Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Wow, This IS Serious.

I never doubted the seriousness or sanctity of marriage, as it is assumed to be. My parents are still married, still through the occasional rocky times, and as far back as I can tell, there has never been a divorce in the Aronsky line. And I've seen marriages in the movies and on television, getting out of them whatever is intended.

But I never really got the full-on "Whoa, this is heavy!" feeling from marriage more than last Sunday at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda.

We went there because one of my major goals in my life is to visit every presidential library in the nation. We've visited the Reagan Library many times, the first time for the exhibits and Air Force One, the other eight times for the view from the replica of the South Lawn of the White House. We haven't yet gone back to see the new renovations, but no doubt they've jacked up the ticket prices because of them, a lot of haute technology in those halls now.

I loved the Nixon Library because it felt like there was more substance than staging, as it is at the Reagan Library. Everything that is meant to be at the Nixon Library to explain his life and presidency is there. The house in which he was born is there. The helicopter he took off in from the White House lawn at the end of his presidency is there. There is a campaign car from when he ran for the Senate, and correspondence from himself to various figures, the most interesting being a letter to Ray Kroc of McDonalds, complimenting him on the experience he had in going to one. My sister loved the space section, being a space nut, especially the space suit seen at the beginning of the route one takes to get through the museum, right in front of a flat-screen TV showing a video of First Lady Pat Nixon thanking China for the loaning of two panda bears for the Washington Zoo. I loved seeing Nixon's New Jersey office, the desk and cabinet shelves stacked with books. Yesterday, I e-mailed the president of the Nixon Foundation, asking if anyone had ever compiled Nixon's reading list. I want a copy. However, I was disappointed by the emptiness of the Watergate exhibit. Not that they were ignoring that important aspect of Nixon's history (Just try going to the Reagan Library and asking where the Iran-Contra section is), but it felt a little depressed. All of the flat-screen TVs in that section were not on, and I was disappointed because I had hoped to see his resignation speech in full. I liked seeing a bit of the Kennedy/Nixon debate early on in the museum, but I was anticipating that.

The centerpiece of the library appears to be a full replica of the White House East Room, where various concert events and prestigious gatherings were held. It was roped off for a wedding. At first, I thought that whoever decided to have a wedding there was probably into the history of Nixon. But then, who the heck would not want to have a wedding or wedding party in that replica? After all, Tricia Nixon had been married in that vast room at the White House. And from the little I could see, it's astonishing in its detail.

We were at the helicopter, talking to the volunteer docent there, who it turns out had served in the Marines, therefore his justified bias in proclaiming Marine pilots to be the best, better than the Army. I'm not sure of any of that, since I've never served in any branch of the military, but I get the impression that Marine pilots appear to be sharply honed machines, who know not only every aspect of the craft they operate, but every single defense scenario, every single reason to defend what belongs to them and the government. I liked this older gentleman, especially because on a nearby bench, there was a water bottle that belonged to him, as well as a book, "Kennedy & Nixon" by Christopher Matthews (not that one). I told him that in my job, as a part-time substitute campus supervisor, there is some downtime, too, and I love my job for partly the same reason. I recommended to him 31 Days by Barry Werth, about the 31 days after Nixon's resignation, when Ford had to get used to being president very quickly, and all the events within those days. This man was not only articulate in conversation, but also genial. And it didn't feel like an act, as you might find at Disneyland.

During our conversation, the bride and groom of this wedding party came down the sidewalk to the helicopter to take pictures, followed along by two photographers hired for this event. We got out of their way, out of the shot, stood to the side, and continued talking. They left, and took pictures near Nixon's birthplace. I decided it was time to get going, and thanked the docent for his time and talk about books. The bride and groom finished posing for those photos near the house, and we were right behind them. I looked at the groom in the tux, and the bride in this silk white dress, and I thought to myself, looking at the woman from behind, "This really is serious. This is a person, and the man next to her is a person, and they're going to join together in a new life. My god." If ever I find another devoted bibliophile, I'd probably do the same, but wow. This is real. This is serious business.

Later, as I was rooting through the museum store, picking out bookmarks to buy, a United States word seek book, a 1968 campaign book about Spiro Agnew (I know absolutely nothing about him beyond his Greek heritage and his resignation as vice president for tax evasion, and I want to know more), and two bags of the freeze-dried astronaut ice cream for Meridith, Meridith had gone outside, just outside of one of the doors to re-enter the museum, and was watching the procession of the guests to the chairs on the lawn facing the reflecting pool. The ceremony was about to begin. We stayed as the reverend or whoever gave his speech, and as the soon-to-be married couple recited their written vows to each other, and repeated after the high holy authority the well-known words, and I stood there, my hands folded over my bag of souvenirs, and, surprising to me, my head bowed. I looked up, but I was mainly thinking about all of this while looking respectful should anyone from the party see my sister and I from far away. My sister was leaning against one of the columns in front of me, watching, but I was thinking about how this is really something. This is not a life event to treat flippantly. As near as I can tell, this must be the result of true love.

Now, I know there are divorces in this country and there are squabbles in marriages, sometimes dark and nasty ones. And having no experience with marriage, my view could readily be idealistic. But there's something to all this. There is this day, and the couple, and their friends and family, and these vows to be joined together in holy matrimony. That is the ultimate commitment, and something truly beautiful. I hope to find that beauty in my own life, in that connection feeling so natural, that we wonder why it took so long to find.