Pieter Brueghel the Elder, The Peasant Wedding, 1567
I’ve always scoffed at the idea of idea of renewing wedding vows. Those vows are renewed everyday after “I do.” Calling attention to them with another ceremony seems both unnecessary and a bit grandiose.
But on the morning of J’s wedding, I can almost see the point of them. Or at least the point of trying to remember what my own wedding celebration felt like. As it happens our 40th is tomorrow. Of course, there is no logic in trying to re-experience the feelings of September 8th, 1979. That day and my recall of it have been embroidered by four decades of a deeply contented, happy life I’ve shared with someone. No small thing, the sharing. And no small thing finding someone to be my other half.(1)
Yet so much happens at weddings that they do merit a meditation, if not a second public ceremony. Weddings may be the last remnant of legendary pre-modern – in my family, surely peasant – feasts where the table-laying, the roasting, the boiling, the baking, and the dancing, singing and drinking stretched for days. Still almost palpable, even at this distance, is the excitement of seeing friends from different phases of growing up walking towards you with outstretched arms along with the relatives you truly love, the ones who always turn up, and the black sheep who came anyway. I can practically feel the electrical currents flowing back and forth between the poles of mother and daughter, the patient attendance of siblings whose day it wasn’t. As for my father, he seemed to be there as a glamorous supporting actor to my bridal role. As I recall, his organizational work was limited to dealing with the bank withdrawals, largely after the fact. That and playing referee when his brother and brother-in-law threatened to ‘take it outside.’
Freudian slip: I almost forgot the groom’s side of the aisle. I wonder if every bride sees her husband’s family as (almost) an after-thought on her wedding day. Mea culpa. Still, I’m pretty sure there’s science to show that the emotional scales are unbalanced by the weight of the family you’ve always known. The new family should appreciate the ever so slight distance at which they are held. On that day, at least, their daughter-in-law sees them innocent and uncomplicated by fault lines that lay dormant in her own tribe. Though in my case, they did rupture (briefly) when my of my uncles claimed his sister had no right to any inheritance that might come from my grandfather because she was a woman, while the patriarch was sitting right there. Hence the aforementioned refereeing. (How did this get back to my rude relatives? See earlier point about familial tonnage.)
Before all that, before the vows (I also seem to have completely blocked out the church which I chose for it’s coffered ceilings) there was the quiet. I’m thinking of (and simultaneously experiencing) the hours of the morning and early afternoon when there’s nothing to do but wait for things to start. Until then, time stands still. Not surprisingly, I also feel the same way before funerals or waiting to leaving for the airport. Our brain-bodies recognize these hours as when the real rite of passage happens. Weddings (and other trips) just confirm them. By the time the first toast is made the marriage is already moving toward it’s anniversary, and certainly worth at least another toast or three.
- Please don’t misconstrue the restraint in this sentence. It is indicative of the awkwardness I feel around demonstrative displays of affection, even in prose – which in any case couldn’t suffice to say what I feel for my husband.