Zen & Cephas

It’s what we’ve all been waiting for! (Fine, it’s what I’ve been waiting for!) After seven or so months of following along in their planning journeys, each one of our 2012 writing interns is now, believe it or not, married. Which means that this is the part where we get to join them as they cross over from wedding undergraduates to fully matriculated grads.

So today I am delighted to bring you Zen and her English wedding (Malaysian wedding to follow soon), reflecting on the lessons learned after months of unintentional family humorinexact guest list science, and general reluctance to the whole wedding planning thing. Zen’s post reminds me of one of the most important APW lessons of all time, which is that your wedding will never be perfect, but it will be exactly what you need it to be, and often that’s just enough to make it pretty close. 

—Maddie for Maternity Leave

The day before my wedding, I was lying in bed in the house we’d rented for the weekend, staring at the ceiling and quaking. My feet were cold and I was going to mess everything up and everything was awful.

I didn’t plan my weddings, which is a road I highly recommend taking if you can manage to persuade someone else to drive. Cephas planned the English wedding and my mom planned the Malaysian one, which meant I had the comfortable role of Kuih-Selector-in-Chief and Wedding-Car-Determiner. A side effect of this approach, though, is a certain amount of not knowing what you’re doing. I rocked up for the rehearsal for the Catholic wedding, figuring they’d tell me where to put myself and how to look and when to say “I do.” An hour later, I was rocking in place, convinced I would forget something or say something terrible or step on the altar and offend God and all his angels—or even worse, offend the priest.

But I am now convinced that there is a mysterious alchemy to wedding days—or rather, it is not mysterious because it is made up of something very obvious, something you’re planning the whole thing for, in a way: the combined affection of all your family and friends and people you don’t know all that well but who were presumably invited because they were more likely to be kindly disposed to you than not.

It’s all a bit scary and big and weighed down with expectation—but love is there to catch you.

So on the morning of the English wedding, I staggered up the steps to the church, tripping over my own dress and weaving. I got tugged and pulled into position, lined up with all my bridesmaids behind me, and pointed in the direction of the aisle. I looked at the rows of backs ahead of me, and I remember a feeling of serenity and rightness descending on me. I knew suddenly that I could not do anything wrong at my wedding. Everything would be okay. All would be forgiven.

Here are things I would tell myself, if I could go back in time and give pre-wedding me some advice.

1. Everything you do will be all right. Everything you choose will be just fine. I worried about a lot of things. Should I have gone along with having so much money spent on the flowers? (My parents-in-law very generously paid for the flowers, and they seemed to want them—but was it really practical to have flowers? Maybe I should have protested.) Should I have stood my ground about not wanting to be walked down the aisle? Should I view my having caved in and got a traditional fluffy white dress for the church wedding as an unforgivable breach of my principles?

Actually it was all fine. The flowers were beautiful, and smelt like a dream. (Those phone consultations were worth it!) My dad took the grave responsibility of walking me down the aisle adorably seriously, and I was glad to have him by my side. I wore three dresses in total for my two weddings and each dress was lovely and it ultimately didn’t matter all that much.

The point to take away from this is that it would have been fine if we’d done or chosen the other thing. It would’ve been just as nice without flowers; it would’ve been just as nice to go down the aisle alone; it would’ve been fine to wear the short vintage dress for the cathedral wedding.

2. Be patient. The only thing I regret is reacting to the mounting tension as the number of things to do and remember and the number of people to deal with shot up. The actual wedding went fine, but there were definitely a couple of tense moments before everything kicked off. The thing is, the things and the hauling and the to-do lists don’t really matter. The people who are there with you do.

3. Generate happiness. The reason why I was freaking out the day before the wedding was because I felt I had a job to do, and if I didn’t bring things off well, it would ruin this day that so many people had worked so hard to put together. On the day I realised pretty much my only job was to enjoy myself and generate happiness—because if I was happy and showed it that would infuse the whole day with joy.

This turned out to be easy. It’s hard to be a party pooper when surrounded by your favourite people, all dressed up to the nines and eating cupcakes.

4. It’s a good idea to do at least one thing for yourself on the day of the wedding. Like most people planning a wedding, I gave up on a lot of ideas I had for my wedding because they were impractical, or other people wanted something different and for various reasons it wasn’t worth overriding them.

But be a little selfish. Do that one thing you really, really want to do. My one thing was the wedding breakfast. Before getting married I’d heard of the term “wedding breakfast” and had a vague idea that it meant you got an epic fry-up on the morning of your wedding. Awesome! Breakfast is my favourite meal! Picture my disappointment when I was told it was just a reference to the reception—called a wedding breakfast because it was the first meal of your married life.

So the first thing I did when I woke up on the wedding day was have an epic fried breakfast with a grilled mushroom with cheese melted over the top, and poached eggs, and buttered toast, and lots and lots of milky coffee. It was awesome. I will remember it forever.

5. You can’t plan the memories you’ll treasure the most, so relax. I couldn’t have planned the “wedding tree,” a tradition invented by my aunt, involving a tree branch spray-painted gold and red and hung about with red packets. I couldn’t have planned my two best friends going, “Oh” and tearing up when I’d got into my dress. I couldn’t have controlled the weather—a day of uninhibited sunshine and blue skies, after an undecided, grey Friday. As nice as the details were, as fun as some parts of planning were, everything that made the wedding the event it was did not come from the things Cephas and I did, but from everyone else.

People will be kind and your job is to open your hands to it.

6. Look forward. At the end of the day, as we were being driven to a hotel for the night, I was thinking, in a state of exhilarant tiredness, about Handel’s “Rejouissance,” which had played as I’d walked in. It is a piece of music I’ve known for a long time and I was thinking about how maybe from now on I would always think of my wedding when I heard it.

But then I thought—maybe in future someone would ask me what music played when I walked down the aisle and I wouldn’t remember, because of all the memories layered on top of it, the memories of my life together with Cephas. In the future the wedding, which felt huge and significant now, would be a pleasant memory, but a small thing—a small thing we had done together, Cephas and me and the people we love, at the beginning of things.

Photos by: Angela Sharpe (with some from Zen’s Brother)

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