We’re all migrants: The migration story of my sister and brother-in-law
Last week, my sister and now brother-in-law got married at Zenger Farms in Portland, Oregon. For some reason that I’m still trying to figure out, they asked me to officiate the wedding. This post is a condensed version of the reflection I shared.
Over the past 4 weeks leading up to the wedding, Krysta, Danny and I went through a “reverse pre-marriage counseling course”: rather then me guide them on the impossible task of what marriage will be like, they essentially shared stories and lessons about their journey so far, how they’ve gotten to where we are today. Or, in other words: their migration story.
A migration story: a term Krysta introduced to my team during my family’s visit to Pakistan. An idea that we all have migration stories, journeys that have gotten us where we are today, and journeys that might also inform where we are heading tomorrow. The idea — in the words of my favorite Pakistani novelist — that we are all migrants in time.
And so, rather than take on the surreal role of officiating, which I’m definitely unqualified for, I was hoping you all — as guests — could do me a favor and just consider me as a narrator. And I can narrate a few of the scenes along Krysta and Danny’s collective migration story, both as a celebration of where we are today and also an appreciation for the journey that might lie ahead.
Our star-crossed lovers’ story starts in a way you might expect a French film to start. In fact, it literally starts at a French film: at the French film festival in San Jose, Costa Rica.
And then moves on to: something involving the ballet, Krysta allegedly giving her number for the first time in nearly a decade (although I haven’t fact checked this yet), June evening ice cream invitations, twirling whirling dervish sessions in the July rain on top of a volcano, Danny in hiking boots at an August pool party, and Krysta in the airport drop-off lane in a bucket full of September tears.
Our next scene is what makes this migration story not just a French Film though. Not just a summertime thing, but a thing with a chance at finding forever.
If the setting for Scene 1 was Costa Rica summer, then the setting for Scene II is: Space. But not like the Empire Strikes Back, Ender’s Game, Wrinkle in Time space. But more like the Gravity, Interstellar, Passenger type of space: out there seemingly quite alone.
Or, more literally, the s p a c e part of space. Space that wasn’t filled with exciting Voyager 2 or SpaceX rockets, but with time, and long awaited-letters, and apparently very painful phone calls, and lots of doubt about spirituality and belief, and even one or two Apollo 13-type dates, where Danny described himself as something not exactly like a melting candle, but also not exactly anything else.
And all of this — as Krysta and Danny began to discover — was happening not because something was radically wrong with their relationship, but because this is how relationships simply are. That love between one person and another — as poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote — is perhaps the hardest thing that is laid on us to do, the utmost, the ultimate trial and test, the work for which all other work is just preparation.
Or, as Danny put it, that love is not a feeling but a decision. And so after each awkward phone call and melting candle date, our frustrated lovers had to make a decision: to abandon the spacecraft or to continue with their migration, keeping the door open, the possibilities alive, buying the plane ticket (in Danny’s case) and to keep showing up.
Which brings us to Scene 3 — the Wilderness — where apparently Danny had to learn the hard way that when someone tells you there’s a bear behind the bush, there’s probably a bear behind the bush.
And, some weeks later, also had to learn how to rescue your loved one from another bear in a way that doesn’t seem like you just got into the car by yourself and drove off in the opposite direction as your loved one (apparently this really happened).
But Scene 3, of course, isn’t just about our lovers learning how to survive these wilderness-Revenant-type bears, but also learning how to survive the bears in one another. And in themselves.
As Alain de Botton, the author of the novel we used in our reverse-counseling course, wrote: we are all crazy in some unique way. And the key to making your migration story last is to understand and communicate to your partner in what ways specifically we might be a bit crazy.
That we don’t need to be perfect, we just need to be able to explain the areas in which we are quite far from perfect.
And so, our emerging heroes started to also learn that love is a skill, not just an enthusiasm (Alain de Botton). And that in order to develop that skill, they needed to teach each other in what ways they are both particularly crazy. Or, in what ways their internal bears might come out.
They started to learn that the deepening of love would always involve the desire to teach (and also to be taught) ways to become more virtuous: how to be less of a perfectionist, less argumentative, a little less stubborn, or possibly a little more on time… so that they might develop into better versions of themselves. (Alain de Botton)
So that they could ultimately reach their potential. A form of love similar to that described by Victor Frankl:
that by loving someone, we are finally able to fully see their true potential, that which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. And by loving that person, we enable them to actualize these potentialities.
In this scene, the lessons from the wilderness eventually bring our emerging lovers to a place where true love begins:
Not a place where they fear the other may be unwilling to see them again, but a place where they realize the other might have no objection to seeing them all the time; not a place when they have every opportunity to run away, but a place where they have exchanged solemn commitments to keep hiking together, even through the wildernesses and even beyond the bears. (Alain de Botton)
Which brings us to an unexpected place in our next scene: Pakistan.
Earlier this year, Krysta and Danny set off for Pakistan, on their first international trip together. And given how well things were progressing in our previous scene, you might expect our lovers to be in perfect harmony: holding hands even while brushing teeth, dancing along the streets of Old Lahore like they’ve graduated from French Films and are now stars in a Bollywood blockbuster.
But Pakistan is a different place, both literally and metaphorically, and can often include periods of deep solitude.
And so, Scene 4 is about the way our heroes have migrated within the solitudes of Pakistan, metaphorically, in their own relationship: How they have embraced the continuous role of solitude and learned that a healthy partnership is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of their solitude.
As Rainer Maria Rilke says:
The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of their solitude. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development.
But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people, infinite distances should exist, then a marvelous living can grow up within them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them.
Or, in the words of Khalil Gibran in the Prophet:
Let there be spaces in your togetherness
and let the winds of the heavens dance between you
stand together yet not too near together:
for the pillars of the temple stand apart.
And so, our final scene of this migration story brings us back to Here, to this very beautiful and still surreal moment at Zenger Farm on September 9, 2017. A moment of perfect happiness.
And it brings us to the knowledge that Krysta and Danny now have: that perfect happiness comes in these tiny, incremental units only. (Alain de Botton)
The knowledge that beauty comes with the struggle. And that this is what one has to take with both hands and cherish.
The knowledge that we often give unfair attention to the beginnings of a love story, but that the migration story never stops: We are always arriving, we are always traveling in time.
We are always migrating through French films and space and the wilderness and Pakistan and here.