On one of the last glorious fall weekends of 2014, I spent the day in my front yard, picking rocks. Since July 1st, our yard had been torn up, and it took us most of an busy summer to level it by hand and prepare it for remodeling. On that fall day, as I bent and straightened, plucked and dug, I found myself reviewing the passing of summer, and reflecting on the wedding season that was also coming to a close. Four ragged stones appeared on my shovel, and spoke to me of the extraordinary experience of being a full-time wedding celebrant in the Rockies. A few heart-shaped rocks sifted from the rocky soil to become the gifted memento of my incredible summer, in which I was witness to hearts of every shape and size.
Every bride and each groom, each mom and dad and grandma and grandpa, all the best friends, the groomsmen and bridesmaids. Every one of those guests, dressed in good clothes, making the effort, having flown or driven, some miles and miles and miles, to be there. All hearts open, every single one of them, present and exposed, for the twenty or thirty minutes of ceremony, to the generousity of love.
“My” couples had opened themselves to me, so freely and willingly, so I could get to know them and tell their story. I was so moved by that. And then, on their day, they showed up big time. They laughed, they cried, they shook with nervous excitement, they beamed with pride, they sweated, they glowed, they stood in the wind and the sun and their smiles were unstoppable. It was extraordinary.
It was an terrifically good summer for weather, and most of the outdoor weddings went as planned under the dome of blue sky, open to the mountain backdrop. There were a few last minute changes, and some couples had to give up their dream of an outdoor wedding and graciously adjust to “Plan B”. They were rewarded with the warmth and solidarity of family and friends.
We were serenaded by cello, violins, guitars, a bagpiper. One of the brothers became one of the sons, singing at two different weddings. One couple danced their first dance immediately after the ceremony in the mountain meadow. One wedding took place high on a mountain trail, so the tumbling brook seemed music enough for that processional. The bride’s dad, however, granted them an a capella solo; the mountains echoed with his song.
Then there were the kids. Children tumbled in the grass, trampled through the wedding circle, wanted “up” during vows, stole the show with a curtsey and cried for uncle or mommy and held the ring box oh so carefully, or scattered the rose petals with such serious precision. They made their way down the aisle in the arms of parents and beloved grandparents. Some arrived in wagons, and others walked in two by two with a sign between them that announced, “Here comes the Bride”. Most sported big smiles, but one walked the whole length of the aisle with his eyes squinched shut. Some did not make it down the carpet at all. Preferring, in the glare of all those staring adults to stay in the back, thank you very much.
The attendants were a bouquet of wildflowers – young and not so young, family and friends, matching and freeform. Parents came in all colours and spousal arrangements. All of them were pleased and proud and happy to be there to witness their sons and daughters, their best friends, their sisters and their brothers say yes to love.
The ancestors arrived every time. Named or unnamed, we felt them hovering, the hundreds and thousands of couples who had already taken their turn at the wheel. When we called them by name, the ones recently passed, tears honoured their memory. Sorrow and gratitude and joy met the moment, and we were all touched by mention of those who could not join us physically.
Each ceremony was different, and had its own special flavour. We made our ceremonies meaningful with words, with readings, and with ritual. Traditional, invented, and adapted, the rituals included beer, bread, wine, Sangria, river stones, knot tyings, hand-written letters, blessings, tokens, burning sage, the laying of flowers, building a cairn, a Harry Potter book, and of course, the rings. The bridal knots, tied with tartan, cord, satin ribbon adorned with charms, or climbing rope, became treasured keepsakes to take home.
Every single ceremony ended with a kiss. (Several couples squeezed in a few unplanned kisses before, during and after the pronouncement, I noticed.) Somehow, through all those words, and actions and with all the focused energy of all those gathered, the unmarried became married, and began the joyful journey home.
As I picked the rocks in my yard, I sorted through all the ceremonies, humbled by the abundance of happiness I was witness to. I probably said the word Love about a million times, and I meant it. And they heard it, I could see them listening. Those couples put their hearts on the line, in public, and made their vows to each other in front of those they cared most about. It was extraordinary.
I was left that autumn day with four stones, a plentitude of memories and a deep satisfaction that comes with a good day of working in the dirt. I don’t know what will happen to all those couples. I know they’ll have wonderful lives. And I know their lives will be painful, and suddenly shifted, and surprisingly difficult. I know they’ll forget the exact wording of the vows they so carefully promised. But I know they won’t forget their day.
In the remembering, they will perhaps be reminded, as I was, of the heart of the whole matter. Which is everything about hope, and a few things about faith, and everything about yes. And something about our hearts, which, no matter the size, are somehow big enough to contain a world of love.