For awhile now I’ve wanted to write something about weddings. I’ve attended so many in the last eight years that I’ve started thinking of it the same way I think of grocery shopping--though I don’t really have time for it, it’ll probably happen on a weekend.
So as I walked into an Episcopal church not far from Gordon’s campus to witness the nuptials of fellow alumni, my mind was already thinking, “Pay attention now. You don’t want to miss any details that might be humorously poignant.” It being a full-on liturgical service, however, I soon found most of my critical faculties were spent making sure Natalie and I didn’t lose our place in the bulletin. Growing up in a gymnasium-based church (see Installation 6), the word “‘lent”’ was only used by parishioners as a verb, as in “Here’s that casserole dish you lent me, Marjorie. I got most of the chicken tetrazzini off. You may have to soak it a while longer.”
Around Act II or III of the ceremony, we arrived at “The Peace” and knew this meant we’d have to talk to people we didn’t know. For someone who hides when the pizza guy knocks on the door, this always makes for a little awkward anticipation. I took comfort in the fact that at least it was a scripted exchange. Natalie, boldly sloughed off the usual “Peace be with you” in order to appear genuinely congenial, and turned to a stranger in the row behind us and let loose a lilty “Helloooo” as if she’d just ran into her favorite aunt. This of course left the poor patron smiling silently, clearly wondering how to deal with a fellow actor who’d forgotten her line.
When I got a few minutes to reflect, I thought about the homily. A mix of eloquence, humor, and insight, it was one of the more memorable “what love really means” talks I’ve heard. I still found myself thinking, “If I have to hear about how love is self-sacrificial one more time, I’m just going to lose it.” But I realized I’m most likely in the minority that hears this, since Natalie and I got hitched at the culturally young age of 21. For almost everyone I’ve met in my program at the University of New Hampshire, that’s a bit odd.
At a writer’s conference last January in New York City, one of my friends from the program, who is originally from the City, graciously and excitedly showed me the sites and people during free time. Every time she introduced me to someone new, she began with “This is Bryan. He’s married and a Christian.” The smiles on their faces retreated to slight panic, leaving me a brief window to ease the tension with some self-deprecating remark like “You’ll have to excuse me--I just gave out my last tract.”
My friend said she was worried that if her friends didn’t “know,” they might say something offensive. But I couldn’t help feeling like some relic of the past in robes and sandals asking questions about American culture, like “What is hot dog? I eat this dog that is heated, yes?”
When Natalie and I got married, our young age was well within the context we’d grown up in--in fact, many thought we’d put it off for far too long. But whenever we interacted outside this context, the surprised looks and comments never ceased. “You’re how old?” “Don’t you want to test drive a few other cars before you buy?”
A coworker at my summer job asked me, “So, do you and your lady get along okay?” It made me realize the assumption about marriage is that you’ve given something up, and not in the positive, sacrificial/redemptive way. Incorporating someone else’s life seems to mean you’ve ceased to progress as a singular human. You stop going to mixers and register for the kind one that comes with a dough hook. But I think a common misunderstanding of the long-term implications of love is only part of the problem. The real menace is that dusty phrase “settling down”--it implies that when movement stops and you let life happen while you’re busy making dinner plans.
So now when I attend weddings, I bask in the newness--of the couple, the gifts, the vegetarian lasagna. I remember that in five years of marriage, Natalie and I have moved nine times. When death parts us, we’ll return to dust. But for now, it’s nothing a little Pine Sol can’t handle.
bryan parys doesn’t like to capitalize his name and is currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in creative nonfiction at the University of New Hampshire. If you invite him to your wedding, he will try his hardest to make it. He will buy you cast iron, but he will not--ever--buy you anything made with Teflon. There’s a metaphor in there, he thinks.