evangeline it is a word that comes from the latin "evangelium," which means 'gospel.' literally, though, it is a combination of the words "good" and "news."
evangeline is also the name of an epic poem by henry wadsworth longfellow, published in 1847. sometime in late 1996 or early 1997, i bought a beautiful copy of the poem, in hardcover, in a little curiosity store north of pittsburgh. i had a plan.
i was already planning on asking shannon, whom i had courted with reckless abandon, to marry me. we were going to go to pittsburgh to see a production of les miserables, and i told her that my parents had won tickets and weren't able to attend. i planned to take her to a fancy restaurant on mt. washington, attend the show, then head back up the incline, where i would ask her to marry me. i knew that if she said yes, it would mean about 14 months of engagement, and i had a sense that i wanted to keep a log of that time somehow. and so it occurred to me to buy an old book, and to use it as a kind of journal, leading up to our engagement, and then documenting the months of our journey towards marriage. i would write in the margins, in between lines, and anywhere i could fit my words. i would color and glue and just use the book as an engagement record, one that we could always keep and look back on.
and so i began.
i wrote my plans as we headed towards april. i wrote in it the night we returned from pittsburgh, a new diamond ring on shannon's hand. i remember feeling like i wanted to scream out to the world that she said yes. i knew that she would, but i had no idea just how amazing it would feel to hear her say it; to feel her affirm our relationship with that one word. i wrote about it in the pages of evangeline. and i kept writing. through the rest of the school year, the whole next year, and, then, as i moved to new jersey in june of 1998. i let the painful separation fuel my writing, and i wrote with intensity. all through that summer i wrote, until the hot new jersey days faded into fall, and i continued to write. december arrived, and with it, plans to drive home to pittsburgh for a few days, and then to central pennsylvania to visit my fiancee. i kept writing.
as i drove in my little 1985 ford tempo, from west newton, pa towards warriors mark, my engine caught fire. as i sped down the pa turnpike, black smoke starting pouring out of the hood, until it was hard to see. so i pulled over. immediately a trucker pulled over, also, and began to help me try and extinguish the fire, but it only got worse. the police soon arrived, and demanded that i move away from the car, in case the fuel line were to ignite and cause an explosion. so i walked away, watching my car burn from a distance. of course it was painful to watch my car burn, but what was even more painful was the knowledge that our engagement journal, evangeline, that good news, was burning, too. all those words....all that emotion...all that energy consumed by flame and reduced to ash. sigh.
soon the firefighters arrived and doused my car in heavy amounts of water. the flames were extinguished but the damage had been done. my car was a skeleton. everything in it was destroyed, except for the contents of the trunk. they were soaking wet, and heavily damaged by the smoke, but they had not burned.
evangeline had been in the trunk.
it was charred, and soaked, but not destroyed. still, i was distraught. ink had run. parts of pages had been singed off. it felt ruined, but, i was determined not to let it be. so i wrote the story of the fire, found another copy of the book, and kept writing. i presented it to her on the night of our wedding as a wedding gift, complete with the story of its amazing journey. it had moved, burned, survived, and grown into a two-volume set, but it was still good news; it was still the story of our love.
i am thinking of this because i recently came across the old crumbling copy of evangeline. i was flipping through the pages, reading the record of my intense feelings. i was so young, so consumed by love, and so desperate to be with her. while we were apart during our engagement, i studied every detail of my memories, of my pictures of her, and of her handwriting in her letters to me. i wrote fervently, with a kind of emotional frenzy that is difficult to sustain. but the goal of finally being able to be together all the time compelled and inspired me, and kept me writing.
as i flipped through those pages, reading words that are now some 17 years old, i was reminded in a powerful way of what a blessed man i am. to be able to live daily and fully with the object of my affection. i am blessed to share my air with this woman who so completely enchanted and enraptured me. i am blessed to feel the heat from her body as we sleep together each night. i am blessed to hear her breath, to feel the rise and fall of her lungs as i wrap her in my arms. i am blessed to see her smile and her grace in our children. i am blessed with good news: love. truly it is a kind of evangeline. we have had our share of fires, to be sure, and some were enough to cause some damage. but in the end, the story remains. the memories become part of the gospel of our love, and i am so blessed to be in it. this year will mark our fifteenth wedding anniversary, and i just want to shout it out to the world yet again, like an evangelist who cannot keep it in:
SHE SAID YES!!!