19 years ago today, I took “the L” to meet my fiancée at the Cook County Marriage Court on Clark street in downtown Chicago. We went to the lower level of the old building and waited our turn to stand before a judge to officially become what we had already pledged in our hearts: to spend the rest of our lives together as a couple. As far as we were concerned, a marriage license was just a piece of paper. It was nothing compared to the reality and strength of our commitment to each other. We didn’t need it personally. But we realized that it was the way to make our commitment official for everyone, to legitimize our hearts’ union, and our physical union in the eyes of Christians, so we purchased the license, waited the appropriate number of days required, and now stood outside the door to the judge’s chambers.
It was a surprise for me to realize at that point in our relationship that we were convinced that God didn’t need us to get a marriage license – humans did. God already knew and honored our commitment and that was enough for the 3 of us (God included). But it would be forever living in sin to the eyes of the world if we never officially “tied the knot.” How fascinating.
When the door finally opened and we walked into the knot-tying room, we had no idea what was in store for us. I expected a cold and bored ramble from the man in the official gown, a rehearsed and passionless regurgitation of a script that fit the cold and legal feel of the papers we had to fill out and the “what-do-you-want-why-are-you-here” people that we had the privilege of meeting in the County Court up to that point.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
What followed was the most moving, heart-felt, genuine explanation of the importance of love and commitment in a marriage. The rings were significant in their symbolic circular nature like never before, and the witnesses in the room (my sister and her husband) of utmost importance. It was a true sermon, reflecting the deep belief in the importance of marriage that this man of the gown must have had. Perhaps it was meant to frighten these two love birds. These spring chickens. These 18 and 20 yr olds who must have looked like tweens to him (they certainly do to me now that I’m 19 years older). I was moved. And it was exactly the kind of magical spell that both reflected what our hearts and minds believed and bound them even closer together.
Thank you, Mr. Cook County Marriage Court Judge, for taking your time with us and sharing your heart with us. How amazing it is that you were able to do so and come across as completely authentic even though we were just one of probably dozens of marriages you performed that day, and who knows how many leading up to ours. The rest of the day was magical, time spent taking pictures in the park at the Art Institute of Chicago, strawberries in champagne at another city park, in the shade on that warm and flowery summer day, and a simple but charming dinner at a noodle shop practically under the L, periodically thundering overheard: Penny’s Noodles.
That judge made our day more than anything else. It wasn’t just a formality. It was important. It was significant. It was commitment. It was love. It was forever.