Marriage and Other Acts of Charity: A Memoir

Marriage and Other Acts of Charity: A Memoir

by Kate Braestrup
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Marriage and Other Acts of Charity: A Memoir by Kate Braestrup

In her award-winning memoir Here If You Need Me, Kate Braestrup won the hearts of readers across the country with her deeply moving and deftly humorous stories of faith, hope and family. Now, with her inimitable voice and generous spirit, she turns her attention to the subjects of love and commitment in MARRIAGE AND OTHER ACTS OF CHARITY.

As a minister, Kate Braestrup regularly performs weddings. She has also, at 44, been married twice and widowed once, and accordingly has much to say about life after the ceremony. From helping a newlywed couple make amends after their first fight to preparing herself for her second marriage, Braestrup offers her insights and experiences on what it truly means to share your life with someone, from the first kiss to the last straw, for better or for worse.

Part memoir, part observation of modern marriage, and part meditation on the roles of God and love in our everyday lives, MARRIAGE AND OTHER ACTS OF CHARITY is a unique and unforgettable look into why, and how, we love each other, and proves yet again why Kate Braestrup's writing is "inspirational in the best sense" (New York Daily News).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781607884842
Publisher: Findaway World
Publication date: 01/28/2010
Product dimensions: 4.60(w) x 7.80(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Kate Braestrup is the chaplain for the Maine Warden Service andthe author of the memoir Here If You Need Me and the novel Onion. She has written for the New York Times Magazine, Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, O, Mademoiselle, More, Ms., and Law and Order and lives in Maine with her husband and children.


Lincolnville, Maine

Date of Birth:

June 5, 1962

Place of Birth:

Washington, D.C.


Parsons School of Design, New School for Social Research 1979-81; Georgetown University 1983-1986; Bangor Theological

Read an Excerpt

Marriage and Other Acts of Charity

A Memoir
By Braestrup, Kate

Reagan Arthur Books

Copyright © 2010 Braestrup, Kate
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780316031912


One summer day, my daughters, Ellie and Woolie, ages eight and six, respectively, got lost in the Maine woods. They went for a walk with their older brothers, but Zachary and Peter, tired of their sisters’ slower pace, abandoned them in what, from the girls’ point of view, was a vast and trackless wilderness.

Actually, it was a small wilderness, situated on an extremely small island off Popham Beach, Maine. The kids and I were staying there for an August weekend.

We had watched ospreys fishing. We pored over tide pools where sea stars slowly bored their lethal holes in the shells of dog whelks, and barnacles waved their thready tentacles in the water, hoping to catch a snack of minute marine debris. Right after breakfast on our first day, the kids spotted a seal’s tidy domed head just off the rocky beach and seated themselves in a blond row in the blond grass on the bluff above, waiting for the seal to pop her head up again.

They looked just like a painting by Mary Cassatt, I thought—my aesthetic judgment once more overwhelmed by maternal feeling. Later, when Zach and Peter returned from their walk with the news that they had left their tiresome sisters behind and had no idea what had become of them, what followed was not a scene Mary Cassatt would have wanted to paint. (Edvard Munch might have taken a stab at it.)

Meanwhile, Ellie and Woolie sat glumly beneath a spruce, convinced they would never see home and hearth again. Then it occurred to Ellie that they were, after all, on an island. If they found the shoreline, it should be possible, in theory, to circumambulate the island and find, by the water’s edge, the cottage with their mother in it. So the girls struck off in the direction of the nearest wave sounds, and when they reached the coast, they turned right. The plan would have worked perfectly, except that in scrambling over a particularly jagged set of rocks, Ellie fell, cutting her knee badly.

Things now looked very bleak. Ellie bewailed her bloodied knee. Woolie toyed with the idea of building a hut out of driftwood and nursing her sister back to health on a diet of rainwater and raw clams, but Ellie’s knee really did look painful. Besides, Woolie could do with a cookie. So Woolie threw back her head and addressed herself to the empty sky.


Within moments, a paramedic was by her side.

Maternal panic was replaced that day by bewildered gratitude. Woolie marched jauntily into view, followed by her sister, borne in the arms of a stranger, her injured knee neatly bandaged.

“Glad to help,” said the paramedic. His name was Joel. He happened to be vacationing with his family in a cottage on the other side of the island and had been peacefully sunning himself when the summer breeze carried Woolie’s cri de coeur to his trained ears.

Woolie seemed to take it as a matter of course that her prayers would be answered. If she had known the word paramedic, she might even have been more specific in her request, although, as it turned out, she didn’t need to be.

