*Francie, Grad Student in Public Policy & Matthew, Counselor*
Turns out, I’ve REALLY been missing wedding graduate posts (and I’m sure I’m not the only one, so if you’ve been pondering it for forever, now is the time to submit yours). Because Francie’s post hit me in the gut and reminded me why weddings are so powerful. (Powerful enough that I like thinking about them all these years after mine.) It’s not because they’re pretty, and oddly, not even because of the love, exactly. They are endlessly fascinating to me because they are about two people going through a powerful moment of transition and learning something from it. As Francie says, “A wedding, like a marriage, is not about bringing things under control.” It’s about something else entirely. Let’s discuss.
Just after Matthew and I got engaged, we spent five days at a silent meditation retreat, together, but not together. We slept in separate buildings, didn’t speak at all, but would see each other during the day, on the other side of the meditation hall or during meals.
It was a perfect way to let everything settle—the hugeness of what we were about to do, the intention I wanted to set for our married life. And, of course, it was a fabulous opportunity to contemplate various techniques for making enough lasagna for a hundred people all by myself. Let me tell you, when there are five days of silence and a wedding to plan, I know how to keep myself occupied.
I am a planner. I love to make lists and spreadsheets, and I love thinking through details until they are settled, resolved, and mostly under control. This served me well for much of our wedding planning and really, much of my life. We did figure out where to find enough lasagna for one hundred people on the cheap, even if I wasn’t the one who made it (hint: Whole Foods!).
We found a spectacular farm willing to host us and a whole crew of friends who camped out. I thought through every tiny aspect of the day and the weekend, list making, supplies stocking, project managing. But here’s the thing that I learned slowly through this process. A wedding, like a marriage, is not about bringing things under control.
From the beginning, we wanted the ceremony to be the most important part of the wedding (followed in close second by a throwdown dance party). We both felt strongly about this, believing in the importance of ritual and wanting our community to participate in a ceremony that felt like a genuine expression of our intentions. But the thing is, just what that ceremony would look like was an open question. I found myself wishing that we were Christian or Jewish or belonging to any sort of established religion. Then, I thought, it would be easier to connect to a tradition that spoke to us and to make our wedding about something bigger than ourselves.
It’s not that our lives have lacked any kind of religious tradition. It’s just that we have yet to settle on our own. Matthew’s parents are devout Christians, actively involved in their church, and my parents were Buddhists for many years. Matthew has considered himself a Buddhist since I met him, and I’m an in-betweener, wary of labels, noncommittal, skeptical at times, and inspired at others. There was something about getting married, though, that made me feel like we needed to settle on a particular kind of spirituality that fit the both of us. And there was something about the ceremony that seemed to embody all of this. It wasn’t just about saying our vows; it was about defining our spiritual life together.
Needless to say, my spreadsheet-list-making-planning skills did not prove to be as useful in this domain of wedding planning. I struggled to even express why it all felt so hard and so confusing and basically awkward. There were lots of long, emotional conversations, endless combing of the internet for Buddhist-inspired wedding ceremony ideas. We would come up with a plan that seemed alright, and then it would suddenly strike me as totally inauthentic and stiff and just not me. Up until the rehearsal, I felt this nagging sense of anxiety that I wouldn’t feel totally myself at this moment that felt so pivotal.
In retrospect, this whole agonizing process was about embracing the fact that getting married is one giant leap into the unknown. It’s not about figuring it all out, or defining our future in specific terms.
On our wedding day, as I walked in to the garden where all of our friends and family were waiting, my mom squeezed my hand and reminded me to be present. I remember the vividness of the trees against the blue sky, the smell of the flowers, the breeze. Beyond that, the details are slippery. I don’t remember what the officiant said as he introduced the ceremony, but I remember the feeling of listening, holding Matthew’s hand, letting it all fall into place.
Here we were, surrounded by so many people we love, in this garden, on this day, committing to the wide-open mystery of the rest of our lives together. Our friends read poems, and my sister sang. We made offerings on a homemade shrine to the six Paramitas, as is the Buddhist tradition, and read vows that we had written to each other.
To close the ceremony, the officiant threw rice and chanted the Four Immeasurables:
May all beings enjoy happiness and the causes of happiness.
May all beings be free from suffering and the root of suffering.
May we not be separated from the great happiness devoid of suffering.
May we dwell in the great equanimity free from passion, aggression and ignorance.
The gong rang three times and hung in the air until the garden was quiet, then we walked up the aisle to the opening chords of one of my favorite Bruce Springsteen songs. And later that night we had the greatest dance party of my life, under a full moon.
Five months in to our married life, we still don’t know what religion we are. I don’t think we ever will. We still have juicy, complicated, and sometimes emotional conversations about it. I think we always will. That’s the point, right?