An Honest Wedding
I went to an unusual wedding last week in Western Michigan. It doesn’t matter whose (except to note it wasn’t mine)—call them John and Jane.
Bride and groom are both in their early 50s. She has two daughters, each in their early 20s. He has a son 16 and a daughter 11. It’s a second marriage for both.
The minister defined eclectic; she had spiritual credentials from several traditions. The ceremony featured candles and white rose petals, and was held upstairs from the minister’s husband’s bike shop. Of the nine attendees (which includes bride, groom, minister and children), five of us chose the optional bare feet mode.
The minister said:
Like all weddings, this is a joyous celebration, a union of two soul-mates who have found each other. A time for joy.
Yet joy isn’t the only thing that happens at a wedding like this. There are three others who are not here, but whose presence is very real, and felt by all who are here.
We would not be honest if we did not speak of them. And honesty is vital if this marriage, and all in this room, are to thrive and prosper. And so we will be honest here today.
One presence is a deceased mother, who left behind a husband—John—their 13-year old boy, and their 8-year old girl. Her children here today miss her; John senses her presence too; and Jane feels it as well.
Second is a divorced husband—the father, with Jane, to these two daughters in their twenties. The daughters see their mother with a new husband, and seek new definitions of “home” and “parent” and “marriage.”
The third is cancer. It was cancer that claimed John’s former wife, the teens’ mother. But Jane understands too—because Jane herself is a two-time cancer survivor. The children know what cancer means; and John and Jane have their eyes wide open about it.
These three presences raise powerful issues for everyone in this room—which is why we speak of them.
As the minister spoke, I’m sure I saw the four children become more at ease. I felt it, and think the other adults did as well.
Afterwards we ate fruit and cake. Then we drove to Lake Michigan, changed into shorts and got wet and red from the end-of-summer sun.
We talked about truth-telling, of living in the moment. But mostly we talked about being free of labels and roles, of learning to see and accept things just as they are.
It was a fine wedding. An honest wedding.
Having been priviledged to call John and his first wife my friends since the mid seventies, I have been immensely happy and grateful for the love which has returned to his life.
And even though I’ve not yet met Jane, I know without reservation, she too is a special soul.
THANK YOU CHARLES FOR WRITING "AN HONEST WEDDING". I HAVE KNOWN john ALL HIS LIFE AS HE IS MY "LITTLE BROTHER"- I HAVE YET TO MEET jane, BUT WE HAVE TALKED AND I CAN HEAR THE LOVE IN HER VOICE AND IN MY BROTHERS.I FELT LIKE I WAS AT THEIR WEDDING WHEN I READ YOUR WRITE-UP. THANK YOU FOR BRINGING THEIR WEDDING TO ME.
Charlie – Although I don’t know the principals, I was touched by your post on an "Honest Wedding" which took such care of the four children who were, above any others, feeling mixed emotions at the remarriage of a parent. In contrast, I read a recent alumni note in Harvard Magazine that described a mid-life marriage to a long lost love from the 1970’s. The writer made some off-hand remark to the pain" that this had caused some unnamed people. As I read it, I thought, ‘you callous s.o.b.’
Sounds like your friends did the right thing, generously acknowledging that there was more involved in their own big day than their own joy.
my faith in weddings was restored by an honest wedding i attended. the mother of the bride flew across from chille to australia to attend. the australian groom learnt traditional chillean wedding dance. the bride and groom talked about gardening together and their respective children had strong parts to play.
Charles, thanks for sharing this beautiful story of a very special wedding. Blending families can have their special problems.
Each of us have baggage we bring to any relationship that we have had to overcome, integrate within our personalities, and explain to our (potential) spouse. For the couple to both allow, and a minister to describe, some of that baggage in a way that is helpful to all is priceless.
Today, it is good to know that these things can be brought out at as public a setting as a marriage.