Saturday, January 22, 2011


We attended a wedding and reception, which always make me weepy and irritated, alternating.

Before I get started, I will note the high point of the reception. I had remembered that the bride and her sister were competitive Irish step dancers, but didn't connect that to the table of eight young women who just didn't look like Grove City, somehow. I'm not implying anything disapproving by that. They looked perfectly nice young women. About 45 minutes into the regular dancing, the floor was suddenly cleared, the music changed, and they exploded into a choreographed routine. Which looks rather different when it comes on you by surprise and the girls are either in gowns or look-at-me dresses. Much cheering and rhythmic clapping, everyone leaving their tables to circle the dance floor for this.

Hold that image, it connects to the serious part.

When I attend a wedding ceremony, I am always struck by the idea that this is grand re-enactment of all weddings, as if the weight of a thousand, a million, a billion village weddings is all focused again on this point. The bridegroom is all grooms, watching his almost-wife being ushered down to him. Those are two village mothers who have known each other since their own girlhood embracing as they give their most precious possession to each other. The groomsmen seem always the same mix - half of them nervous, half with just a few more years on them and calm, solid. All fade in contrast to the colorful maidens opposite.

This is every older sister, herself recently married, toasting the bride; this is every father dancing with his daughter. And we, we are the village. Odd to think so now, in an era when well over half the group traveled great distances to be here, but it is so nonetheless. For today, at least, we are a village. We participate in the great secular mystery of union which Our Lord took up and transformed into some impossible expression of sacred love and what our arriving to be with Him forever will be like. For the descriptions in the Revelation seem like nothing so much as a wedding reception. Dancing is not described (Baptists will be surprised, but they'll adjust pretty quickly. We'll all be surprised at something and adjust pretty quickly), but twenty-four elders with their own song, other groups singing songs of special appropriateness to them, unison casting down of crowns - it has a folk-dance appearance, if you can see it. Food and drink, and all described repeatedly as a wedding feast.

I didn't have any of this sense of universality when Jonathan and Heidi married, and am certain I had none of these thoughts when I married myself. That would be foolish and contradictory, that those at the point where the myth concentrates should back off from their duty, so to speak, and dilute themselves into the universal. As further sons marry, I doubt I will...well, I don't know, so I shouldn't say. Who knows what I will think. I'll get teary, but also laugh a lot. More than that I can't predict.

I must owe much of this to having been in Fiddler On The Roof. It's all Tzeitel's wedding. But that is in itself the explanation. We look at a Jewish wedding a hundred years ago and half a world away but we recognise everything about it. The customs are different, the clothes are different, the music is different, but none of that matters. Those are the accidents around the substance, in Aristotle's terms. "Sunrise, Sunset" used to be played frequently at receptions, though I haven't heard it for awhile. Yet a think another song from that show would be better. Except you can't dance to it, so it will never catch on.


Anna said...

When I go to weddings, I start thinking about how uncomfortable they are for the guests. And I wonder what a wedding would look like that actually was fun and comfortable for the guests. And then I wonder if it would "ruin" things, like people would feel like they hadn't actually been to a wedding.

I haven't gotten married but I have been a bridesmaid etc. and being a bridesmaid wasn't much fun unfortunately, so I wonder what ingredients were missing that made the wedding not much fun for all involved.

I also get the universality of weddings, but to me they also seem like a circus sometimes. There is a lot of talk of "her/his turn" like it is their "turn" to be in the center of the circus.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Hmm. Maybe you have to be old. As these brides are not my generation I am much more aware of the family and history behind these events, so the village idea would come to me more naturally. Plus, if I actually lived in a village with only a few hundred people, I wouldn't think of it in universal terms, but in the concrete terms of my own life. Thornton Wilder was a well-traveled man when he wrote "Our Town." People inside villages don't write like that.

Our circle has some pretty intense evangelicals, with brides and grooms who make a concerted effort to put Christ at the center of their weddings. I don't think it moves the dial more than a few inches, though. She is the center and there's not much one can do to change that.

If it's any comfort Anna, I don't think it was much different at Tzeitel's wedding. Embodiment and re-enactment work better when they actually come to a point. If you review your girlhood literature of past eras, you might find much the same me-ness in those brides. Especially if the main female character telling the story isn't the bride.

ShrinKWrapped said...

I did not tear up at my oldest son's or my daughter's weddings and don't expect to at my middle son's wedding; when the youngest son marries, watch out! This post was profound and wonderful.

Anna said...

Pardon my incurable withering cynicism.

The other thing I don't like about weddings is that a lot of guests seem bent on humiliating the bride/groom like it is "their turn" to get humiliated. Think tacky bridal shower games, skanky lingerie gag gifts, cake mashing, and car decorating. Is it their way of taking revenge for being subjected to an uncomfortable formal ceremony?

These are the things I think about while snowed in and high on migraine meds.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I think those are actually deep subjects to contemplate. Revenge on the happy couple for their good fortune? Society's way of giving voice to the jilted, as a reminder to the fortunate?

By cake mashing, are you referring to the mutual feeding ceremony? I find that custom very dark. The garter-and-bouquet thing seems so obviously a sexual reference to deflowering (what a wonderful euphemism, eh?) that I thought it not worth mentioning - yet I have talked to brides who were amazed at such an idea. (One in particular thought it was enormously funny to attach a long string of other objects to the garter, which I thought was her to a T: "You're going to get it, but you're getting a lot of other junk besides.") The cake goes one step further. Whether the bride and groom recognise it or not, they are publicly demonstrating how they are going to treat each other sexually. Once you know that, you will find yourself nodding your head in recognition when you are watching a bride and groom you know. "Yep. That's exactly how it's gonna be, I'll bet."

I just ruined weddings for you, didn't I, dear?

Anna said...

HAHA if thinking about this stuff ruins weddings then I ruined weddings for myself a long long time ago. I too find the garter ceremony so awfully tacky that I didn't think it worth mentioning.

And yes I also cringe at how some couples treat each other at their wedding. I remember one couple, where the groom kept stepping on the bride's train on purpose. There is the attitude of "I'm gonna get you good!"

For different reasons, I also cringed when one couple walked up the aisle with their 4-year-old daughter...

Incidentally, I have been trying to think about ways to circumvent all this yuck at my own (future?) wedding (if any).

Texan99 said...

Tzeitel's wedding is just about my favorite notion of what a proper wedding ceremony should be like -- before the Cossacks ride in and bust the place up, of course. That scene just transports me.

Most weddings could use a good infusion of raucous ritual, carrying the bride and groom around on chairs, that kind of thing.