I am a person of faith or a religious fanatic, depending on whom you ask. I believe absolutely in God made manifest in love, but I can’t explain, let alone emulate, my daughter’s confidence in life’s beneficence. When in doubt, I reflexively anticipate the worst.

Pessimism meshes well with my primary ministry, which is to serve as chaplain to the Maine Warden Service. I provide support and comfort to game wardens and civilians at the scenes of the various outdoor calamities to which game wardens respond: snowmobile accidents, freshwater boating accidents and drownings, hunting accidents, suicides, wilderness search and rescue operations, and, occasionally, a homicide.

No one needs a chaplain when the outcome is likely to be good, so quite a lot of my work deals with death. Or to put it differently, and as I prefer to think of it, I bear witness to the ways in which love resurrects itself in the face of loss. It is a great honor to be present to a stranger’s grief, to play even a small part in the most intimate, excruciating, and transformative chapter in a person’s and family’s history. I appreciate the clarity and frankness of those whose loved ones have died. (“Death just strips away all the bullshit,” declared a hospital chaplain I know, approvingly.)

Having written at length about death already, I realized that it must be possible to describe how love—real love, God’s love—manifests itself in other areas of life, those in which everyone involved continues breathing. Certainly a more cheerful topic.

I’ve been married and widowed, betrayed and betrothed. Moreover, as a woman of the cloth, I am often called on to advise others about how to enter into, be content within, or extract themselves from the married state. At frequent intervals I preside over the nuptial ceremonies of neighbors, friends, and game wardens. Write what you know, they say.

On the other hand, far from encouraging us to strip away what is trivial and false, marriage starts out with the expensive theatrics of a wedding. If national statistics hold for the couples who ask me to join them in holy matrimony, 50 percent of them will end up divorced. The more surprising statistic I offer to the eager affianced is this: 100 percent of marriages will end.

So what was I thinking? Marriage isn’t a cheerful subject at all!

I, of all people, should know this: My young late husband, Drew, was killed in a car accident, and friends, my parents, and my sister have been divorced. Many good friends and colleagues are making second and even third attempts at this putatively happy state. Whence their Woolie-ish, sense-less confidence? Why are they not rushing to join monasteries and nunneries? This would be the sensible response to the pain that, once endured, convincingly promises more to come. Instead we stand (or stand again) in a place made holy by this reliable human lunacy and offer heartfelt prayers in the direction of a sky that has already demonstrated its indifference to heartbreak. Our mothers and brothers smile, our sisters weep, and little children scatter flower petals at our feet as if what we are doing makes sense, but it makes no sense. It is crazy to marry, nuts to love! It’s crazy to risk loving even the mother, the brother, the matron of honor. It’s insane to love at all. God help us, we do it anyway.

Once upon a time, a man named Paul wrote a letter to a fledgling congregation of Christians at Corinth. He wrote in Koine Greek, and included lines destined to be quoted at millions of Christian wedding ceremonies, concluding with the line that begins “And now faith, hope and love abide.”

The word Paul used for love was agape, later translated into the Latin caritas, from which we get our English word charity, and so we use the word to describe a certain kind of giving. It is the needy, the unfortunate, the poor and dependent, who require charity, generally in the form of money or material assistance. So when the King James Bible says “the greatest of these is charity,” we imagine ourselves virtuously writing checks to the United Way.

Still, caritas, like agape, is better translated as love, but of a wholehearted, impartial, and selfless variety that in its human incarnation is said to hint at the nature of God’s love. Caritas isn’t something only the poor, the sick, or prisoners need, and neither is it necessarily what the rich and healthy are exclusively able to provide. Love takes many forms, from the ludicrously painful profundity of an adolescent crush to the intense, protective passion of a new parent for an infant. There is the lump that rises, unexpectedly, in the throat of an otherwise reliably jaded American on seeing the Statue of Liberty, and there is the presence of a hospice volunteer at the bedside of the dying man. There are sturdy kindnesses and noble heroics, and there are ordinary commitments made and held to, day after day. Marriage is one of these, but there are many others.

In younger days, I scornfully deplored the paucity of synonyms for love available to English speakers: “Do you know that there are something like forty-seven words for love in Hindi to name the permutations and variations of the thing?” I would rhetorically inquire. But I’ve grown comfortable with this expressive compression. All loves have much in common, and any one will offer a useful, if not painless, education in the limitations and possibilities of being human. If you give your committed love to a person, an idea, or a cause, even should that person, idea, or cause be taken from you, or proven false, you will be a better lover—of anyone, of anything—for the experience. Because I am as religious person, I see this in characteristically grandiose, religious terms: The point of being human is to get better (and better) at caritas, at agape, at love.

