For Helena and Thomas…
Sitting near the back inside the hall where one hundred people gathered to celebrate a union, these five words circled in my head, the title to a Delmore Schwartz short story, late Brooklyn writer, perhaps his best one. It is difficult to recall now, having read the story about a year ago, if an actual wedding occurs in the plot, as it was difficult to recall in the hall; I was unsure but moved nonetheless to recite the words to myself as she and I sat and crossed our legs moments after speaking with the groom minutes before the ceremony.
The world is very much a wedding, as it is a funeral, both represent celebratory events extolling life and its continuation, even in mourning, and its renewal, our choice every day in selecting life over non-life yet acknowledging the existence of non-life, or non-existence—seeing things from both sides, in other words.
On one side, the groom’s southern parents reminded us of the power of God through His word in defining love, to tell us once again what love is and should be, can be, must be if one is to participate in the endeavor, whether loving self or someone else, preferably both.
On the other side, the bride, in a pitch-perfect dress who stomped with joy on her face down the aisle, flanked by the hundred of us who stood for her—on the other side, the bride’s west coast parents, literate and artistic and free-wheeling—these are my words.
Lovely people, all four parents—as much as they loved their children, and said as much to us with microphones and speeches on index cards in hand, it was clear the four parents loved too their new son and daughter, the new member to the family, the new family arriving and crossing a threshold to unite in love with another family.
She and I passed back and forth my handkerchief as she dabbed her eyes, all weepy and beautiful. I had said earlier to her that I did not like weddings, as a general statement and position on the matter, and she asked why. I could not adequately answer the question until later that night, after the ceremony, when she and I sipped whiskey-based cocktails and rich wine before touring the museum, the wedding venue, the macabre medical library of rare human specimens.
Conjoined twins embalmed inside jars, and skeletons propped up on hooks, and various human organs split and exposed, transverse, and faces with bulbous tumors which stretched the skin, and other oddities. I was familiar with the museum, having visited it once before, and I should have known all those years ago that the building would be, depending on the couple, the perfect place for a wedding, a party that wishes to amplify and expand upon the love nurtured between two people, so it might spill out and inspire those witnessing and hearing the vows, which were beautiful, and beautifully written.
They spoke with full hearts of full lives engaged authentically and hand-in-hand; they spoke with conviction and promised each other eye-to-eye a devotion to each other. They shared with us small details from their original courtship, reminding for us the seemingly endless possibilities and boundless space reserved for the imagination when love is sparked, then cultivated, a flame kept cupped between hands. Moving through the hundred, I heard all good things. Every man and woman complimented the bride and groom, and it was universal and unanimous in the unequivocal belief in their union, and in the love for each of them, the woman and the man who brought us together.
The two people married each other, then called us forth to do the same, in a way, or rather to join them at the altar, to make an altar out of an entire museum, both floors, and even the garden outside and out back where she and I whispered at a table beneath the stars on a humid night, and we could smell the rosemary and the new flowers growing from the garden, here too was part of the altar, and all we could say to one another as the night progressed, as the liquor flowed—and for this, we were grateful; for this, we clasped together prayer hands—was that everything made sense.
The world is more than what we see and hear in each and every moment yet due to the way in which we perceive our lives, the world might as well be as big and terrifying as the rooms we exist within at any given time. One small wedding in Philadelphia was the world itself for all involved, and this is indicative of the love celebrated. I am trying to avoid eloquence. I wish to tell it straight without divulging all the details; I wish to report to you the fundamental thrust of the story, the good parts.
At our table where to a man and woman each of us owned at least five empty glasses, with more heavy pours to come, I found myself on the witness stand. She told the people at the table that I did not like weddings, which was true, and when I was asked why, I finally answered—The wedding, I have now learned, having seen these two people do it, should reflect the couple. Past weddings I’ve attended, they pantomimed love. And I do not claim to know the bride and groom, but I know them well enough to be here, and to know that what we all see and feel together and tonight in this small world in a macabre museum is genuine. We do not need to speak of marriage in terms of survival over time; it does not matter. Their love is here. And I am happy to be here. And everyone at the table said yes, we are happy to be here. The bride and groom brought us together, and then the wedding party danced until one.