In modern weddings there is always a cake, an oversized white dress, a meal, some awkward dancing, a nervous toast, and months of stress planning for one day of rehearsed perfection. It has always seemed a bit fake to me. Perhaps because I am not one to think much about tablecloths and flower arrangements, gift registries or luxury salad tongs. The last flowers in my home were technically weeds I plucked from the backyard because I thought they might look nice in a jam jar on the kitchen table. (They did.)
However, I have always believed in marriage. I just think sometimes we go about the whole marrying off process in a manner worth skipping entirely. In theory, I like the idea of going to a courthouse, signing some papers, and being done with the whole ordeal without ever having to ever flip through a catalog of invitation samples.
But I am a writer. And I believe in the importance of words and saying important things to your person in front of the people who are most important to you both. Partially, because my grandmother would never forgive me without a formal service to attend, but mostly because of the accountability factor. Saying you will do something is different from promising you will in front of my parents. Those witnessing the event should be held to a higher standard too. Guests have an unstated, but specific role: to support the two individuals standing at the alter long after the rings are exchanged and the honeymoon is over.
Recently, I attended a ceremony in Germany that changed my mind about modern weddings. It was my D’s little sister’s. The location was a small Lutheran church down the street from their mother’s house. The reception was held in a converted barn, and the entire guest list consisted of a handful of close friends and extended family members who opted to fly overseas in order to raise a glass for the bride and groom.
The event reinforced the notion that a wedding is not a four layer cake, a swapping of vows, and a covertly planned bouquet toss. It is the bride’s brother meeting the man she will marry for the first time and making sure he has a firm handshake and looks him in the eye while doing so. It is sweeping out the church with the entire wedding party and anyone else who is available to help carry the supplies. It is washing the windows and cutting ribbons for the pews. It is not just a day for the bride to look pretty and the groom to be proud that she does.
Nowadays, it seems we hire people to do our ribbon tying, to clean our dirt, to create the illusion of perfect. Even though we know in a marriage, there will be days when she doesn’t feel pretty and he doesn’t feel particularly proud and no amount of flowers and frosting will make it better.
Instead, it will be the lessons first learned preparing for the wedding that matter: that sometimes you have to get down on your hands and knees and scrub and sweat and clean up your own mess. That it is easier with someone by your side assisting. And easier still, if those who stood by you on that first day, when you promised to always be good, and when you were promised that you would be forgiven when you’re not, are still present and still willing to lend a hand.