A look at the true meaning of a wedding

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. ••

You can reach at pinegander@aol.com.

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