When asked, I have said that my call to professional ministry was inspired by the startling and to me miraculous abundance of caritas made available after my first husband, Drew, died. Friends, neighbors, strangers, took care of us, and with such generosity that I can’t think of that painful time in my life without remembering also their absurdly lavish gifts of love. And so it was love, not loss, I was called to honor with my ministry, love that I wished to explore, participate in, and cultivate and through my work.

An expanded answer, however, would have to include the way Drew loved me and I him. This wasn’t the same at the end as it was in the beginning. In fact, in a quieter miracle, we did at least begin to learn not only to need, lust after, laugh with, and feel affection for one another, but to offer each other compassion, and a more complete and generous acceptance—in a word, we became more charitable toward one another.

This was important and it was difficult. Looking back, I think I withheld my best and most generous love from Drew as if suspicious that he might not reciprocate, or as if reciprocity—a quid pro quo—were necessary. Blindness as to the extent of his generosity toward me was the inevitable corollary. In short, I loved him, but not fearlessly and generously, not with agape or anything approaching it. Which is sad, since everyone needs a little caritas, sometimes, and almost everyone is, in some way, able to give it. And the funny little secret of love is that the result of the gift is gratitude for both giver and receiver, and therefore joy.

I wish I had learned about this earlier. I am glad I learned it in time.


Excerpted from Marriage and Other Acts of Charity by Braestrup, Kate Copyright © 2010 by Braestrup, Kate. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Marriage and Other Acts of Charity: A Memoir 3.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
bridget3420 More than 1 year ago
Kate is constantly telling the couples remember their wedding vows and love each other even when it isn't easy. She is an ordained minister and wants to let everyone know that there are three different kinds of love. Kate has known her own marital heartache, mourning her husband who was killed in a car crash. Her marriage wasn't perfect, she and her husband actually went to a marriage counselor. Sometimes you need someone on the outside looking in to give you a clearer picture of your relationship. As a woman who loves her husband, I have to say that this is one of my favorite memoirs. Kate's views are a breath of fresh air. I want my husband and I to have a healthy and loving relationship. I will definitely be using some of Kate's knowledge in my own marriage.
Elizabeth1921 More than 1 year ago
Kate Braestrup is unique as she is a writer of talent on a mission, and that is to educate anyone who will read her books about topics that seem to hit us hard everyday. This book is about marriage. She wrote other books about things like death of a loved one, but this one sticks pretty much to the one subject, marriage and its charitable nature, using, as good writers do, what she knows. So yes, it is a memoir. Yes it is a sermon on life. She is as you eventually discern, a Unitarian Universalist ordained minister - and those UU type people (we people really as I am UU myself) look at life more as a continuing education of "what it really is" rather than "what it should be." So there is that. So now that I have either alienated you or sucked you in, let me add the kicker. It is written from a woman's viewpoint and that makes a huge difference. There are insights to a woman's erotic/romantic attraction toward men But this book is not exactly a page turner and it is a rather quick read. I read it as part of our UU Women's Book Club - and I am glad I did. But it is not a 'oh wow' read and it leaves you thinking, now what was that?
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I found this book harder to read than her first. It had a heavier religous undertone which didn't appeal to me as much.
lilpiggie More than 1 year ago
Kate Braestrup had some excellent points to make in this memoir, lessons she has learned from experiencing and observing the male/female relationship. One that stuck with me was that "100% of relationships end". We are lucky if they end after a long, happy life together, but the fact is some relationships are cut short. Whether it be through untimely death, divorce or things beyond our control we should learn to appreciate every moment. We should focus on the happiness, not the frustrations of a relationship if we want it to thrive. Unfortunately for Kate, she learned some of her lessons the hard way. Fortunately for us, she shares her learned wisdom and sprinkles it with some faith filled touches. I would not consider this a "religious" book, though she is a minister and faith is obviously important to her story. What I can say is that this felt a bit like a series of parables with a very neutral point of view. There may be meaning to each of her chapters, but nothing that felt as if she was leading the reader to a biased conclusion. The only complaint I have about the book is that it can come off as a bit intellectual because of the language. For example, most of us do not use the following words in everyday conversation(at least not in my New England town): imprimatur, salvific, palimpsest,inchoate,construal, cosseted and extracanonical to name only a few. I would have preferred that this be written in a lighter tone. It's very down-to-earth in theme, so the "big words" felt out of place. That said, this was an interesting read and provided some thoughtful insight which I enjoyed and I think you will,too.
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NBPK More than 1 year ago
I also recommend Kate Braestrup's book "Here If You Need Me" Her writing makes memoir worth reading , Thankyou Kate, NBPK
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