“Will strangers ever hear our names long after we are gone, and wonder who we were? How bravely we fought, how fiercely we loved?” – King Odysseus (from Wolfgang Peterson’s film Troy)
I went to a wedding yesterday …
It was a GREAT time! You know how I know it was great? We had so much fun that my better half forgot to close out our bar tab. He had to call one of his trusty buddies to close it out for him, and retrieve his credit card. Whoops!
Weddings fascinate me. They really do. They’re the entirety of someone’s life—past, present, and future—condensed into a single day. The groom said something during his speech that I’ll never forget. He talked about losing his cell phone the morning of his wedding, and when he did something hit him: everyone that he ever cared about—everyone that he might have asked to call his phone so he could locate it—was together under one roof, for what was probably both the first and last time.
I was poignantly reminded of the line from Troy: “I’ll tell you a secret,” says Achilles gravely to Briseis, “something they don’t teach you in your temple. The gods envy us. They envy us because we’re mortal, because any moment might be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we’re doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again.”
Or, as another author who is not Homer put it: “Life, I realized, isn’t about being happy ‘forever’. Forever is too fickle, too fleeting, and too vulnerable to tumultuous change. Life is about learning to seize a single moment, a breath-taking moment frozen in time, and keeping that moment … Forever.”
Weddings embody both the past and future, bound together into a single, surreal Present. What weddings have in common with funerals is that they are both, in part, a celebration of the past; that celebration is embodied by the guests, by their smiles and sniffles. There’s that fellow I went to high school with; there’s my good friend who started out as my tax preparer. There’s my grandmother, and there’s my drunken uncle that I don’t really like, but hey … he’s family.
But with weddings, the past and future intertwine. The guests represent the past—and in some sense, so do the bride and groom since their courtship is now over—but the ceremony itself represents hope for the future. In a traditional western wedding, the groom wears black: a color historically used to garb soldiers, peace officers, assassins, and even executioners. To me, it’s a grim reminder of the realities of our world, and how a husband is meant to bravely face them in defense of hearth and home. He’s the protector of his household, and his attire reflects this.
Then there’s the bride …
When I was a teenager, my local video store had this horror film called Let the Devil Wear Black. Every time I walked by it, I thought that was the coolest title ever. Then one day it occurred to me that I should actually rent it. So I went in, and …
Alas, somebody’s VCR ate the tape. I never got to see it. But it was still a bitchin’ title, and I’ve often thought that that it’d be cool to paraphrase it in a romantic story: Let the Bride Wear White, you know?
Wives—and by extension, girlfriends and fiancées—are just as flawed as their male counterparts. I would know. But for one day—just one—the bride gets to be perfect. She wears white to symbolize the softer, more supportive role that she will play in her newly-forged household.
There’s an element of risk in marriage. Fifty percent of American marriages end in divorce. The bride or the groom could get hit by a bus the day after the wedding. But weddings are a bold ‘looking forward,’ a fierce clinging to hope despite the risks inherent to daily life. Weddings celebrate the ‘permanently beautiful’ while willfully ignoring the ‘temporarily ugly.’
To those of us who are older, seeing a younger person say ‘I do’ reminds us of how we felt when we said it. The fluttering heart, the odd sense of joyous trepidation, the looking forward to the future despite not knowing what it would hold for us … Younger people often say their vows before others who said them long, long ago, reminding us that the human experience—and even reality itself—doesn’t move in a straight line; rather, it moves in circles.
I once wrote this, in the introduction to my book Fatal Distractions: “Life has become so chaotic that it’s easy to forget that this life is only temporary; indeed, it is almost illusory.”
Almost illusory. Just ‘almost …’
As we drift through life, it’s tempting to just let everything feel like one long dream. Honestly? I think that’s a natural defense mechanism. But there are rare days in which life makes itself crystal-clear, and we are more than happy to simply ‘live in the moment,’ with no need whatsoever to mentally disassociate ourselves from what’s happening around us.
Weddings … are ‘one of those rare days.’