Eight weddings. The year I was 26 I went to eight weddings. It was a personal record that still stands. By that age — three years, two jobs and four apartment moves since college — I got very good at the wedding guest routine: mail RSVP card, get gifts, buy dress and matching shoes, attend stuffy-fluffy bridal shower, fret over finding a plus one, act like a grown-up at wedding, repeat.
Next wedding, same routine, different dress.
When I was 26 I had a fairly steady beau. While he was not the steady beau that was my date to my own wedding, he was an excellent plus one. He cleaned up nicely and was faking being an adult about as well as I was.
When I was 26 I took weddings for granted. They sort of ran together: another special day for a party; another beautiful friend who I was delighted for but quite happy that it wasn’t me.
After I did my own turn down the aisle, I understood the whole story. While armed with that new perspective, most of my friends were already married and wedding invitations dwindled. There have been a lot of non-wedding years since I was 26.
There have also been a lot of changes in weddings since then. For one wedding this past month I RSVP’d on Facebook and the bridal shower was less “stuffy-fluffy” and more “girls’ night on the deck.”
I wore a dress that I already had in my closet.
I didn’t fret that my entire family was busy that day and I had no plus one.
I didn’t have to pretend to be grown-up, although I had to remind myself of it several times when I was carried away with the joy of the day and the comfortable happiness of sharing it with a group of close friends.
The best change since I was 26 is that I possess empathetic involvement not only in the wedding, but in marriage. This particular couple’s journey to the alter was twisted like an emotional kaleidoscope. It wasn’t a special day for a party, it was a special day with a party. Accent on special.
And this one was very special.
It wasn’t simply that the bride was beautiful, the groom was beaming and the day shined bright and perfect; it wasn’t that they were surrounded by people who loved and cared for and about them.
It was more.
As the preacher began I looked around the chapel. I had never seen half of the people before, but the other half I had.
The last time that I had seen them I was sitting with the same group of friends.
The last time I had seen that collection of familiar and vaguely familiar faces it was at a church not too far by distance, but a million miles of experiences away.
“I, Nicole, take you Paul,” my friend repeated her vows…sickness, health, richer, poorer…I had heard the same vows eight times the year I was 26; I had heard them a hundred times since and I had said them once myself. But they never meant what they did that day.
“…until death separates us.”
The last time the vaguely familiar faces and this particular group of friends and I met in a church, we were there because death had separated Nicole from her first groom.
The most important change in weddings since I was 26 is that I now know that every couple has a story, every celebration unique. Every wedding is special. The ceremony and party may seem like the same old routine, but it’s not.
It’s the celebration of something new.
Something to cherish.
Susan Vollenweider lives in Smithville. For more of her writing, go to thehistorychicks.com.