These moments are immortal, and most transitory of all;… Beams of their power stream into the ordered world and dissolve it again and again.
Martin Buber, I and Thou
On the morning of Everett and Olivia’s wedding, I had to pull Everett’s box out from under my bed.
I have a box for each of my children under there. They contain those things I’ve saved over the years: programs from band and chorus concerts, an essay or two they’ve written. Artwork from school or our kitchen table. Those special papers culled only once in a while from the folders they toted home weekly during grade school.
That morning in Everett’s box I’d hoped to find some photos, but instead I found the camouflage watchband he’d worn daily in fourth grade, and also his Batman suit.
The forecast for the wedding was rain. After so little of it that spring, we were promised rain for the entire second half of the week and also the weekend.
Which shouldn’t be a problem, right? They say that rain on a wedding is good luck. But the wedding ceremony was to be in an open field encircled by woods. There were a few refurbished, century-old buildings for the preparations and reception, but the wedding itself would be outside.
I was on my weather app almost hourly that week, mentally shoving the radar report toward Sunday. As far as I was concerned, it could rain buckets on Sunday. It didn’t seem that clear skies –for just a few hours on a May Saturday afternoon– should be too much to hope for.
As it went, the weather looked (potentially) positive: the rain was delayed later and later in the week, with percent-chances on the decrease. We had hope for our Saturday afternoon.
And when it came time for Friday’s rehearsal, all signs of rain–in the sky, not the forecast–had disappeared. The air was warm, the light golden. After dinner, we all spilled out of the reception barn and onto the lawn for cornhole and Frisbee and, as the evening went on, a long and laughing game of hide-and-seek.
I suppose some might argue that Friday evening was the time for them to get married. Wedding party and some family were assembled, and here was the weather they had certainly envisioned when, a few months before, Everett and Olivia had discovered this beautiful venue.
But they didn’t get married because of weather, obviously. And the date had been chosen; the guests were invited and planning to come. You don’t just arbitrarily choose a day to get married, do you? We certainly don’t decide to get married based on barometric pressure.
So, how do we decide? Which are the elements that must converge in order to have a wedding? We have happily married friends who did it at the courthouse, pulling obliging strangers from the hallway to serve as witnesses. We have friends who eloped. We have friends who got married in intimate ceremonies with no one invited but their families–and then we joined them to celebrate in a reception the next day.
The date of the wedding–and even the how (the horse-drawn carriage that fetches you to the reception, say; or the destination to a glamorous city)–can’t begin to matter. Not near so much, anyway, as the why.
When Bill and I married, the weather was insignificant: both wedding and reception were indoors. But we remember the weather that day nonetheless. In the morning, I sat in my bathrobe on the deck of the house where I grew up and watched clouds slide fast across a clear sky. The sun and wind continued until late afternoon. Then clouds moved in and we, now married for about six hours, stopped at receptions held at Bill’s father’s and then mother’s homes.
That night after dark it rained and thundered, and we have since commented to each other about it: we’re glad the weather was varied, glad it wasn’t all-day-perfect. If weather on one’s wedding day holds any kind of meaning for what a marriage might be like, then at the very least turbulence seemed honest.
The appearance of the Batman suit should not have surprised me. I was digging in Everett’s box, after all. The thing is chock-full of “Everett artifacts,” if you will, the place where I keep most of the treasures pertaining to him.
And I will admit that the Batman suit, which he wore as daily as possible throughout the entire year he was four, was less of a surprise than the watchband. It took me a moment to recall what it was, especially as the watch itself (broken and thrown away, I assume) wasn’t there. I don’t remember where he got the watch, but since its re-discovery on the morning of the wedding, I have noticed it on Everett’s wrist in old photographs. Ah yes, the watch that Everett wore for months during –was it?– fourth grade.
And then one day, presumably, it broke. Or one day he just stopped wearing it. And his mother knew that here was a piece of his life that was precious enough for the keeping. Into the box it went.
As was the watch, the moment of its interment in the box is also lost to memory, as are many of the moments of his fourth grade year. But I have that watchband.
I suppose my keeping it is testament to foolish sentimentality. Or to love. You decide.
In any case, the fact is that the watchband only matters because of its wearer, but the wearer himself is not something I can keep, stored in a box (creepily) under a bed. No, the life of the child will progress regardless of whether or not we are paying attention, of whether or not we are storing things in boxes or, as did the mother of Christ with her blessed child, in our hearts.
I have plenty of Everett-moments stored away. There is the time when, age three, he came back inside to invite me to investigate with him an anthill he had discovered in the yard. And the times, younger still, when he would come to me, busy as I was and pregnant with his sister, and say, “I hold you, Mommy,” at which point I would abandon whatever I was doing and hoist him into my arms.
The times he had trouble leaving me to go to school and then the glorious day when he didn’t. The morning I walked with him and my father to the beach and then watched Everett celebrate the water. The evening we picked him up from his first middle school dance. The afternoon I picked him up from his first day of high school. The early morning we sent him off at the airport on his gap year travels and the golden afternoon, six months later, when we welcomed him home again.
But I don’t know exactly the day he knew he loved Olivia, the moment he knew –as once upon a time Bill and I did of each other– that he had found the Someone he wanted to do the good and hard work of marriage with. That’s really not the sort of thing one necessarily tells one’s mother. It’s not something a mother needs to know.
