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.
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.
I even know how I will feel. Mostly I fear that I will weep--like a Greek woman, not at a marriage, but at the end of life, funereal and uncontrolled. At the rehearsal, I do not disappoint. I can barely utter even the one line, "I love Gabriel and I want to marry him," before I am completely undone. My friend says that the weeping comes from being overwhelmed by "the rush of archetypes." That's it, of course--we are more than just two people declaring our love in this time, in this Gothic place with Jesus depicted in all the stained glass windows. We are Adam and Eve, Arthur and Guinevere, Christ and his Church. Too much meaning. Too many feelings, the priest says.
Knowing so much, having the ability most times to predict almost everything, I am completely surprised by the translation on the actual day: from sepia tone to vibrant light, from pretend to real, from weeping to confident knowing, from gravity to flight. For the church has become a glowing anteroom to Heaven, I think, as I walk down the aisle on my son's arm, conveyed by Bach violins. For surely we are imitating Heaven--imitating the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. We have put on the most beautiful clothes, brought gold and diamonds as gifts to each other, and stand now amid spring flowers, with the purest of intention, to commit ourselves to each other in the presence of God. To ask for God's blessing. The priests and bishop say our names over and over, asking for every conceivable joy, for both earthly and eternal bliss.
We receive! I am beautiful. Gabriel is handsome. Surrounded by our children, our friends, and my aged parents, we are as gracious and buoyant and young as the spring evening that hears our words: "You are my love." "With my body, I honor you." "God make me your true wife/husband." We believe all things!
I am not weeping.
For the Communion, we have chosen chalices that look like grails from ancient times. We offer the blood of Christ to everyone who desires. Even to my infirmed father in his pew, who my mother informs, sotto voce, "It's all right, Susan will bring the communion to you." Time stops for me to see how everyone looks so lovely in this place. In this strangely eternal moment, we are all so perfect. The reception is a magical sight with silver and crystal and a delectable feast followed by unbridled dancing in and around the dining tables where the centerpieces are more than I've asked for. Fruit, yes, but more beautiful, and more abundant: apricots and nuts spilling, in the spirit of fecundity, out across the tables.
Later I find seed pods, leaves, and an apricot pit caught in the undersilk of my dress. And in the morning, we discover we've slept on the tiny blush pink roses that were woven through my hair.
I think now of how I always wanted to be the bride, stay the bride--always walking down the aisle with that kind of hope in front of me, that kind of light around me.
The ceremony behind us, we begin the rest of our lives. But, I ask, what if the beauty and truth of the wedding is not the past, but the foretaste of our lives together? God's will made real on Earth as it is in Heaven?
We find ourselves more confident, trusting of each other, and there is the true sense now that we are part of a mystery, a mystery where the center holds the abiding physical presence of a lover. For even after 10 years I still find this man, my new husband, to be so delicious. Whenever I touch him, or think of him, my mouth waters for the sweetness I perceive, like something recalled from a happy childhood dream. And through his elegant hands that pet me, his deep voice that sounds all comfort, and his strong legs that wrap me up each night, I hear God so distinctly saying, "See, this is love and it is all delight."