I flew to St. Louis to attend a wedding which, for the five or six hours I was at it, made me hugely happy.
The rest of the time I was by myself, and that was fine too, and strengthening to the spirit. I felt like Walt Whitman striding along the broad avenues of the city, breathing that soft Missouri air, sensing close by that old muddy river made famous by Mark Twain and a thousand others.
The houses there are made of brick and stone because there aren’t so many trees, or at least that’s what I was told.
There are however, acres and acres of fields under cultivation.
You fly over the Midwest and see all that arable land: precise rectangles as far as the eye can see, measured out for the growing of crops.
Fly over New England and all you see are trees; no crops at all, because our soil is thin and studded with the work of that glacier that barreled down, scraped off the tops of our little mountains and then withdrew again in its own good time, leaving behind everything it had once held suspended in its icy matrix: Rocks, in other words. Rocks and more rocks.
It’s wonderful going to a new place to see a new thing like a marriage begun upon.
The newly done-over hotel room was wonderful too except it didn’t have a tub, the room itself so sleekly modern the mattress were Tempur-Pedic mattresses, which turn out to make you feel like Han Solo in the first Star Wars movie where he gets trapped in that weird four-cornered frame of pudding.
I mean to say you sink in and your trapped body heat slowly warms you. They give you a thin little Kleenex of a blanket because they know this will happen. It was fun if jarring at first for a northerner like me, raised on hard mattresses with a pancake-stack of blankets as heavy on the body as a pile of sleeping hounds.
My first night in St. Louis, eating at the Applebee’s connected to the hotel, I watched a party of ten sharing their appetizers and laughing so hard they were leaning over onto one another’s shoulders. That made me happy too.
It didn’t matter that I was alone – on my four flights and in my rental car, in my hotel room and on my walks about the city. The solitude made a wonderful the contrast to the wedding, which like every good wedding was a celebration not just of two people’s promises but the promises of the loving community that surrounds them. The solitude was fine on its own too, for how much it reinforced the lessons about connection so indelibly written onto my heart the first time I read this passage by Whitman, preface to the second edition of Leaves of Grass. Here it is now with a little video clip below it.
“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”