On Being Surprised By God

And other (second) wedding day delights

The priest brings it up, asking when Gabriel and I are getting married. I think, What, and admit we aren't? My God, we've lived together for 10 years. Other excuses creep into my head: I'm way too old to be a bride. I was married before. Do I really have the right to walk down an aisle? In a church?

And why not? We're part of this church. It's the very church where, before we met, Gabriel had repeatedly prayed for someone to love, and I had pleaded for a "grand passion"--Victoriana for "let me be with someone I'm truly in love with."

But it's also the church where the previous rector told my ex-husband, shortly after Gabe and I moved in together, that I was living in sin. I recall how incensed I was, phoning Fr. Mort to say, "We're not living in sin. We're living in a cute little house on the hill." When he laughed nervously, I wondered aloud if it wasn't a sin to live in sorrow, using all one's energy to deny the sadness of a bad marriage, essentially living a lie.

Gabe and I have moved on from our failed marriages--mine 24 years, his 10--and made a life together, for better or worse, through frightening financial nightmares and blissful prosperity, through the anger and eventual forgiveness of my children, and even through the finality of the death of loved ones. By all standards it has been better than I imagined. I got my wish: a passion, grand and perpetually intriguing. The union, it seems, is begging to be acknowledged, sanctified in the presence of those we love.

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And besides, Gabriel was never married in a church. His wedding was at the beach. He was wearing sandals and a hippie shirt, and the reception was a potluck picnic, complete with a game of frisbee. I reason that no one should go through life without a real wedding. So, we'll go full fig--have a wedding to remember, with live music, a sermon by the bishop, and a Mass.

It isn't until the third session of the premarital counseling that doubt breaks into the scene: "What about the stuff Jesus said about not divorcing and, if you do, not remarrying?" I ask the priest. "Well, the reality is marriages often don't work. It's up to you decide whether what you have with Gabe is a gift from God or not." Indeed.

So, even though Gabriel continually questions the expense, and gradually becomes more silent, then moody, and eventually terrified--"After all," he moans, "I promised before and couldn't keep it"--I keep on with the plan, arranging everything down to the last detail. I insist that celebration is important and that we have a chance to make a marriage work. Besides, the wedding will be beautiful: the kind, dim light of an evening ceremony to grace the age lines in our faces, the priest's golden chasuble, my lace and silk gown, the groom's well-cut tuxedo, the rose and tulip bouquets.

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Susan Stewart Potter
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