Here’s a story that will give you a peek into why I love officiating weddings. . .
Sheryl and her fiancé Tad (names changed) decided to have an intimate weekday wedding at Table Rock Beach, a secluded slice of Laguna Beach. They invited ten close friends to their celebration. Tad’s family is in Tennessee and later in the month Tad and Sheryl were going back for a party in their honor.
I visited Sheryl at her hotel room. It was small, funky and cramped with her gal pals fussing over her. Sheryl twirled about showing off her white thrift store dress. Had they been in a presidential suite, they could not have been happier.
I made my way over to the ceremony spot. To get to the beach, you have to walk down 144 steep steps. As I made my way down, I noticed several boys and girls playing Frisbee. They were just a little older than Sheryl and Tad were on the day of their first kiss. He was fourteen and she was thirteen. They became high school sweethearts. After graduation life got in the way and they drifted apart. Over the years they were hazily aware of each other’s whereabouts and then, a year ago, Tad reached out on Facebook. . .
It grows late and light is falling. As we wait for Sheryl and her posse, Tad tells me that his daddy is deceased – he died when his tractor rolled over on him – he was only thirty-nine. Tad’s great-granddaddy died when Tad was twenty.
He talks about these rough-hewn farming men with a quaver in his voice. He loved them and I’m moved by the still rawness of his love. Mist is inching in on us and I have the sense that the spirits of Tad’s father and grandfathers are here with us.
Today is the 51st wedding anniversary of Tad’s parents. That’s why he wanted to get married on this day.
He’s starting a new job. He sweated through seven interviews for the job of laying cable in Long Beach. He admits that he doesn’t have “much self-confidence” and so the interview process was grueling. He starts work tomorrow at 7:30am – no time for a honeymoon.
He may not think he has confidence, but on this night he has all the confidence he needs to marry the woman he loves – and has loved for most of his life.
I have Tad and the friends who’ve gathered move over to a spot that won’t be washed up by the in-coming tide.
A woman forms a circle with tossed rose petals.
Folks begin to hum the wedding march as we glimpse Sheryl at the top of the stairs. As clichéd as it sounds, she really is a vision of loveliness as she descends through the mist!
There’s no photographer – just smart phones. They read their personal vows by the light of an i-phone supplied by a friend
They are a stolid couple throughout the ceremony, though they do share an occasional shy, sly wink.
Tad is a simple man whose life is grounded in the continuity of family. He was able to be there on that beach because of them.
“The institution of marriage” is such a cold phrase that doesn’t capture what these two are about. . .standing on that beach – fragile, scared and scarred, brave and hopeful, generous and ignorant. When they first kissed thirty years ago they had no idea what it would take to get to this moment in time.
I’m again reminded of my favorite quote from the movie, “Shall We Dance?”
In a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things—all of it, all of the time, every day. You’re saying, ‘your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it.’ Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness.’
Tad has witnessed three generations of men grow old with the women they loved and married. And now he takes his place alongside them. Now he becomes a witness to the woman he loves.
A bride in a thrift store dress – a groom grateful for a new job – a couple who took thirty years to make good on their first kiss – those are not the components of an “institution” and those are not the props of a fairy tale. They are the markers of a life lived in all its glory and in all its uncertainty.
Earlier in the evening, while waiting at the bottom of those 144 steps with Tad, a teenaged boy walked by, noticed Tad’s blue sneakers and then glanced at his eyes. Nodding to the shoes, he said, “Cool, they match your eyes” and bounded up the steps.
It was a remarkably small detail but –
what’s a life well lived other than the accumulation of remarkable details?