This is a special guest post by new wife, Erica. I always bounce my own ideas for posts off of her before I publish them and she always has some valuable piece of insight that I wouldn’t have come up with on my own, so it’s always a treat to read her thoughts directly. As the half of the couple that did 99.9% of the wedding planning, she makes some fascinating observations about modern-day weddings and the ways in which this ancient tradition remains relevant in a world that often seems to move us away from the values that marriage represents. Though I fear this post will make her the more popular writer on AWP, sharing her perspective is worth the risk. Enjoy!
This is a time when a lot of human failings are on display. Our society is entrenched in partisanship and mutual ire; we can barely triage, let alone mend, the wounds we have inflicted on our climate; men with guns continue to arm themselves and shoot innocent people; and communities are having to pool dwindling resources to combat a synthetic tsunami of drug addiction. The list, as we are intimately aware, goes on.
This time, then, provides a particularly odd backdrop for what I felt this past year: a profound appreciation for human nature.
It all started when we decided to get married.
In August 2016, my boyfriend of eight years proposed to me. Finally, I had an official invitation into the world of wedding planning! I was excited for the frivolity of it all.
Indeed, tending to the aesthetics of a wedding was one of the most enjoyable, indulgent and privileged experiences of my life. In a world defined by work and practicality, a brief interlude in the land of the whimsical was much appreciated. I pray that everyone who wants it gets the chance to instruct an eager legion of vendors to make sure the ribbon on your bouquet is gold, not champagne and that the vegetables in the hushpuppy appetizers be in season.
What I found, however, is that the charm of today’s iteration of wedding planning wears off. I now see Etsy and Pinterest for what they truly are: modern day Mounts of Temptation, luring brides-to-be away from dignity and sanity and towards a world characterized by competition, envy, consumption and, as always, mason jars. I admit the pressure got to me at times. As my now husband will attest, my actual meltdown over actual cauliflower was a low point.
But my complicated romance with the wedding industrial complex is not what surprised me about getting married. What surprised me was the love, grace and joy our engagement invoked in others. I was surprised by the purity of sentiment and the genuine, selfless happiness people felt on our behalf. Why, I thought, do people care if my longtime boyfriend and I now have a marriage license on file at a courthouse somewhere? What’s the difference?
My naiveté gave way to a realization that started as a slow drum beat at the back of my mind and eventually grew to become a lived truth.
For all our modern advances, we remain a tribal people, with tribal instincts. We are built to survive, yes, but we are also built to elevate time and participate in each other’s transitions into new life stages. We do this not so that our species may survive, but so that it may thrive.
One of the things that struck me most during our engagement is the way the women in my life took it upon themselves to celebrate with me, to prepare me, to welcome me into this next chapter. From dinners with newlyweds and young mothers, to bachelorette and bridal shower shenanigans to secrets and tips and stories, I couldn’t help but feel like I was taking my place in an unbroken chain. It was my turn to take on this new stage, and the women around me were helping me do so as we have done for each other for millennia.
In fact, in Jewish tradition, a bride is instructed to immerse herself in a mikveh (a ritual bath) to cleanse her mind, body and soul before the wedding. She is often accompanied by her mother or other close female friends. The day before my wedding, a few girlfriends watched as I stood ankle deep in a mini waterfall in one of Portland’s many public parks. We recited the traditional blessings and shared thoughts, hopes and prayers for my impending union.
If I wasn’t already convinced of the enduring power of a tribe, the wedding did the trick.
To describe the ceremony would be to describe a transcendence upward. That for a brief moment in time, you and your beloved have access to a higher plane. There, meaning is transformed from a mere concept into a sensory experience. There, you come in contact with your own potential to rise above the shackles of human shortcomings and instead live a life of love and grace and holiness.
That access, that proximity to the divine is a gift, one that can only be bestowed by your community.
When you plan a wedding, you are making a request. You are calling upon the people in your life, wherever they may be, to help you gain access to that place. To mark the occasion by giving meaning to a unique moment in a mortal life.
It is my theory that people are all too willing to oblige not merely because of the open bar, but because we are losing our sense of connection, our sense of importance. We are built to be relied upon, to help each other, to be needed.
Today, we are desperate for a purpose. We cannot help our neighbors because we don’t know them. We strive for belonging in a culture that worships individuals. We are bored, tired and overwhelmed because we are losing sight of our path in a society that values wealth over decency and victory over character.
At a time when the world burns in ways both obvious and mundane, weddings help us to feel a sense of fulfillment not offered by modern life.
I will be forever grateful to all those who helped us take our first steps down an ancient path. I hope I have the opportunity to return the favor a thousand times over. More than that, I hope that our society finds ever more ways to cultivate the best parts of our human nature. May we find ways to serve each other and love each other not just in rare times of joy or calamity but consistently and daily as members of the same tribe.