What is a piece of paper?
Paper. Parchment. Carta. Papyrus. These are among the many different ways to say paper, an invention that has arguably (depending on who you ask) made the world a better place. Thanks to the ancient Egyptians weaving strips of the papyrus reed together, even the lowliest amongst us can record their words for posterity.
It is true that without paper much of history would be lost – after all, knowledge became extinct when Alexandria first burned. It has taken us years to rediscover what was lost on those precious scrolls. But, what does it truly mean to those of us that live day to day in a modern and ever more complicated world?
As an author it is my means of creation and communication. Painters use it to paint and readers to read. Some people roll it up and smoke it while others use it to wrap dishes on moving day. It makes great paper-mache for pinatas. Kids use it to make paper airplanes. The Japanese even use it to make delicate works of art called origami. All in all paper is a wonderfully useful tool invented by the ancient Egyptians.
As someone living in this world it also means so much more and less. Why do I need a piece of paper to tell me I am married to the man I love, my best friend? He and I both feel that it isn’t necessary to prove our love by obtaining a piece of paper made by man – a near decade together should be enough to prove that. Common law marriages have been around since time immemorial and were often used when a priest couldn’t be found. Yet others around us seem to think that we are temporary or nothing without it.
I know of couples that couldn’t stay together with a piece of paper and vows. I also know of couples that never should have gotten married in the first place. For one reason or another they went after a piece of paper that they didn’t respect and all the legalities in the world couldn’t keep them together.
While true that couples do grow apart, if a couple decides they don’t want to be together, that piece of paper will not keep them together. Just like a child can’t keep a couple together, neither can a sheet of paper.
What keeps people together is people and their love are respect for each other, not paper. People and what they want and believe are what counts. Just because you believe in something, doesn’t mean everyone else does though.
Reading this, you might think that I am against legal marriage. I’m not. I’m all for it when the time and person is right for those involved. My situation is perfect for me, don’t tell me it is wrong just because you don’t believe in it. If a common law marriage was good enough for Benjamin Franklin (yes the founding father – don’t believe me, Google it), then it is more than good enough for me.
If we want to take a historical look at marriage, lets use the Puritans as an example. They believed that a marriage was a contract between two people to care for and help one another that was separate from religion. I, personally, don’t need a sheet of paper to do that. I know where my heart lies and a piece of paper won’t change that. It can’t.
Traditionally marriages were used to make alliances between families or countries. More than one war was averted by an arranged marriage. People even married to keep crowns out of other peoples hands. They married to make sure children were taken care of and to lessen a burden at home. They married to share chores on a homestead. Very rarely were they about love. Something I am glad about for the modern age – I love that my marriage (be it on paper or not) is about love. Because love is what matters and nothing else.
I realize that for many people, religion states that marriage in a church, synagogue, mosque, or temple is the only way to signify that you are married before God – I won’t even get into the fact that in the time of Jesus a marriage was consummated in a church (ewwww). While I do not personally believe this to be true, I do respect your point of view. Note that I did not say that I don’t believe in God, I wholeheartedly do – those are another set of beliefs that I keep to myself.
What keeps my husband and I (as well as many other common law couples) together is choice. We choose to be a couple. We choose to communicate. Above all, we choose to love. A piece of paper cannot guarantee any of those choices being made. As human beings we can.
It is our choices that define whether paper is even necessary to a given situation. So why do so many people define a situation by something that isn’t necessarily relevant to those involved?
That is an answer that I don’t have. I wish I did.