Once upon a time … before all the world stopped and held its breath … before we became achingly aware of and careful with one another … before, when life was just as it had always been, and would never be again … I wrote a story in remembrance of three weddings.
In the story, I spoke about how I thought we should all make a point of attending a wedding every now and then. I proposed that it often provided an opportunity to renew our own belief in the sweetness of love, the spirituality of it, that it was sometimes the most lovely witness for hope – shining new and brave, evidenced by those who had found each other in life.
Supporting my premise, I recalled first a wedding that took place a few days before one Christmas. It was an evening ceremony. A crisp, wintry night. Within the walls of an ancient, elegant church, candles flickered warmly and Christmas greenery and roses scented the air. The word “sanctuary” took on a special meaning in that place and time. The rich tapestry of family and friends equaled the satins and velvets and laces worn by the participants and attendees. The music seemed as if it had been sent directly from heaven – pure and moving. The food that welcomed the guests afterward reflected the pride and joy of the bride’s father for his eldest daughter. And the bride and groom themselves never stopped smiling, often through tears, their faces alight with love and hope and future possibilities. It was a wedding filled with tradition and pageantry, faith and family.
It wasn’t long after that wedding that two of my friends celebrated their wedding anniversary. As is their custom, they unpacked their albums and scrapbooks and remembered the day together with their family. I, rather unabashedly, invited myself over to see the photos and memorabilia, too. It was great fun to see them in that time of youth and innocence. All the unmistakable colors and styles of the ‘70s, with big bows and perfect hair, intermixed with the timelessness of frosted wedding cake and icy punch, smiling bridesmaids and fresh-cut flowers. The simplicity of it was a delight. And the love and joy of it was so evident that it filled each page of the albums – every picture, every notation, every memento.
Today, I am reading about all the weddings that have been postponed or made small and intimate by necessity – out of the need to take care of each other on a global scale. Most are being redesigned, replanned and rethought. And it has brought back to me most especially the third wedding that I witnessed and wrote about that time years ago.
I was in Hopelands Gardens, having a picnic lunch on the ground with a few friends – a happy mix of dogs and humans. We were sitting on the slope of grass near the duck pond where the small architectural “folly” perches, overlooking the north edge of the water. The folly is a diminutive structure, a simple small domed circle with stone benches and graceful open arches embracing it. And, as I watched, an older woman approached it. Close behind her were a very young man and woman. The older woman positioned the two in front of her under the arch. Then, she opened a book she had brought with her, and began speaking softly to them. It soon became obvious that she was officiating at their wedding. The girl wore a plain skirt and blouse, with sandals on her small bare feet. The boy had on a pair of freshly pressed khaki pants and a shirt with short sleeves and open neck. They held each other tightly by their hands. They were achingly young. Completely alone.
When the older woman had finished the brief ceremony, she kissed each of them gently on their cheeks and departed. But the couple stayed, talking softly together, heads close and nodding. Then they began to walk slowly around the gardens. Wondrously unaware of anyone else around them. They never stopped looking at each other, never let go of each other’s hands.
That memory, that singular image, fills my heart especially poignantly today, as we read and know of couples joining together in marriage regardless of the world’s greater circumstances, yet respectful of it even so. Many choose to wait for a time when they may once again celebrate with their greater family and friends, when everyone will be free to kiss and hold each other close and whisper wishes for happiness to one another. But others reflect the view that their wedding is, after all, between themselves alone. And they take the one hand that matters most, and they pledge their love, and celebrate their happiness between their cloistered hearts.
I suspect that, regardless of the global reality, love will find a way. Love always finds a way. And we should all be grateful to those who let us witness their weddings – from nearby or faraway, as invited guests or as simply eavesdroppers and lookers-on from across the water at the edge of the garden.
Thanks to them, we all get to refresh our own souls and beliefs in the hope of love and the goodness of the human spirit that seeks to love and be loved – and holds fast to someone else’s hand and never lets go. May we all still believe in “happily ever after.”