human, distinctive. They adorned our wedding invitations, were spoken by us and our siblings at our 1976 wedding and still bring tears to my eyes whenever I read them. And hearing them spoken by Meryl Streep can be especially good for the soul, too.
Pam and I visited Becharre, the birthplace of Gibran, in late 1977. It sits at nearly 5,000 feet in the Kadisha Valley in northern Lebanon and literally takes your breath away. But rather than spend a lot of time indoors at the Gibran museum, we stood outside, taking in the spectacular view, in particular the extraordinary Cedars of Lebanon.
It was then that the words came back to me and I knew, in my heart, why Gibran was so right for our wedding -- and for our marriage.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the Cyprus grow not in each other's shadows.