Attending a wedding when your marriage is in a tired, old, sensitive stage is tricky business.
No one up there in the wedding party is any of those things. They are young, energetic, and their sense of humor is fully in tact. They are all considerably younger than I. They sport matching outfits, smooth foreheads and trendy platforms. I have sensible flats, worry lines, and graying hair. One or two of the bridal party is married, but they are still newlyweds, that cute stage when you're madly in love and willing to forego personal rectitude for marital harmony. I think I was there once.
And then there's the bride and groom. The ones saying "I do." The two people who are blissful, smiling at each other and for the camera, seemingly focused on just this day, rather than the decades-long marriage ahead of them. They're at that exact point where most movies end--on an up note, at the riding off into the sunset moment, before the going gets too tough (and no one wants to watch it).
And then there's us--the small gathering about to watch the ceremony, then celebrate with them afterward. Weddings have a strange mix of attendees. On the one hand, there are single sorts and bubbly newcomers, blissfully unaware of just how difficult some of marriage will be. They are certain that their love will carry them through. They have lightness and levity; those lucky ducks have not yet had their faith and trust and vows tested.
On the other hand, there are the already-married sort in the crowd, who shake their heads just a little at these young bucks. I admit it was tough not to look down at them just a little, but I know it was out of jealousy. I am living a version of Paradise Lost, having thrown away my newlywed innocence in a million different ways, and before I fully appreciated it. I am almost pained watching others in their bubbly, innocent state, especially when I realize that their path, in part due to their choices, might not lead down that particularly rocky one I've found myself on these past few years.
Really, I want to become a smoker for the day just so I can maximize my cool, aloof jadedness by inhaling deeply, exhaling dramatically, keeping my eyes just half open, then busting out with the word on my chest: Fools. I'm not a smoker; I'm actually a kind woman with bubbly moments, but this marriage business turns me serious in two seconds flat. It's just that most people have no idea of the hard work that goes into a successful marriage.
So, what of this wedding? The identity of the minister is actually a surprise. Cole is actually the goofiest of my cousins, the one with whom I've danced and laughed with for every year of his life, the funny, sweet, irresponsible brother of the groom. The bride and groom have chosen him to marry them, and kept it a secret, in part (I think) because of those attendees I've described above (the camp in which I clearly sit) who see weddings not as a joke but a ritual-filled beginning of a serious commitment. I, too, have my doubts on this cousin of mine. I love Cole like crazy, perhaps in part because we share a common trait: when the spotlight shines on us, we do practically anything to keep it on us.
I actually feel tense at the beginning of this ceremony, with my heart struggling to rid itself of the jaded thoughts I have. I try to fling those off so I can simply be present and be happy for this couple, but I am worried about how silly the speech will be in just a few minutes. I cringe at the thought. I want to get it over with.
Soon enough, the time of the speech arrives. My goofy cousin starts with the "Mawaige" line from A Princess Bride. And the fact that Cole is talking and that it's not-so-serious does get everyone's attention. But once he has our attention, he switches to a mode I've not previously seen from him: a mostly sober one, sprinkled with that humor that is wonderfully his and oh-so-necessary in this life.
My cousin Cole talks about how love is a choice. The bride and groom are making a choice to love each other. They made that choice many times in the previous years, but this is the biggest choice here at the alter, here on their wedding day. But they (read: we) have to choose love again and again. When the newlywed bliss wears off, choose love. When tempers flare, choose love. When you're not sure what your partner is thinking, choose love. Again and again, we married couples have got to choose love.
In this moment, without needing any time to reflect, I know that this speech is wonderful. It is a surprisingly touching, goosebump-causing monologue perfect for both groups of attendees--those in the gum-snapping, blissful stage and those jaded, smoker wanna-be's like me. Because it's also for those few in the crowd who have successfully made it past both of these stages, and are now into the longer, steadier state of love. I can only hope that these couples who've been together twenty or thirty years have marriages full of more understanding, acceptance, and forgiveness than mine at my marriage's stage.
Wait a second! These couples are probably shaking their head at me, recognizing my own impatience for things to be better and work better and feel better! They are probably watching how I juggle through my exhaustion the responsibilities of a mom to three very young kids and, simultaneously, trying to maintain a loving and slightly fun commitment to my husband!
This slightly wizened, very wise group has chosen love, again and again and again, and they can sit securely in their seats, knowing they made the right choice. I can only hope that by making that same choice again and again, as best I can, that I can sit in that group one day.