Three things I learned on my wedding day.
Even tiny details: burned in my memory.
People told me: “It’ll go by in a blur. Take time to breathe and enjoy it.”
I received a ton of advice leading up to my wedding day, but this was repeated so often, I began to take it as gospel.
As it turns out, my wedding was not a blur. Rather, it was like a dream – not the fleeting kind, leaving you with an impression of flying or hiding, but the kind where you are right there, in fourth grade again, and you can smell the chalk boards, you can hear the minute hand, the bell, the teacher shouting final homework instructions, the surge through the door – the scramble to the playground — so many details it seems to take all eight hours of the night.
In the weeks after the wedding, I filled over forty pages of my journal with images, thoughts, and recollections. That’s a lot of pages, a lot of details. More elusive, however, has been the “mileage” of the experience.
Experiences vs. “Mileage”
Losing myself in a food experience.
As naive college freshmen, my best friend and I used to covet “mileage” – which to us, was some blend of experience and the perspective one earns by having the experience.
Just to clarify, you need not question my inability to enjoy life in the moment. When I’m eating something delicious, conversation ceases as I float away to the Land of Yum. I experience things deeply and powerfully, and I’m grateful for that. But without mileage, and a little bit of distance, I believe there is no wisdom.
For example, I once had a hilarious experience, laying on the rain-soaked concrete, helping a Dutch guy photograph soccer figurines for an art project).
And I cherish that memory. He was a really cool guy. But more important to my quality of life was the mileage I gained after the experience.
Said otherwise: “There’s no place like home.”
It occurred to me, once I was back at home, sitting with a friend at a local pizza place, that taking turns spilling your guts about the latest drama in your lives is one of the best things that life has to offer.
Speaking of Big-Wheels, my brother is on the Big Wheel. I’m on the much cooler Harley. Circa 1977.
My hard-earned mileage has been instrumental in getting my chronic FOMS (Fear Of Missing Something) a bit more under control. While the experience of being crushed by hundreds of people in the alleged “best night-club in Europe” has waned in my memory, the mileage remains forever: nothing is ever as good as the hype. With that in mind, I won’t get quite as bent out of shape if I miss the much-hyped San Francisco Grown-Up Big Wheel Race.
Why should my own wedding not be a source of mileage? Sure, it blew every experience of my life away: more emotional than
Berlin’s got nothin’ on THIS dance floor!
the marriage proposal, more grand than my first visit to the Grand Canyon, more psychedelic than any Phish concert, and with permanent, existential implications, unlike any roller-coaster I have ridden. But that doesn’t mean the experience can’t be, shouldn’t be an opportunity for mileage.
One step further, because of the intensity and enormity of the experience, I tend to believe that whatever I learned on that day is compounded in its truth – it is eternal wisdom for my lifetime.
Mile 1: Energy Spent Worrying is Wasted
Nothing went wrong, and everything went right.
Heading into the wedding, I was warned: you have to expect and accept that something is going to go wrong.
This struck me as sound advice, but it also put lots of crazy-thinking in my head. Late at night, I considered various disastrous scenarios:
The Rabbi could be delayed – or his flight could be cancelled.
A key friend or family member might be unable to make it due to sudden illness.
A wine barrel will certainly explode and cover me in 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon.
Maybe I will forgetting the ketubah (marriage contract) in San Francisco, and not realize it until 10 minutes before the ceremony.
The DJ could confused about the first dance, and rather than playing Bobby Darren’s “Beyond the Sea,” he he will play “Never Gonna Give You Up.”
Sometimes it would keep me up, and I would lay on the sofa and plan through how I would handle inadvertently Rick-Rolling my own wedding.
None of these scenarios came to fruition. In fact, there were no major problems. Unfortunately, whatever time and energy I spent worrying about those things won’t get rolled over to the next major event like unused cell-phone minutes. It’s gone.
Mile 2: When things go wrong, it will be up to me to decide how to interpret them.
Okay, so we had a few minor mishaps.
Then, at the “tisch” (kind of a pre-ceremony toast-and-singing warm-up), a guest spilled water on the table. Somehow, it soaked up into the ketubah and smudged it. Yes, in the final moment before it was safely sealed into its frame for eternity, it got “damaged.”
Ring the bells that still can ring / forget your perfect offering / there is a crack in everything / that’s how the light gets in. (Rabbi Leonard Cohen)
“Normal Me” would have disintegrated on the spot. But “Wedding Me” saw things differently. That smudge was made by a guest whom I love, during one of the most profound moments of my life. It’s as if, along with the witnesses’ signatures, Human Existence itself signed the ketubah: “remember this moment.”
In real life, this kind of thing happens all the time.
I can recall, as a 4 year old, playing hide-and-seek with my brother and accidentally knocking over and shattering an antique lamp.
My parents cleaned it up, reminded us to be careful where we play, and that was that. Now, that episode is woven into the edifice of my childhood – a memory whose values transcends the worth of the glass lamp itself.
How many other things, in life, will break and shatter? How many other opportunities will I have to embrace the truth of the moment, shards and all, and value it above the “could-have-been” perfection which would have gone unremembered?
Mile 3: Uncomfortable feelings will go away soon. Sooner than you think.
I can be moody, and I can be set off. I’ve been to rock concerts where I was still grouchy during the encore because somebody inadvertently elbowed me in the ribs during the first song.
Leading up to the wedding, I was worried that perhaps something might “elbow” me, and I’d be standing under the chuppah annoyed that someone had scuffed my shoes while giving me a hug.
Throughout the day, I went from moment to moment – and when a bump occurred, it didn’t “spoil the concert,” so to speak. Perhaps because I was so resonant with the beauteous majesty around me. Or perhaps some new thing always came along to distract me.
A hieroglyph I drew that night: the first metaphor of our married life.
Until the end of the night. Exhausted, spent, Gabi and I rode a guest-packed shuttle to our wedding-night vacation house. We were the last ones on the bus, miles from the city. The bus stopped in the darkness, and the driver said, “This is it.” But that wasn’t it. The guest house was a quarter-mile up a dark hill. The shuttle driver wouldn’t drive it. Or call for help. Or walk with us. Or stay with us to make sure we made it, dressed in our wedding clothes, carrying bags and a bouquet.
After he drove away, and after Gabi and I groused for a minute, we saw ourselves as if from the outside. We were climbing up a pitch black, sweaty, exhausting metaphor, the first of our married lives.
Life bumps us in the ribs, constantly. But that moment is usually transitory. The feelings move on. The trick, for me, is to trust that it will.
And if I learned that on my wedding day, it’s mileage for life.