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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  • Remy

    Didn’t know that! I thought the “wedding breakfast” was the event the morning after your wedding, where you greeted the out-of-towners more casually, fielded slightly off-color teasing, and possibly opened presents. I have heard about these things, but we took the wedding party for breakfast the day of the wedding to fuel up and plan our attack on the venue! (And we opened presents at the B&B on our wedding night, because presents!)

    • k

      I had not heard to reasoning that Zen mentioned before, either; and it’s charming, though I believe the term wedding breakfast was first used because until the late 1880s in England, weddings were required by law to take place before noon unless you purchased a hideously expensive special license, so the post-wedding meal actually was a breakfast.

  • Alexis

    Oh, that last paragraph made my eyes well up… Beautifully written, Zen. Congratulations to you and Cephas!!!

  • Jashshea

    GAH! Zen, you are absolutely brilliant and I could not possibly need to hear (read) anything more than this advice during the lead up to my wedding. I can’t even decide which is my favorite bit of advice – starring this on my RSS feed to reread every day this week.

  • Laura

    Ack! Congratulations Zen!!!!!

    So… all along, you were worried that you would end up regretting something, but, in the end, all you ended up regretting was worrying so much! Will try to bear this piece of advice in mind in general at all times in life.

  • meg


  • Marina

    Brilliant. Yes. #6 is the truest of true things.

  • Wedding breakfast. The meal you eat, before, during or after your wedding. Or any combination of the previous.

    Lovely pictures and GREAT advice. Things do work out!

    • mimi

      During the wedding?? I’ve never been to a wedding that involved eating (besides the reception). Sounds like a fun wedding!

  • Oh, man. I could’ve written this, especially the part about being worried about being so worried. I’m having a hard time coming to terms with my memories of the wedding because being anxious is all I can remember, even though I did have a great time for about 90% of the day. I wish I could go back in time and tell myself to be present and soak it all in.

  • kmc

    Oh that last sentence gave me goosebumps. And I’m so impressed that you understand and know all that now! I’m still figuring that out.

    (And on a less important note, your photos are gorgeous and so is your dress.)


  • Oh Zen, you write so beautifully!
    Please, please, please, keep writing for APW!

  • While the bit about artichokes may have been my favorite post ever this just says it all

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

    Congratulations Zen and Cephas!

  • So lovely! That last paragraph is amazing :) It warms my heart that everything went so well :)

    As far as the music, I wasn’t sure that I’d remember the music either. But one night, as I was sitting in bed beside my sleeping husband, our first dance song came on from the soft music I was playing, and my sleeping husband opened his eyes and looked at me and we smiled.

    You never know what you’re going to remember later, but whatever it is, it’s always the good stuff.

  • “You can’t plan the memories you’ll treasure the most, so relax.”

    Very true. I remember the things we planned. But I love the little moments that just happened, that still make us smile.

  • Susie

    Congratulations Zen! I’ve loved reading about your journey.

    I can’t agree more with the advice that you don’t know what you’ll treasure most and you can’t plan it so just go with it. So true! E.g. My MIL ignored our “no confetti” request and it resulted in my favourite wedding photograph. Sometimes she is right after all :)

  • L

    Zen, this is a beautiful piece. I have loved reading your writing so much and I am excited to hear about the Malaysia wedding. I too hope that you continue to contribute to APW (or if you write somewhere else, have Meg tell us where it is).

  • Marie

    This is so beautifully said! Congratulations and all the best for the future.

  • Beautiful wedding. I LOVE that kuih was involved! Malaysians represent.

  • Jen

    I recently married after nearly two years of planning. During this time APW has been a massive source of sanity. I am a reader not a writer so I’ve been quietly soaking up the wisdom and feeling thankful. Today, as I was reading this post, I realised that the church is pretty much opposite where I live. I can see it from the desk I’m writing at. Never felt more part of it than that. Thanks for all the wise words – and I plan to keep reading as my husband and I set out on this adventure we call life.

  • whitney

    Thank you for writing this! I’m laying in bed at 6:00am three days before our wedding. I’m not worried or anxious at this point (thanks in part to the wisdom of A Practical Wedding I’ve gleaned over these at 9 months). But as most of my family arrives today, I especially loved the part about my job being to open up to other’s kindness and to generate happiness. that will be my mantra as I arrange flowers and decorate for the reception with my loving and generous family Friday morning, and the rest of this week.

  • Brefiks

    What a gorgeous couple. Congratulations, much, much happiness!

  • Emily

    Zen, this is fantastic! I feel like it’s a great APW-basics post mixed with awesome new insight that I’ve never considered before. Bookmarking!

  • AliceMay

    Lovely, eloquent post, as ever. Also, your mention of Rejouissance (brilliant choice, btw), made me think of a suggestion – could we have an APW post or two on choosing music / suggestions of pieces? (possibly à la wonderful ‘what to read’ series of a while back).

  • Patricia

    This made me smile :) And made me realize I’m sane haha.

    I’m getting married next month and I’m starting to have occasional panic attacks in my brain, thinking that I forgot to do something or whatever. The control freak in me, which I never knew existed, is starting to crawl up and take over. Posts like this make me take a breath and tell my control freak-alter ego to piss off :0