Zen: There And Back Again

So! I got married. Twice.

Things look different now, this side of the weddings. I’m still digesting the change they effected in my life—I suppose figuring out what it all really means will take a lifetime’s work. But it’s funny how participating in these weddings has changed how I see some things.

Name changing as a practice, for example. I’d never had any intention to change my surname upon getting married; I like my name as it is. Besides, as far as I know it’s not a Chinese custom—it certainly wasn’t the custom in the community I grew up in. My mother and grandmother kept their surnames, and I saw no reason to diverge from tradition.

I was surprised when I moved to the UK and realised how widespread name changing is. I knew it was a tradition in Britain, but didn’t really understand why people would want to cleave to the tradition, given the inherent inequality of a practice that involves women taking men’s names but men not taking women’s. Oh, I understood it intellectually—of course people are attached to their cultural traditions, and everyone ought to be free to decide what they want to be called—but I didn’t really get it beyond that.

I didn’t get it till the day I got married. And then it became obvious why you’d do it. I mean, keeping my name is still absolutely the right choice for me, and I feel very comfortable about that—but suddenly I could see why people decided otherwise. What had happened seemed so vast, so terrifically significant, that you felt you needed to mark it in some big way, in a way that would be very public, that would need no further explanation. Of course you might want a different name; in a way you were not even the same person you were before.

Of course, socialisation and culture still play a great part in influencing the form in which this sense of a great change is expressed. Cephas took our wedding pretty seriously as well, but didn’t respond with enthusiasm to my suggestion that he take my surname. Still, it’s cool to have that added emotional understanding of why people might make that choice. (I say “might” because there are doubtless all sorts of different reasons why people decide to change their names—the one I mention is just one that makes emotional sense to me.)

Wedding inspiration in blogs and magazines also looks different. It’s not that the type of delightful details wedding blogs and magazines devote pages to seem trivial or uninteresting now. They just seem irrelevant. They don’t really seem to have anything to do with what weddings are about—at least weddings as I experienced mine.

It’s hard to explain what I mean by this, since I loved all the details we included in the weddings: the adorable cow and tiger cake toppers I scoured San Francisco’s Chinatown for; the vintage Volkswagen Beetle in which I beetled to and away from church; the kerongsang (brooches) my aunt pinned onto my outfit for the Malaysian reception; the million fabric poufs my mother and aunts handmade to decorate our house.

The details were important, in a way. Their cumulative effect added something to the wedding. But they never went to the heart of what the wedding was.

Meg put it better in the book:

The carefully crafted details are, in the end, just that: details. They barely hit your radar screen on your wedding day. The things that stick with you are those that you could never ever plan.

If you pinned me down and demanded that I stop rambling and explain what this “heart of the wedding” was, I’d have to explain it this way. It involves yet another unexpected change in perspective.

I didn’t expect to feel beautiful at my wedding. I hoped I’d look nice and that I wouldn’t be too stressed about my appearance. But I knew I wouldn’t feel beautiful because haha, everyone knows beautiful is not a feeling!

Well, that showed me, because I did feel beautiful. I knew I was—I didn’t need to be told, though everyone does tell brides how nice they look. The feeling of certainty had little to do with my outfit (though it was lovely) or my hair (though it was doing all it could to help). It came from a sense of being loved. It was a sense that no matter what I did, it would be perfect; that everything I was was just right.

That’s what I thought the wedding was about—remembering that you love and are loved. Everything else is icing.

Photo from Zen & Cephas’ English wedding by Angela Sharpe Photography

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