An outdoor wedding, we all agreed, is “just so Livy.” This young woman who loves my son also loves sunlight and growing things, bare feet and daisy chains. Of course she should get married outside.
But the weather, as we all know, is something we have yet to control. Despite the extraordinary advances given us by science, the weather vexes and concerns us in ways both small and great. After a week of watching the forecast, Friday’s glorious evening seemed to portend the blessing we’d all be hoping for: Saturday would be beautiful.
Still, did it need to be? With all we’ve been given, did we need also to insist on good weather? Days before the wedding, speaking of exactly this, I said to a friend of my about-to-be daughter-in-law, “I just want her to have what she wants.”
My friend’s response was full of wisdom: “She already does, doesn’t she?”
And Olivia did. I know she would agree. She had the about-to-be husband she had prayed for, the person to do the good and hard work of marriage with.
In that context, good weather on May 11, 2019 would be extra.
Bill and I were ridiculously young when we got married, but we knew this much: we wouldn’t always be happy. We wouldn’t always seem to be the best partner for the other. We would sometimes disagree and argue; we would apologize and forgive. We would do the good and hard work of being married to each other, come what may. Like so much weather.
And this is why we’ve been glad that the weather was so varied on our wedding day: because the imagery, if you will, was perfect. We knew the trouble would come, although we didn’t yet know how. And we knew that the trouble is what forges the marriage.
Certainly the good days, the joys and ease of a healthy relationship forge a marriage, too. But it’s those times you struggle through, the fights you resolve, the times you think you might like to walk away but you don’t— that’s when you know that happiness isn’t what keeps you there.
Happiness comes and goes. And comes again. A marriage based on feelings of happiness will disappear like the sun behind a cloud.
In this context, a little rain on a wedding day –if you’re wanting symbolism– is nothing short of a blessing.
About an hour before the wedding ceremony, Olivia did a wonderful thing. I’m guessing it’s somewhat commonly done these days, but on my wedding day, I had never heard of it. I wish I had.
Dressed in her gown and ready for the wedding, Olivia met her father Tom in a quiet corner of the field, away from any guests or onlookers. It was her father’s “first-look” at his daughter-now-bride, a moment for the two of them to be together before this momentous change in their lives.
I didn’t have a moment like that with my father. I know I rode with him to the church, that he waited with me and my bridesmaids before the ceremony. And after I sent my precious flower girl ahead of me down the aisle, he turned to me and asked, “How do I look?”
He meant to be funny, and he was, but I was nervous and distracted. And sadly I was unaware of the enormous weight of this moment for him, so I brushed him off. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished that I had responded differently.
Separated from the busyness of last-minute wedding preparation, Olivia and her father had time to talk together. I didn’t watch it happen, but I’ve seen the photos. I’m sure that both of them treasure the time.
It’s good to make time for moments like these, because so much of life becomes lost in the everyday.
The truth is that –on the one hand– it doesn’t matter when you get married. Weather, time-of-day, glamorous location (or not) aside, it’s what happens on the wedding day that matters. And what happens on the wedding day actually occurs before the wedding day itself.
It’s at some point before the wedding day that you decide you’ve found your person. That this person and no other will be the one for you. That you can trust the other to know you at your worst. That this person, above all others, can help you be your best. That they, like you, will fight for the other and, sometimes more importantly, for your marriage.
The decision to that commitment happens some time before your wedding day, I say. Your wedding day is just the moment when you formally declare it to the world.
And that moment matters. Enormously.
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. -Genesis 2:24.
At the beginning of their wedding ceremony, Tom stood with Olivia in front of the guests. When Malcolm asked the question (“Who gives this bride?”), Tom’s answer was out of the ordinary. He didn’t just say the traditional, “I do.” Instead he replied, “Her mother and sister and brother and I.”
Their family, like ours, was once a family of five. On May 11, 2019, they simultaneously became a family of four and a family of six.
This is mystery and reality together. It’s difficult and beautiful. And it’s good.
On the morning of Everett and Olivia’s wedding, the sky looked like it might conceivably turn blue, but as the day went on, the clouds settled in. It looked like rain, but we continued to hold out hope even when Tina, the wedding organizer, trotted out baskets of umbrellas.
The guests were assembled and we all continued to watch our weather apps, passing along word of percent-chances, this time reckoning them by the minute. The bride and bridesmaids stood at the ready, and it was a question of waiting: should we wait ten minutes? Fifteen? What were our chances to avoid the rain?
Tina asked Olivia, and Olivia said we should begin. The music swelled, we assembled for the procession, and off we went.
We had the darlingest of twin flower girls, radiant bridesmaids, and an utterly beautiful bride. But I will admit to mostly watching the groom that day. It’s an infrequent gift in life to watch your son promise himself to the well-being of another, to declare before God and with his help that he will be committed to her for the rest of his life. To enter– so young, so bold, so humble– into this adventure that his father and I have known: the good and hard work of marriage, the appalling views it affords onto your own selfishness, the apologies and forgiveness that make a life.
And then they were married and the bridal party was off, two by two, behind the husband and wife. There was music and all the laughter and congratulations. We parents and grandparents made our way out, and the guests after us.
Moments later it began to rain.
all photos courtesy Sarah Darnell Photography