Zen: Defending Joy

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.

Photo by: Emily Takes Photos

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  • This post is profligate with awesome.

    …and I’m relieved there’s no crying while reading this one. Still recovering from post #1.

  • Katty

    You know, I’m in the midst of rereading the entire Anne series (I can’t resist doing this every few years), and I just read that part yesterday. It’s one of the very loveliest quotes– how do you know happiness without sadness? Relevant to both of today’s posts!

    • mimi

      I need to do that. I have the boxed set on my bookshelf. I love any post quoting Anne! :)

      • Stephanie

        I re-read the Anne series every couple of years or so as well! For some reason Anne of Windy Poplars is my favorite; not a ton happens, but it’s very evocative of a mood…

        • Windy Poplars is my favorite, too! It is slow, but I love reading Anne and Gilbert’s letters back and forth. I love seeing Anne flourishing on her own, in her first professional job. And I love the widows and Rebecca Dew!

        • Zen

          I reread the Anne books ALL THE TIME. Arguably Emily is more interesting, but Anne is still my favourite. *_* I’m not sure I have a favourite book, though — Green Gables, or maybe the one where she goes to university and the Gilbert romance gets properly under swing.

          • MDBethann

            One of my favorites is the last one – Rilla of Ingleside. To see how Anne & Gilbert’s marriage grew through the years and to learn about their children.

          • I have to say, I like Anne, but I love Emily.

            However, my very, very favorite of the Anne books is “Rilla of Ingleside,” which has a lot of ideas one can tie to the “practical” part of APW. Gettin’ it done in WWI.

    • The love story between Anne and Gilbert is just so wonderful, isn’t it?

    • MDBethann

      Agreed! Thank you for the quote – I LOVE those books and especially that quote. I inquired about a pearl engagement ring, actually, but jewelers don’t seem to like pearl rings a whole lot since they are very delicate and they advise against them for engagement rings (emeralds aren’t recommended either since it is a softer stone).

  • Oh I did cry reading this! Just what I needed to hear, when I needed to hear it (for lots of reasons I don’t need to bore you with)

    I also need to re-read all the Anne books. I think I need to remember to see the positive again, she said something else along those lines about how if life is always sweet you fail to appreciate the sweetness too, didn’t she?

  • Ali

    This reminds me to read Anne again – especially the later books.

    Are pearls bad luck at a wedding? My mom said she was going to give me a strand of pearls from her mom´s necklace. But my mother in law, (who is Latin American – Colombian) told me that pearls are bad luck at a wedding. Obviously I don´t want to wear something that is bad luck, but how do I refuse my mom´s present? Although I have already told her if it cuts off my neck – I dont want to wear it… :)

    • Megan (from Nova Scotia)

      I should think the attitude towards pearls varies by culture. My mother offered me her pearls for my wedding, or I may wear my grandmother’s pearls instead. I read somewhere the other day that there is an opposite school of thought-that pearls on the wedding day take the place of the brides tears, and help ensure a happy marriage. More to the point-do you think they are bad luck, are those sorts of superstitions something you paid any attention to prior to wedding planning?

      If it doesn’t fit, then tell your mom “The necklace is lovely, and it is wonderful of you to offer it, but it really is too small”. If she is adamant that you should wear them, ask her if she could have them restrung as a bracelet instead.

    • Alexandra

      Well, Yahoo Answers had this to say on the subject: http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20061020162437AATs1Wv

      But whenever I think of weddings, I think of pearls actually. The first (and only) strand of pearls I ever owned was a gift when I was a flower girl. Apparently the superstition is that “for every pearl you wear on your wedding day, that is how many reasons your husband will give you to cry.” But as Anne of Green Gables says up there, tears aren’t necessarily bad. I cry at almost every wedding I attend.

      Plus, it’s your mother giving you her mother’s pearls… Just call it your something old and hope the two superstitions cancel each other out. And if it doesn’t fit, you can wrap it around your bouquet.

    • Ali

      I am not really superstitious and have never heard of this before, so I think I can just take the pearls in a good way. Theres another Colombian superstition about putting your purse on the floor and I do that all the time!!

      The other problem is my mother in law said she was going to give me diamond earrings so im guessing I cant really wear them both. I love the pearl bracelet idea because Im actually thinking I would rather not wear a necklace on the day and Im pretty sure I would wear the bracelet all the time. Guess I just have to see what happens…

      My favorite Anne quote:

      “Perhaps, after all, romance did not come into ones life with pomp and blare, like a gay knight riding down; perhaps it crept to ones side like an old friend through quiet ways; perhaps it revealed itself in seeming prose, until some sudden shaft of illumination flung athwart its pages betrayed the rhythm and the music; perhaps…. perhaps….love unfolded naturally out of a beautiful friendship, as a golden hearted rose slipping from its green sheath.”

      Anne of Green Gables
      (L.M. Montgomery)

    • Zen

      It depends on who you ask! I’d find out how strongly your mother and mother-in-law each feel about your wearing/not wearing the pearls before deciding. It seems likely that in Anglo-American culture that pearls aren’t considered bad luck at weddings, considering how many people wear them, so that’s something for your mother-in-law to consider.

  • Jashshea

    No tears on post 1. This is the one that got me. The vision of the venue coordinator, modern day Sisyphus, sadly trying to sell the dream to brides/grooms/families all the while realizing the odds stacked against those same people. Sniffle.

    No, I’m not PMS’ing, why do you ask? :)

    And thank you for wrapping it all up in such a lovely way. Real life has absolutely gutted me & my fiance’s family in recent weeks and at times it’s seemed impossible to care about color schemes or invitation paper. But, really? It’s something to DO, to focus on while we’re getting back to a place where we’re through the painful bits and back to being hopeful.

    • Zen

      I hope things get better for you guys soon! And yes, if colour schemes and invitations are a positive distraction, take them as such!

  • Yes… choosing joy and hope against all odds. Zen, I love your writing. Also, my husband’s family (grandmother’s side) is part Indonesian and I couldn’t help but smile at your mention of Pandan leaves (that I recently used to make cake for the first time)… learning learning.
    I’ve also heard of those weddings where the whole community comes in installments, quite amazing.

    • Zen

      Pandan is awesome \o/

  • Lovely post. And you quoted Anne of Green Gables! Had me at that. :)

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