If I’m counting right, this past weekend marked the 22nd wedding I’ve been to, since I’ve been going to weddings.
I still love them.
Weddings were a huge mystery to me for most of my youth. I didn’t have a large extended family with lots of cousins nearby, and anyway, I was at the older end of the cousin age range. From, say, 1987 to 2007, I only went to one: at age 11, I stood up and then promptly sat down in my aunt’s wedding. I basically fainted in the middle of the ceremony, and was shocked–shocked!–that people at the reception kept coming up to me to ask if I was OK. I thought I’d been so subtle!
Oh, make that one and a half: I also went to my fifth grade teacher’s wedding ceremony.
My senior year of college, Sam’s friends, a whopping one year older, started to get married. And six years later the pace is just starting to let up. Kind of. In that time I’ve been thrice a a bridesmaid, twice re-worn the dresses, and once a bride. We went to a wedding on our honeymoon. I gather this is normal for our stage in life. (Well, maybe not the honeymoon part).
I still love weddings, but I find that over time, what that means has changed.
In the 2007-2009 era, I confess that I was scouting. Every wedding I went to was like some kind of Harry Potter living magazine. Ooooh, what’s on the tables? What music did they use? What were the flowers like? Bacon-wrapped scallops? It was all new to me, it was all research, and oh so fascinating.
Once our own was done, followed in quick succession by four out-of-staters in the next four months, I was over it. Sitting pretty firmly in the camp of “oh, none of it matters as long as you’re married at the end of the day,” with just a slight dash of, “but why didn’t I insist that my dress be bustled properly so it doesn’t look so wonky in all the pictures?”
Then, for awhile, each wedding was a special, individual event to be treasured. The zoo? Cool! Fuschia? Cool! College friends? Cupcakes? Fake wall with picture frame cutouts on it so you can pop your head through and pose as if you are a picture on a wall? Cool, cool, cool! How creative and clever could my friends be? Who could set a record for most Pinterest-inspired wedding?
At this point I’ve seen just about every variation on the basic western wedding. From the Denver VFW to the Grand Rapids Amway Grand Hotel. From a western New York ski resort to a Sarasota big cat sanctuary. From the mountains of the Pacific Northwest to the cornfields of northwest Illinois to my parents’ backyard in the northwest suburbs–with plenty of country clubs, banquet halls, hotels, and botanical gardens in the mix. From Roman Catholic masses to informal ceremonies officiated by friends. Pipe organs, student string quartets, guitars, iTunes playlists. Amazing Grace. All You Need is Love. Corinthians. Ella Fitzgerald.
I’ve gone round the bend on wedding fatigue, and come back again. And I’ll tell you this, all happy weddings are alike. I don’t care if you’re at the top of Mt. Hood or at the bottom of the ocean. That, I see now, is exactly what I like about them.
I think Anne Lamott wrote once that when you look at your children, you see them like a burrito, wearing the outer skin of what age they are now, but containing all the ages they’ve ever been. I don’t have children, but that’s kind of how I feel about weddings now. Every one reminds me of every other one. I remember my own. I remember my friends’. I remember the last time I saw the people I’m seeing at this one, which was probably at the wedding of the older sibling of this bride or something.
I think we sometimes lose sight of the fact that weddings are really rituals. We get so wrapped up in the notion that each one needs to be different and unique, an expression of individuality, and different from every other wedding, that we miss something bigger. (Said the girl who had hers at the horseracing track. Hi kettle! I’m pot.) Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of stale traditions I’m happy to see go. Dry chicken. Garters. I’ve got nothing against making it personal and meaningful and am all for slashing the stuff that you find stodgy or offensive. But I find that what moves me now when I go to a wedding is not the cleverness of the favors, but the layers of associations and memories that bubble up. Just like Christmas, each one is its own, but also part of a larger tangle of family, regional, and cultural touchstones. This dress reminds me of every other dress. This cake reminds me of every other cake. And to my surprise, watching my friends do the Thriller dance for the dozenth time is almost too much for this weepy old heart of mine to bear. Well. More so if I’ve been hitting the open bar.
At this particular wedding, my uncle gave a lovely toast (which made me think of my dad and his toast, and Anne’s dad and his toast, and Sarah’s dad and his toast….) about the rest and peace we find in the beauty of the world around us. Lakes, trees, etc., provide moments for us to pause and take it all in. Weddings, for me, do just this. We put the brakes on normal life, gather with the same people, or with different people. We come together, we sing, we pray, we eat, we drink, we dance. Like we’ve been doing for tens of thousands of years. The specifics don’t matter that much. Weddings remind me that we’re human and that we’re in all of this together. And that, now, is why I love them.