If you’re sitting in a dorm lobby at Patrick Henry College and notice a horde of young men barreling down the walkway shouting, one of them is about to get pitched into Lake Bob to celebrate his upcoming nuptials. Guys judge a fiancé’s manliness by the intensity of the struggle to subdue him before the Bobtism.
Girls handle engagements with more delicacy. As part of a college tradition, girls have Candlelight Ceremonies in place of the more virile and soggy Bobtism.
PHC girls dream of Candlelights from freshman year forward. In response to an email, girls gather in a circle in a dark dorm lounge to find out whose dream has come true. Before the event, rumors fly. Who has been holding hands with whom? How long have so-and-so been together? Don’t you think he’ll propose before she graduates?
The closest friends of the newly engaged girl slide her engagement ring onto a taper candle before the ceremony begins. The lit candle passes from girl to girl while her favorite music plays and girls around the circle read her hand-selected quotations on love. The engaged girl reveals her identity by blowing out the candle when it is passed to her. Everyone applauds, clamors for the story, then prays for the new couple.
I returned to PHC for my Candlelight this weekend. My dear friends slew the fatted calf for their old RA. We had all my favorites: yellow flowers, mint chocolate, Billy Joel in the background. As the candle passed, girls around the room read slips of paper printed with words from my diary that traced our courtship:
“‘How do you know?’ we used to ask our parents. ‘How do you know when you find that person you’ll marry?’
“‘You’ll know,’ they said.”
“I feel different about my hand than I did before. Before it was my tool, my thing to use for creation, my glad little animal at the end of my arm.
“But it takes on this new meaning, the meaning of being held. And I am still just one person with two hands, but they feel warmer and more special.”
“Must mention that tonight he said he loved me. I have to think about this. Because I agree with him—and would not be surprised if the page turned, turning both of us with it. Soon, as we grow closer, this alliance will become harder and harder to argue with. I dream of making him jelly toast for the rest of my life.”
Rachel Aldrich read the last, just as the candle neared me:
“Just before today when he left me at the airport curb he cried out after me, ‘I’m gonna marry you someday!”
“I stood on the sidewalk. ‘Hurry!’ I cried.”
I blew the candle out. More than one of us cried.
Jonathan’s Bobtism was scheduled for the following night. His friends planned to haul him off the stage during his musical performance. They canceled when the Virginia cold got bitterer and bitterer and the celebration became a certain path to hypothermia.