Like the top of this site says, "There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person." And you may never really know what it is.
In the case of meeting Mister Rogers, the ripple affect has been massive. I like to think of it as a 1° change in trajectory. Over time and through space, even a one degree creates a significant angle over a flat line.
Moreover, though, he unwittingly (or was it conscious? I often wonder) connected me a whole constellation of people I might not have ever met or known: Linda Ellerbee, Amy Hollingsworth, Davy Rothbart, and Bo Lozoff.
My very first conversation with Mister Rogers, there on the back porch of The Crooked House, involved a man he called "my friend Bo." Today, I am going to be bold and call him the same.
More than a friend, though, Bo has come to be something of a mentor or advisor. We exchanged dozens of emails prior to his presiding at Abbigail and my wedding covering everything from songwriting to solitude. Prior to his arrival in South Carolina, I told Abbi I was more nervous about Bo than almost anything else. I hold him in very high regard. He is a deep, thoughtful, wise man. I feel very young and silly standing next to him.
Fortunately, then, one of my fondest memories of that wonderful weekend is sitting across from him on the front porch of my cottage just a few hours before our wedding ceremony. Here's what I wrote on benjaminwagner.com:
In just three hours Abbi and I were to exchange vows beneath a three hundred-year-old live oak on the edge of the Pocotaligo River.
I was driving myself to lunch through a full-on monsoon. My Jeep was kicking up a speedboat's wake through the pond-sized puddles. The windshield wipers were completely overwhelmed by the downpour.
'This,' I thought, 'sucks.'
Three hours later, I was locked inside the front bathroom at The Inn at Brays Island reciting my vows aloud to the mirror.
Christofer and Sibby were queued just outside the door. James -- who'd facilitated all three of our conversions from a rookie half- to the more classic full-Windsor, stood alongside Bo Lozoff, our officiant.
"It's gonna be fine, dude," my brother said.
I wasn't worried, really. Not about whether or not I wanted to spend the rest of my life with Abbi, or whether we'd nail the scripting, staging or blocking.
Still, I was wound like a top, all short breaths, nervous prattle and heavy palpitations. Like before a rock show. Which -- let's face it -- Abbi and my wedding was: three bands, two tents, open bar, a light show.
It's easy enough, one discovers, to be swept up in such things -- portraits, poses, place settings -- at such an affair. It's easy enough, one discovers, to focus on the celebration but miss the ceremony. And while everything and everyone unwittingly conspired to that end, Abbi and I were aided and abetted by our self-described "Depth Protector," Bo.
My cell phone began chirping at 8:16. Sibby was sawing logs in the adjacent twin bed as I tried in vain to rest (sleep, I'd decided after an hour of tossing and turning, was a lost cause). I read Bo's name on the display and began worrying (more succinctly, I was already worrying; I just began worrying about something new).
Was he pulling out? Had he fallen ill? Food poisoning? Fever? Ethical dilemma?
I left the call unanswered and went for a walk along the edge of the property. The tide was out, leaving narrow, muddy shallows through the deep green reeds. On the lawn beneath the great tree that would act as our alter, a flock of white egrets picked at the soil.
I walked through the thicket to the dock as Abbi and I had two nights prior when -- in a moment of rare and wondrous synchronicity -- a pod of dolphins swam past. I sat there on the edge of the dock a while taking in the river's slow bend through South Carolina Low Country.
The sky was bruised purple and deep blue. The river was gray like lead. I reminded myself that my worrying would not affect the weather, and then continued worrying about it.
It's difficult even now with nearly three week's distance, to characterize what I was feeling, but I'll try.
I felt serious. Grave. Pensive. I was trying to slow down time, to take in every glance, wink and smile, plus every note of soil, sand and salt on the air. I was trying to let this most massive transition settle in, to understand the spiritual ramifications of the day. Moreover, I was discerning -- more tangibly than ever -- what the rest of my life might feel like.
Walking back towards my cottage, I spotted Abbi's father racing off to his tee time. I heard women's laughter, then turned to see Abbi -- from whom I'd been quarantined the night prior -- and her girlfriends trot off on their "Bride's 10k." I smiled for the first time all morning, went back to my room, and listened to my voicemail.
"Benjamin," Bo said in his raspy, Johnny Cash baritone, "I've been up since 430 thinking about you, and Abbi, and the ceremony, and I realized that we just didn't spend enough time together yesterday. There are a few more things I think are important to discuss without anyone around."
I called him back, expressed my enthusiasm for his intent (wisely deferring to my wife-to-be for the timing), and then pulled on my running shoes.
While the ladies kept to the road, I set off along the river. Everything around me was green and gray, wet with a light morning fog. A hawk circled overhead. A blue heron stood motionless in the shallows. Tiny stone crabs scurried clear of the muddy path before me. In the absence of my iPod's raucous report, I listened to my breath, my heartbeat, and the thump of my feet on the earth.
I hadn't planned to run alone; I'd hoped to run with my groomsmen. This was not to be, though, so I relished the solitude and reflection.
Later, as Bo and I sat on the front porch facing one another in rocking chairs, I was grateful for the quiet in my soul.
"I was reflecting on Abbi and your vows," Bo said, "And I'm not sure they're explicit enough about your commitment to one another."
"Yours are beautiful and lofty and poetic and very personal, which is great. But Ben, as I just told Abbi, love is not always beautiful and poetic. It can be querulous and difficult and you may want to give up on it."
I watched Bo closely weighing his every word.
"In our culture, there are plenty of voices that might say, 'Do what's best for you.'
"But we don't wear a ring on our finger to show our commitment to. A job, or to a place, or to anything except our commitment to one another."
I looked to my vows, some 300, oft-edited, well-pruned words. They began with a quote from Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters To A Young Poet ("There is nothing happier than work. And love, because it is the extreme happiness, can be nothing else but work.") -- my attempt to reflect my understanding of the work a life-long commitment might demand. Save for the phrases, "for all time" and "all of the days of our lives" though, they lacked the explicit language of foreverness.
"Yunno, Bo, the bulk of my spiritual and psychological work -- and the reason I waited so long and weighed this committment so thoroughly -- has been all about work and commitment and longevity. I want to be explicit," I said, "100%."
"This is "'Til death do us part' stuff, for sure."