The late author, Patrick Conroy, wrote the Lords of Discipline about his school, The Citadel, a military institution in Charleston, SC. The first line read: I wear the ring. When I read that line just recently I had to look down at my gold wedding band on my left hand. In some mysterious way, I knew exactly what Conroy meant and why he later admitted that this was the best line he had ever written.
My ring of gold evoked beautiful memories, back to when I was a lovesick adolescent, listening to singer Don Cherry’s single A Band of God. Its lyrics were simple but very powerful to a boy on the threshold to puberty, who had always dreamed of being married when he grew up. To me it was lyrical poetry.
I’ve never wanted wealth untold
My life has one design
A simple little band of gold
To prove that you are mine;
Don’t want the world to have and hold
For fame is not my line
Just want a little band of gold
To prove that you are mine;
Cherry was born in Wichita Falls, Texas. He started as a big band singer in the orchestras of Jan Garber and Victor Young. In 1951 he recorded his first solo hits, Thinking of You and Belle, Belle, My Liberty Belle. Cherry’s biggest hit was a Band of Gold, which reached #4 on the Billboard chart. It sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold disc.
When I was first married over 50 years ago, I had never thought of wearing a wedding ring. I never saw my father with one, or most of the other men in my family. I did not know or understand much back then. Neither did my bride. We were literally two babes about to enter into the thorny woods of a new marriage.
According to the experts, wedding bands are not just metal bands meant to adorn the finger of the wearer. They convey the relationship status to the people around them and remind the wearers about their lifelong commitments. The history and symbolism of the tradition of wearing a wedding band is rich and profound. Throughout history, they have always symbolized love and commitments and even agreement between families. It can symbolize such messages as I love You, You are Mine, and I wish to be yours till death do us apart.
They have even greater religious significance. The circle was the symbol of eternity, with no beginning or end, not only to the Egyptians but many other ancient cultures. The hole in the center of the ring also had a deep significance. It wasn’t just considered a negative space, but rather a gateway, or door that lead to things and events both known and unknown. To give a woman a ring signifies never-ending and immortal love.
In Western Christianity, rings have great significance. They are worn by bishops of the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches. Eastern Orthodox bishops do not normally wear rings, but some Eastern Catholic bishops do.
The most famous ecclesiastical ring in Christendom is the episcopal ring of the pope, known as the Ring of the Fisherman, also known as The Ring of St. Peter. Originally intended as the pope’s episcopal ring as the Bishop of Rome, it has since become a symbol of global as well as religious power.
In the coronation ceremony too, it has long been the custom to deliver both to the Sovereign and to the queen consort a ring previously blessed. Perhaps the earliest example of the use of such a ring is in the case of Judith, the stepmother of king Alfred the Great in the 9th century.
Wedding rings, or betrothal ceremony rings, were common among Christians under the Roman Empire from an early period. Their use predates Christianity, and there is not much to suggest that the giving of the ring was at first incorporated in any ritual for laypeople, or invested with any precise religious significance. It is known from archeological digs that the wedding ring was adorned with Christian emblems. Certain specimens prove this today, such as a gold ring found near Arles, in the 4th and 5th centuries.
With the expansion of sporting leagues and events, the trophy ring has achieved lapidarian status. From the World Series rings through the Super Bowl awards and national championships in college football, the ring has enjoyed fabled cultural status. This is not to mention the theological, metaphorical and imaginary use of the Ring in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Trilogy the Lord of the Rings.
So when Judy suggested I wear one, I went along with the idea. I had my finger measured and on our wedding day, she slipped my bright and shiny band of gold on my finger. I wore that special ring virtually every day and night of our 50-year marriage. I think I only took it off for one major surgery in 1973, three colonoscopies and occasionally when going to the swimming pool. The latter can be devastating to a man’s wedding ring. The only two times I nearly lost it was in the Chalfonte pool in Atlantic City, where we spent part of our Honeymoon. I was on the diving board and when I cut through the icy water, it slipped from my finger. I think I was able to retrieve it from the bottom of the pool, though I do not remember how I got it back.
Several years later my son Matthew, who by that time had developed a very powerful right arm, and I were tossing, in my case, but firing in his, a tennis ball in the shallow end of the Club pool in Creve Coeur. He ripped one to me. I put up my wet, left hand to catch it but the ball hit so hard that my ring flew off and splashed somewhere into the nether land of the pool.
Neither of us could find it. Panic set in until a young lad said he could find it for me. A few minutes later the ring was back on my finger where it belonged and he was $20 richer. I still treasure that simple ring which retailed for $27 in 1966. Evidentially the tradition of a man wearing a ring, seems to have started sometime in the 1920s, though its popularity accelerated during World War II, when American wives were terrified that their men would fall prey to the French Femme Fatals.
Now that I have lost my Judy, I really don’t know if I should take my ring off or leave it on. That finger is basically deformed thanks to the constant wearing of my band of gold. But I have no idea what the protocol is, nor do I really care. I have not been following any book or article on how I should handle the bereavement interval for my wife. I am doing what they used to say in Radioland, winging it! I finally decided it stays on until another woman gives me another ring. And if that never happens, it goes with me to Plot #43 next to Judy.