We would be remiss dedicating an entire month to friendship without ever discussing the bonds of siblinghood. Maya Angelou said, “I don’t believe an accident of birth makes people sisters or brothers. It makes them siblings, gives them mutuality of parentage. Sisterhood and brotherhood is a condition people have to work at.” (To which I say, AMEN.) And while weddings can often complicate this process, they also give us an opportunity to take these relationships, fraught with complication as they may be, to a deeper level. So today we have Anna and her process of becoming sisters and friends.
by Anna Leonhard
When did the shift take place?
My older sister and I could count the number of times we’ve met in person on one hand. Due to our mother’s sudden death after my birth, we found ourselves growing up in separate worlds: different families, cities, nationalities, and eventually different continents.
Before the rise of Skype and Facebook, our conversations were infrequent and plagued by that international call delay that twists and obscures all conversation. The poor connection was as predictable as the content of our communication: “How is father? How is school? How is church? How is work?…” For us, it was the minimum we could get away with while still fulfilling our sisterly obligation to show interest in each other’s lives.
Years passed. She met a man. I suspected that things might be getting serious when she announced that they were engaged! “You’ll come for the wedding?” Wendy stated, more of a declaration than a request.
“Of course!” The timing couldn’t be more perfect. I had finally completed graduate school, relocated out west and was enthusiastically investing all my energy in building my career. The wedding would be the following summer, which gave me plenty of time to prep and save for my voyage back to the motherland. Then she called back. Things had changed, and work constraints compelled them to move up the wedding date. December?! My head began pounding. “Of course, I’ll still come.”
I flung myself into the wedding planning process with determination because that’s what sisters do, right? And thus began the shift: five months; two continents; several time zones; more emails, phone calls, video chats, and frantic voicemails than I could count. Our austere sisterhood was beginning to evolve into something neither of us predicted.
The change was a process, the accumulation of events rather than one specific moment. It did not happen when we spent weeks browsing through thousands of gowns on the internet. She quickly made it clear that strapless was a must, but the ruffles were debatable. We thought we had found “the one,” only to realize after the purchase that it lacked “the right touch.” Back to square one.
I learned to become a student of Wendy’s style—delicate and sophisticated. Frustration threatened to shut down communication at times, but we managed to keep the dialogue going. Our cultural misconceptions also provided comic relief, such as the time Wendy thought that the petticoat that we ordered with her dress was actually going to be a bolero jacket. (Get it? Petti—“little” coat?)
The shift did not take place during the traditional West African engagement where both sides of the family gathered to bless the marriage and exchange customary gifts. Wendy was radiant in her Gele head wrap, soaking up the spotlight as the elders layered on their blessings. Yet she quickly evaded the dance floor at the ceremony’s conclusion. I smiled secretly to myself at the discovery that we both prefer huddling behind the scenes to dancing for an audience of extended relatives.
It wasn’t when Wendy squealed in delight at my cursive handwriting and promptly put me to work on the DIY favors. We watched home videos of birthdays and graduation parties while we worked, laughing so hard over our crazy adolescent mishaps that we were forced to stop working. I didn’t finish assembling the favors until the early morning hours of the wedding day. Feelings of triumph drove me on as I reflected on gaining enough of the bride’s trust that she completely delegated the project to me and passed out from exhaustion.
Things did not automatically change during the rehearsal when I realized that Wendy and I share the tendency to be fashionably late. The reverend firmly threatened not to perform the ceremony if the bride and groom arrived more than a minute late. As maid of honor, both the groom and best man pulled me aside and pleaded with me to get Wendy to the ceremony on time. Knowing my own track record, I promised to do my best with no small amount of trepidation.
The day of the wedding arrived, and the dressing room carpet caught on fire. Then the chauffeur deviated from the standard route to the church and lost his way amidst the side roads congested with street sellers and livestock. Despite these obstacles, Wendy managed to glide calmly through the church doors just as the music began playing… because of course she wasn’t going to keep everyone waiting. Watching her navigate these tension-filled moments opened my eyes to how Wendy’s strength under pressure has enabled her to rise above the obstacles she has faced. Yet the wedding day alone is not what altered our relationship.
Persevering through each step of the planning process became our metamorphosis. We entered the wedding planning experience as near strangers bound by sisterhood and little else. One experience built on another, and somewhere between the long distance calls, transatlantic flights, late night DIY sessions, dizzying African taxi rides, stuck zippers, and white organza rescues, we sisters emerged as friends.
Photo from Anna’s personal collection