The last time Cephas and I were in Malaysia together, my mom took us to see the wedding venue we’d booked after extended discussions about the inadvisability of holding the wedding dinner at a house in the jungle.
(Among the various benefits of a venue in the midst of luxuriant tropical jungle, there was a drawback: the place had no kitchen facilities, not even a microwave.
“What if the food gets cold?” said my mom.
The venue coordinator tried her best to be helpful: “Oh, don’t worry. So long as the guests are hungry enough, they’ll still eat even if it’s cold.”)
We’d settled on a rather more practical option that satisfied both my parents’ desire for a certain amount of poshness, and our desire for somewhere unstuffy where our guests could relax and hang out. That is, a country club that offered horse riding facilities (sadly, not included in the wedding package), with some greenery, interesting architecture, a koi pond—and crucially, multiple kitchens on site.
The venue coordinator was a polite man in his thirties named Syamsuddin. He listened with immovable solemnity to my mom’s description of the theme of the wedding, taking notes on a clipboard. He was attentive but not enthusiastic: he seemed to be nursing a secret sorrow.
“My daughter wants to have a nyonya-themed wedding,” said my mother. “You know Peranakan? My mother is nyonya, so we want to reflect that in the style. Maybe match the flowers—I was thinking bird of paradise, tie with pandan. Nowadays everybody wants their wedding to be unique, you know?”
Syamsuddin nodded in understanding. “People feel boring with the normal way,” he said. “Next month I have a wedding out there in the gardens. 200 guests. We’re putting the chairs out there, an arch for the ceremony. I ask my client what back-up plan they want if it rains, they say it won’t rain.
“At least your wedding is small, still easy to manage. There was one Datuk, when his daughter got married they had 2,000 guests. He held the function here, from 2 to 7 pm, let the guests come in installments. Otherwise cannot. Nowhere to fit so many people. These days there’s a lot of weddings. People spend a lot.”
He lapsed into thoughtful silence. I saw that the sorrow must have its out.
“My uncle, he works in the Department of Islamic Affairs,” he said. “Every day he sees forty divorces coming through. Forty divorces a day! You see the celebrities, three months they’re married, then they divorce.” He shook his head, overwhelmed. “I don’t understand. When you marry, must think. It’s very serious.”
My mom had been listening with growing impatience.
“Yes, yes,” she said, “but what do you think about the flowers?”
I can’t say Syamsuddin’s advice made Cephas and I reflect very much on the perils of marriage or the risk of divorce, but it did made me think about the goodwill that attends a wedding, the kindness and interest that people will frequently show. It is a big step, but if you are lucky—particularly if you’re straight, of course—people are with you. Neither of you is going into it alone.
Grim musings on divorce rates might not seem the most obvious expression of goodwill, but it is, of course. If Syamsuddin’s words had scared us off he’d've had one less paying customer – perhaps no great loss considering how many weddings are still going on in the face of unencouraging odds, but still. In the circumstances, the exhortation to think seriously before getting married can only be taken as a gesture of sincerity.
Perhaps it’s foolhardy of me, but I’m not afraid of divorce. I worry about a lot of things to do with our relationship, but not that. My family hasn’t had any divorces (not that every marriage in it has been a beacon of trust and companionship!); Cephas’ extended family has had one. Maybe that’s why I don’t worry about it as something real that could happen to us.
But you know, there’s a lot of real things that could happen to us that I don’t worry about. Illness, need, family discord. At least one of those is bound to strike us sooner or later, but this year I’m getting married. This year is a time for hope. If I’ve got to worry about anything, why not flowers?
This is soppy, but it makes me think of Anne of Green Gables’ engagement ring: she asks for a “circlet of pearls” and her fiancé objects because pearls stand for tears.
“I’m not afraid of that. And tears can be happy as well as sad. My very happiest moments have been when I had tears in my eyes—when Marilla told me I might stay at Green Gables—when Matthew gave me the first pretty dress I ever had—when I heard that you were going to recover from the fever. So give me pearls for our troth ring, Gilbert, and I’ll willingly accept the sorrow of life with its joy.”
Or, as Meg says in the book:
Weddings are about hope. Weddings are hope for the future, hope for a new generation, and the hope that love and family can win over everything else.
Right now it’s OK to be young and foolhardy and profligate with joy. That’s what this time is for.
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