I will be married soon, the first time around for me and for him. Neither of us is the proverbial spring chicken, and I used to think that any kind of formal wedding was for the young and inexperienced—kids too naïve and/or stupid to be jaded by the real world. In my moments of true radical analysis, I’ve even condemned myself for engaging in a bourgeois ceremony that is anathema to my personal philosophy: why are spending a small fortune on ourselves when people in this world are starving or tortured, victims of war, famine or crippling poverty? Why are we celebrating an institution that seemingly has lost its importance in this century? Half of all marriages end in divorce. Children become the pawns in the divorce game; one or both partners are destitute even before the papers have ben served. Two people who once loved each other sometimes leave a marriage bitter, angry, or disillusioned. Besides, he and I are true bohemians and free thinkers, unencumbered by much of the conventional thinking of our society. Those thoughts spun around in my mind as we began planning the ceremony and reception. Why cave into societal norms? Oh, I wanted to marry the man whose existence had become entwined in mine like a vine, but I truly wanted to run off to some isolated place and share our love in private. Until. . .
Until I experienced a revelation! The ceremony shows our unity and our willingness to display that unity among our family and friends—even though we are no child bride and groom. As one of my relatives stated, “It’s good to get together for a wedding and not a a tragedy or a brawl.” As we age, we attend far more funerals than weddings, and often, families argue over trivial things. Too often we only see our family and friends on special occasions, and too often, those occasions are sad. Even the happy occasions are too infrequent. In our society, we can argue that marriage too often ends in divorce, that the money spent on most receptions could be better spent on something more practical, and that—especially for an older couple—such extravagance is misplaced and even an ostentatious display; however, my relative’s comment resulted in an epiphany of sorts.
At a funeral, the community joins to mourn with the deceased’s family and friends. We cry and sometimes smile through tears as we remember the one who has been taken from us. A wedding is also a coming together of the community, but it is a celebration, a coming together of the populace in joy and hope. The assembled members of the community will gather in the church and later in the hall to meet those they haven’t seen in a long time, to toast the couple (us, in this case), and to share in the communal spirit of hope the union of two lives inspires. Such a union takes courage as well as hope. Merging two lives that have been separate entities is scary no matter the age or experience of the parties involved, and that blending of souls is a risk that two people are willing to take—not only for one day—but also for the rest of their existence. So, the community gathers to applaud the courage and hope we bring with our decision to stand before God at the communal altar and declare our willingness to support each other for as long as we live. Just as we need the rituals of mourning, we need those rituals that inspire hope and joy. The ornate wedding dress, the wedding rings, and the cutting of the cake are not empty tokens; they are important symbols of unity and commitment often disregarded in a world too ready to dispose of others, too ready to look for easy answers with the click of a mouse. Those symbols are pulsing, burning representations of love, devotion, and faith.