Friday, June 19, 2009

Father's Day 1972 Revisited, Part 19: The Proposal

The time had come. I walked into the little jewelry store and came out with a plain gold band. It would have to do double duty, first serving as an engagement ring and then, about six months later as a wedding ring. It's circumference seemed impossibly small as I looked at it and it wouldn't even go on my little finger, but its size was my best guess and anyway we could have it re-sized later if needed. The next thing to decide on was the actual manner of my proposal itself. My counter-culture thinking ruled out the standard venues, such as some up-scale hoity-toity restaurant or any other Hollywood-style setting. No, in keeping with my hippy sensibilities, I would keep it low-key and simple. Christmas was only a few weeks away and I could make it a gift or perhaps combine it with another gift. Cher played acoustic guitar and the one she currently had was not in the best of shape. Yes--a new guitar was called for. At the guitar shop I talked with the owner and considered my budget. Money was no object--I was willing to spend thousands, if I'd had it. As it was, I had a few hundred. After agonizing over all the various brands to choose from, I settled on the best I could afford-- an Ibanez. I bought a nice new case for it, paid the store owner in cash and carefully nested the shiny new guitar in the plush velvety interior of the hard-shell case. Once home I took the guitar out and, in the little compartment in the case used for picks and things, I placed the small white cardboard box with the little gold ring inside.

When Christmas day came I travelled to Cypress where Cher and her sister were living with their mom. I had gift wrapped the case which held the guitar, trying not very successfully to disguise the tell-tale shape. She was thrilled upon opening the package and discovering the guitar and wanted to sit down and begin playing it. I had to coax her into opening the little compartment so she would find the other surprise it held within. Upon opening it there was, of course, a moment or two of no reaction as the meaning of it sunk in. Then suddenly she threw her arms around me and gave me a very long, very tight and reassuring hug. "Yes," the answer was "yes!" She ran to the other room to tell her sister who came to the living room to give us both a hug, along with her somewhat surprised congratulations.

We talked over wedding dates and somehow choose June 3 of the upcoming year--1972. Why we couldn't wait just a few weeks until her eighteenth birthday I cannot now recall. Whatever the reason, it added the complication of us having to get a parental permission form filled out and submitted to the county clerk. We decided we'd have an outdoor wedding on the big lawn adjoining All Saints Episcopal Church. This was the very spot where, just one year before, on a warm June evening I'd first encountered a whole flock of Jesus People who had gathered there to praise Jesus and listen to their hippy preacher. In the six months since then I had read through the New Testament and Cher and I had had a number of conversations about God, yet I remained very much the agnostic and skeptic. I was not about to make any feigned profession of faith just to get myself on the same spiritual page as the woman I loved. On the contrary, I wanted to keep a very sharp and bright line between my feelings for her and my evaluation of the things I was reading in the Bible and hearing from Christians.

I was unaware that serious Christians do not believe in marrying someone who is an unbeliever or is of another faith. However, an acquaintance of Cher's--a "brother in the Lord"-- took her aside and strongly counseled her against, "being unequally yoked together with an unbeliever." She told me later what he'd said to her and she let me know she was not interested in his advice and would marry me anyway. This comforted me and increased my confidence that she loved me as deeply as I loved her. It however made me a bit leery of the rules these Christians felt obligated to follow and often tried to impose on one another. I'd perhaps have to watch my step in the future.

It was one thing to believe some Jesus character walked on water or rose from the dead two-thousand years ago--it was quite another to have some dusty old book dictate your personal life choices. The Ten Commandments were OK, I supposed, on some level, but this "following Jesus" and "living for the Lord" 24/7 was really a bit much. I felt completely and comfortingly convinced I was a basically good and moral person. I didn't need any all-seeing God snooping around my life, looking over my shoulder and second-guessing me about every little thing--especially when it came to things like sex, or smoking or an occasional "hell" or "damn." Those things were my business alone and no one else's. Hey--I would never snatch a purse from an old lady or murder anyone or knock over a 7-11 so give me a break already. God's judgement and repenting and all that is for really evil people like Charles Manson or Richard Nixon or General Westmorland and the like. Surely God must have bigger fish to fry than to monitor a nice twenty-one year old guy who happened to be in love with a seventeen-year-old Jesus girl. After all, it wasn't like I was trying to talk her out of her Christianity--heck, she could stay a Christian forever, it really was irrelevant to me. Let's not mix faith and God with life and romance and personal decisions, I thought. Faith is for church and Sunday service. I could see I would have to keep from letting my feelings for Cher sway me toward making some emotional decision against my better rational intellectual judgement--not to mention against my absolute autonomy and right to run my own life the way I saw fit. Yes, a guard would have to be kept.

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