I am not proud to admit this, but I had trouble finding time to propose to my girlfriend. We'd been dating a year, had gone ring shopping weeks earlier, and were both ready to announce our engagement. But our busy lives didn't make it easy.
We both longed for an old-fashioned engagement scene, with me "popping the question" at a romantic locale and presenting the ring to her. I even knew where I'd do it--the DeCordova Museum, a contemporary art museum in rural Lincoln, Mass. Overlooking a lake, the museum and its extensive outdoor sculpture garden was a favorite spot of ours and had been the site of one of our early dates.
But when could we get there? Our lives were infinitely complicated and busy. Stephanie was finishing school for the semester, and my job kept me more than busy. Whenever we'd both find that a bit of free time miraculously coincided for us both, we seemed to be previously committed: an end-of-school celebration with Stephanie's friends on Sunday, another group of friends coming to my place for dinner on Friday, and so on. We were leaving the following week for several days in New York to visit our family and friends, and I was eager to be engaged before we left so we could celebrate in New York. I spent hours arranging and re-arranging my schedule to make time. It was admittedly no way to launch an engagement, but it was necessary.
At moments like that, I often marvel at the fact that Stephanie and I--or any couple, for that matter--found the time to develop a meaningful relationship at all. Deadlines and duties, responsibilities and commitments, conspire to complicate and potentially stymie any budding relationship.
For us, we have the Jewish holidays and summer academic break to thank for our success. We met on Sukkot, the Jewish Festival of Booths, two autumns ago. On Sukkot, Jews build hut-like structures in their backyards or patios and eat in them for a week. I invited some friends to dinner in my Sukkah; one asked if she could bring along someone who was new in town, and that person was, of course, Stephanie.
She and I chatted only briefly that night. It was pleasant, but we didn't speak again for eight months. During that time, our paths seldom crossed, as Stephanie plugged away at her graduate architecture work, and I finished up my own graduate program in religion.
Suddenly, for no particular reason, we started coincidentally seeing a lot of each other in May that year, at synagogue and friends' places. Then came the two-day holiday of Shavuot--the Festival of Weeks, which celebrates the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai--and we suddenly found ourselves with forced down time. We spent a lot of time together that Shavuot and were dating days later. Our first date, in fact, celebrated my graduation and Stephanie's completion of her first year in grad school. A break, finally. Time to celebrate, and to date.
We spent the summer, busy though it was, solidifying our relationship and falling in love. When fall arrived, Stephanie returned to school while my work intensified. But by that time, there was little doubt we would try to make our relationship work despite time constraints and seemingly endless outside responsibilities. And in the end, our relationship thrived despite the pressure.
A year after those initial dates, however, fully committed to each other and giddy about our impending engagement, I had to resort to penciling in time for a marriage proposal. I thought I finally had a plan--I would slip away from work on Tuesday and somehow convince Stephanie to take the afternoon off as well. My plan, though, was foiled by an unexpected glitch: The ring did not arrive on time. After an anguished conversation, the jeweler assured me he would try to get it to me by the end of the week, and I returned to staring at my calendar.
Thursday was the anniversary of our first date, making it a poignant day for our engagement, but I had little faith after so many pitfalls that the ring would arrive on time. Luckily, it did--just a couple of hours before we headed to the DeCordova.
When we got to the museum, we hurried through the exhibits. Too nervous to concentrate on the art or Stephanie's attempts to discuss it, I kept checking my pocket to make sure that the ring was still there and hadn't somehow disappeared.
We eventually arrived at a rooftop sculpture garden overlooking the lake and a nature preserve. With 10 minutes to go before the museum closed, I asked her to marry me, repeating thoughts, awkwardly at first, I'd tossed around earlier. But then the words started flowing smoothly until I came to the question itself and put the ring on her finger.
For a brief moment, our worlds consisted of nothing but each other, but despite our intense enthusiasm, the moment passed quickly because of the museum's imminent closing. We hugged, we cried, we asked a stranger to take our picture, and we hustled out of the DeCordova as they closed the doors behind us. Mission accomplished. Rushed, sure, but perfect nonetheless.
The wedding will take place on July 1, carefully timed for a period when we can both take off the time we need and not worry. On that day, we will stand under the chuppah, the wedding canopy, for a traditional Jewish wedding. And as soon as that ceremony is done, we will follow another ancient custom by retreating to a private room for several minutes alone with each other.
Called yichud--literally "seclusion"--it is a curious custom, disappearing for 15 or 20 minutes in the middle of your own wedding. But I think it's an important one. If the ceremony and the chuppah symbolize the public aspect of our relationship, declaring and affirming our commitment to one another in front of our family and friends, then yichud symbolizes an equally important--and perhaps more important--aspect of our relationship, namely the need to make time and space just for each other, amid the swirling bustle of our busy and overcommitted everyday lives.
In truth, it is both of those together that make up our lives and our relationship: the tumultuous and the serene, the chuppah and the yichud, the frenzied time surrounding our engagement and the unhurried, unstressed time we'll spend alone on our honeymoon. Our lives are happily, wonderfully intertwined now, and on the rooftop of the DeCordova that Thursday afternoon we assured each other that we were committed to one another in every aspect, in the quiet times and the busy ones.