Transitional periods provide life’s greatest lessons. For practically all of 2012, much of my time has been spent in the air and/or highway attending weddings of childhood and college friends. And through it all, via random conversations with people I’ve known for years and some I haven’t seen or heard from since, suddenly life made a tad bit more sense.
Last Sunday driving back from Virginia Beach following being a groomsman in my seventh wedding this year, my iPhone was on shuffle. Before moving forward though, let me be clear. I wasn’t a groomsman in all seven. The breakdown goes like this: an usher in one, a guest in one, a groomsman in four and a best man in one. It’s gotten to the point where I’ve begun to treat dress rehearsals like Allen Iverson took to practice.
Nevertheless, during the trek home, Nas and Amy Winehouse’s “Cherry Wine” slid into rotation. Since Life Is Good first became available, the duet instantly became the staple record from what can eventually prove to be one of rap’s best “late career” albums. It wasn’t until this specific trip, however, when the song’s greater meaning and true purpose came full circle. Weddings, and moreso receptions, provide platforms when the most asked question for anyone not yet married is, “So when’s your big day?”
Any single person gets the question, like some bizarre rite of passage initiation. My answer is a simple one.
“Whenever it comes.”
Marriage is one of those events in life increasing in significance the more a person witnesses it happen to those around them. For most people, at least. Several conversations opened a door. It provided a glimpse into one of society’s innermost fears: growing old alone.
“Cherry Wine” massages nerves on so many levels that it’s almost surreal. From Salaam Remi’s coaxing instrumental, Nas’ vulnerable, yet brutally honest lyrics right down to Amy’s eerie, unfulfilled prophetic hook. The ode questions destiny as Amy and Nas contemplate and yearn for the simplest of desires. Their plight reminded me specifically of conversations with a female friend and an older couple I’d come across at a wedding reception a few months back.
“I’ll be the first man to admit that a fat ass caught my attention, but never made me faithful. A pretty face got me to commit, but never changed me. It was that funny girl with that beautiful personality, million dollar smile and a heart of gold that left me in tears begging for a second chance. I never viewed women the same after her. She left my heart convinced love is more about chemistry than biology.” – Nas*
A person’s mid-20’s is a traffic jam of commitments. Between balancing a career — or still searching for one — and searching for a passion that a person hopes can create their legacy, there’s also the search for the passion of another person. In some cases, finding both both. Almost the exact catch 22 Big Sean spoke about asking the simple, yet prophetic, question, “Are you willing to give up what you love for who your love?” Think about it. The answer isn’t as night and day as the question.
The lucky people find both. Most find one or the other. Some find neither.
A friend, two years my senior, spoke at length about her career, where she was in life and family. Everything was in order and exactly where she envisioned five years earlier, sans one critical component. Still young, convincing her life was still evolving and coming into itself, she was none too interested in hearing such. She was legitimately concerned. In her words, growing old with no real sense of commitment from someone she was attracted to past a friendship was frightening.
Had this been months earlier, laughing and accusing her of being a prisoner of the moment would have been an initial reaction. She’s 28, attractive, focused and, as far as I know, down to earth to the point where she’s down for wings, beer and Sunday night football just as much as she is being the most beautiful date a black tie event for work. But times change and perspectives do, too, and while I wasn’t in her shoes, I somewhat saw where she was coming from. It’s a innate human desire to want to be loved, regardless how much Twitter personas or pop culture can occasionally dictate.
As for the older couple, their take on the topic brought back memories of the old dude who told the story of his near-wife at a cookout awhile back. Small talk began around where I attended school, what I was currently doing and, of course, when my wedding date was. After laughing off the last question, the couple left me with one piece of advice before scurrying off to talk with others and later disappear into the night. You’re born alone. You die alone. The least you could do is enjoy the company of someone else while living.
These were two different vantage points preaching the same gospel. Between these dialogues and “Cherry Wine,” my take on marriage remains the same as it always has. If it comes, it comes. If it doesn’t, then I’ve been blessed in other areas as to where I’d never call my life a failure if it never happened.
The song’s unbridled honesty is soul piercing. Eternally soul piercing. Representing the never-ending quest by those longing for a soulmate lies the beautiful possibility of being a day away from finding him or her. On the same wavelength, the realistic nightmare of never meeting said person is as paralyzing as its more positive counterpart. That’s life, though. That’s life in a nutshell, really. Either we learn to live with the extremes or die slowly each day trying to reserve a formality bigger than our own selfishness.
It took 26 years, witnessing close friends tie the knot, engaging in completely random but revealing conversations and a song featuring a rapper who has been left for dead more times than not and a singer whose personal demons extinguished a sovereign voice from her generation to step back and look at the world from more than a singular, trained view. All that, plus growing a little bit in the process helped.
Some stress over things beyond their control, like finding their own “cherry wine.” Myself, I never have and I probably never will. This doesn’t make me any better or worse than any one person. Realizing and believing life will put you, me and the next person in whatever situation destiny or fate has already mapped out for us make days easier. Life isn’t perfect. Nor does it rarely go as planned.
But at least, in some sort of way, life is, like Nas said, good.
* – Quote added after publication