Sunday, July 05, 2009

From This Day Forward

In June, even the lowest tide is still high, making the beach a narrow ribbon of eggshell-colored sand. And so it was that there was just enough room, on this dazzlingly brilliant Saturday afternoon, for a few rows of white folding chairs, a line of serious men in black tuxedos, a loop of pretty girls in diaphanous pink dresses and, of course, the bride.

The walk down to the beach from the hotel, in high-heeled mules that click-clacked on the asphalt like miniature jack-hammers, had not taken long. There had been no breeze on the street and moving through the two o’clock, 105-degree heat had been like pushing through an endless succession of heavy curtains. But here at the edge of the water, where the waves spread out in thin pancakes, and the rocks over to the side caught the sound of rushing water and rolled it back out in a sustained whisper, it was almost possible – almost – to forget the trickle of sweat that rolled down my sternum.

I waited, there on the second row with the grandmother, for the guitar music to start and people I love so much it makes me ache to walk down the narrow aisle of sand. I tried to concentrate on the present moment, not the nearly 27 years of moments that had brought my Adam to his wedding day.

The old, old ritual moved through its steps. The words were repeated. The hands were joined. The flower girls dropped petals from their chubby hands and watched the sea breeze waft them away. At one point the minister stepped forward as the ocean slid under his shoes and, following his lead, the black tuxedos and pink dresses did the same. And then it was over.

Jenn and Adam, sporting new jewelry and smiles that came from somewhere deep inside, walked out together, hand-in-hand. What followed – the posing for photographs, the hugging of the same people over and over again, the repetitive but completely sincere declarations of how beautiful the bride, how handsome the groom, how hot the weather – left us tired and sated with happiness.

A week later, the photographer (a good friend of mine) sent me a few sneak peeks of the photos while the newlyweds were still in the Bahamas. I teared up over the one of Daddy helping Adam with his cuff links. I lost my breath over the one of me and beautiful, grown-up Kate. I giggled at the one of Adam skipping down the street, dragging Jenn along, bubbles floating in the air around them.

But there was one – a black and white – that told the story, that preached the sermon, that spoke all the unspeakable words. Adam and Jenn, hands clasped, are looking not at each other but over the shoulder of the minister at the advancing tide. Their faces show no worry, no discomfort, no concern that the rented tux or the ethereal white dress might get stained or damaged. There is no question about whether they should move to avoid the watery licks at their feet. There is no panic, just interest.

Anyone who has ever watched a beloved child grow up and choose a partner has done it with a catch in the throat, a breath held just slightly, wondering if what that child has learned about life and love and commitment will be enough to carry him or her through the days to come. Anyone who has ever made the promises knows how hard they are to keep. Anyone who has ever prayed prays on that day that the inevitable difficulties will be just hard enough to build strength, not so hard as to scar.

This is what I am thinking as I stare at the photograph – the one of my Adam and, now, my Jenn – over and over again. And in the staring I see them not just standing on the beach, but standing on the threshold of their life together – without fear, holding on to each other and looking in the same direction. It is, I think, a very good way to start.

Copyright 2009

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