It’s June — high season for weddings. How well I know it. I’m often at the weddings of total strangers, but before you think “Wedding Crasher,” let me explain: My husband is a retired judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, and is, therefore, authorized to officiate at weddings. And as “Mrs. Judge,” I’m often invited to be with him. I seldom decline.
I love weddings. I love what they say about love, commitment and devotion. I love the glorious theater that every wedding, no matter how modest, instantly creates. But it is undeniably a peculiar experience to be a guest at the wedding of strangers, the precise situation in which I sometimes find myself.
It’s also a remarkable opportunity to see the shining best — and occasionally, the disappointing worst — of wedding days.
I’ve watched my husband perform the sacred ceremony of marriage in the most elegant hotel ballrooms, with crystal chandeliers gleaming overhead and acres of plush carpeting underfoot… and in the humblest of fire halls where floors are concrete and walls are cinder block.
I’ve followed my husband into rooms where the magnificence of the flower arrangements made me gasp, and where 300 guests sat in gold ballroom chairs eating seemingly endless gourmet delights… and into rooms where seven or eight guests have huddled on metal bridge chairs without so much as a paper wedding bell for decoration.
And after years of being a semi-invisible “member of the wedding,” I can tell you that in the end, the trappings have less to do with the spirit of a wedding than you would ever imagine.
Obviously, beautiful rooms do set a mood. It is lovely to be surrounded by riotous bursts of flowers, fine linens and gleaming crystal. But a setting can go only so far.
I’ll never forget the super expensive wedding at the status country club with the hottest band of the decade and a caterer whose very name inspired awe — and how the bride chewed gum throughout the ceremony, spoiling any semblance of grace.
I was far more moved at the wedding in a township hall basement at which the bride read her groom original poetry about the link between friendship and love, and the groom sang a song he had written just for her. Now that was a wedding where my mascara ran in rivers down my cheeks…
But then, I always cry at weddings. No matter how many times I’ve resolved to be a dignified, proper retired judge’s wife, I find myself weeping at the first sight of the bride. The tears also come when I see the groom looking at her in a way that says, without words, “I am overwhelmed.”
There is something about bearing witness to this ritual that inevitably brings a lump to the throat or a shiver down the spine.
You should also know that officiants are not indifferent. My husband loves to hear from “his” couples, some of whom even remember to send notes around significant anniversaries… and pictures of their babies. My husband, like his colleagues who perform marriage ceremonies, is always delighted to know when things are going well, and saddened to learn that they’re not.
There’s a part of my husband’s usual wedding ceremony that I’ve practically memorized. It’s the part he recites just after the vows have been exchanged.
“Now you will not know the cold, for you will each be warmth to the other. Now you will not know the dark for you will each be light to each other…”
And no matter how many times I have heard those words, they always move me… and remind me of what marriage is all about. It’s about that warmth and light in the darkness..
It’s about being a homeland to one another.
And always, always, about hope. ••