As I arrived at her office, an amazing thunder storm rolled into the city. Drops the size of softballs splatted heavily on the windshield as I drove up St. Albans hill to the Cathedral, into the teeth of amazing cloud formations complete with forks of purple and pink lightning. As the downpour turned torrential and I was forced to navigate the traffic circles using The Force, I tried not to think about ominous omens and portents.
We found parking right next to the Cathedral and I held the umbrella for Penny so she didn’t get drenched.
Normally the voices of tourists and worshipers echoing off the vaulted nave of the Cathedral forms a comforting white noise background, but tonight it was eerily quiet except for the lilting strains of woman playing a bamboo flute. A few people were walking the labyrinths in slow contemplation. It was an atmosphere of strange mystical reverie. Penny asked which of the two labyrinths we should walk, and I did a quick calculation and chose the one that looked like it had a chance of emptying out soonest. Penny decided she needed her own music, and cued up Barber’s Adagio on her iPod.
I stepped into the labyrinth first and began treading the path. The ring was burning a hole in my pocket, and my pulse was beginning to accelerate. I wasn’t sure if moment was going to be right. It was so QUIET. I couldn’t imagine speaking and breaking the silence that enfolded everything in the nave.
Also, with every turn of the path we were brushing elbows with the other people walking the labyrinth. I was surreptitiously watching their progress and mentally hitting them with all the psychic tasers I could muster to hurry them along and get them out of there. I almost resigned myself to the moment not being right, and began working on contingency plans. ‘We’re going up to New York this weekend,’ I thought, and began thinking of places there that would serve. The rooftop of the Met seemed a likely contender. I also noted that predictably the OTHER labyrinth was now entirely clear.
But as I got to the center of our labyrinth, it was almost time for the Compline service and all the pilgrims had finished their walking meditation. I waited in the center of the maze, and Penny walked up, put her arms around me and put one of the ear buds in my ear.
Barber’s Adagio was swelling to its most stirring crescendo. And I knew the moment was perfect.
I hugged her close as we both listened to the music and I whispered in her ear.
“I don’t want to get on bended knee,” I said, “because I like that we’ve always faced each other as equals. And this should be done face to face“
At this point she grabbed me so tight that she may have cut off circulation in my arms. She buried her face in my shoulder, and a tiny nervous giggle MAY have escaped her. I said, still whispering, “I’ve been waiting my whole life to spend the rest of my life with you. Penny, would you grow extremely old with me?”*
She raised her eyes to me and there were tears in them. She said to me, “There’s nothing that would be finer or more perfect.” She grabbed my hand so hard that the ring almost cut into my palm. I reversed my grip so that she could feel the ring. She looked down in surprise, and I held it up for her. I explained that it was only intended to be a placeholder until we could design something perfect. It’s a silver replica of a 16th century English Posey ring. It has a line from Chaucer engraved on the inside. It says, “And she was fayr as is the rose in May.”
It fit perfectly.
We stood there for what felt like forever, both of us with tears of happiness on our cheeks.
By the time we stopped staring into each others eyes, they had started the service of compline, which is the last of the day. We’d walked into the labyrinth separately, but walked out together with our arms around each others waists. By the time we finished, the service was over and we were alone in the Cathedral. We wandered around, marveling that we had it all to ourselves. We looked at the ironwork in the Children’s Chapel, which had inspired me to become a blacksmith. And then Penny stood right at the crossing and said that she had to sing.
She launched into a Rachmaninoff Vocalise that filled the entire cathedral. We were the only ones there, but her singing lifted past the arcade to the clerestory and up to the vaulted roof. She sang to the Creation Rose window and the Ex Nihilo sculptures. It sent shivers up and down my spine.
We were giddy and almost reluctant to leave. There was a floral arrangement that was past its prime and beginning to droop, and Penny took a rose from it as a memento.
Outside the storm had faded, but lightning was still flashing furiously on the horizon as our own personal firework show.
It could not have been more perfect. We were both giddy the rest of the night, and found it very hard to go to sleep. We kept just marveling at how awesome it felt.
*This is a song by our favorite comedy singing duo Paul and Storm. It includes such lines as, “I’ll trim your mole hairs if you rub me with Ben Gay.” Read the lyrics or listen to it here: http://www.paulandstorm.com/lyrics/extremely-old-with-you/