Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Grit, Glitch, Gap: A Perfect Union

by Zinta Aistars
(based on a wedding toast to my daughter Lorena and son-in-law Derek, 9.1.12)

September 1, 2012

The bride was late. The wedding was at noon on Saturday, September 1, and the bride was still in the van, her uncle Steve at the wheel, speeding through Chicago streets as much as one can speed through busy city streets, north along Lake Shore Drive, and the clock on the dashboard blinked: 12:01.

I sat just behind her, the photographer beside me, the bride's grandmother beside the bride, marveling at the bride's calm demeanor. One of the bridesmaids, Melissa, sat up front, keeping an eye on the bride.

"Wedding can't start without you!" we all chimed. "Almost there!"

And finally, we were. I'd never seen my daughter look so beautiful, so breathtakingly stunning, as she did on this day, emerging from the van, holding up her long lace gown, a silvery toe in her high-heeled shoe just showing its sparkling tip. More than one person had said that morning: Cinderella!

Except for running late, it all seemed so perfect. Almost perfect. Except that the pastor was outside the church, watching us drive up, as was the groom's mother, and the pastor's face gleamed with a light sweat of anxiety. He showed us to one door, then swung around and showed us to another. Lorena, the bride, didn't want anyone to see her before her walk down the aisle. The moment of confusion broke her calm and suddenly her eyes filled with tears.

She wanted this day to be perfect. Just so. We all did. Every effort over the past eight months had been toward this goal.

Seated in the parlor, hidden away from the rest of the church that was full to brimming, she sat in a chair with a trembling curl to her lip that threatened more tears. The pastor came in and held both of her hands, speaking softly to her, saying a prayer.

Outside, the Chicago sky was overcast, heavy with thick, gray clouds, the fringe of the storm called Isaac in the southern states brushing the skyline.

As suddenly as that cloud had passed over my daughter's face, it was gone again. She was the sunshine on this day, and the sun had come out again. She took a breath, the full impact of her wedding day sweeping over her, and smiled. Ready.

I skidaddled back outside the church, around to the main door, where Alex, my nephew and the usher, was waiting to escort me down the aisle. I'd walked that aisle before in my life, but this time had my heart beating more than at any other time. I'm no sop about weddings. I tend to roll my eyes at such romantic ideals and happy ever afters, my own life taken a singular route, but today felt different. I had a deep conviction in my heart that this walk for my daughter would lead to a life beside a mate that would stand by her, thick or thin. I'd warmed to Derek the moment I met him.

And of course, the moment the organ music changed to announce the coming of the bride, the entire congregation of some 130 of us turning back to watch the door, my eyes filled with tears, something in my throat caught, I forgot to breathe, and I saw her: the bride, my daughter, on the arm of my son, her brother, who had stood beside her and she beside him all their growing years and up into this day. My two greatest loves, walking down the aisle together, both of their faces beaming.

With my son, Markus
It was perfect. Almost. Except that when Markus had his sister up to the side of the altar where the wedding party and groom and pastor awaited her, he stepped on the edge of her long train. It was just a moment, he realized it, released her as she turned to look back at him one more time with a smile, then proceeded up the steps to stand facing her love.

The prior week passed at lightning speed through my mind's eye as I watched the two of them say their vows. I'd been in Chicago at my daughter's side since early Tuesday, and it had been non-stop to bring her, the both of them, to this moment. My heel was blistered from the 12-hour day of shopping with Lorena to find the last few items, seemingly simple, even as we walked and drove what felt like all of Chicago to find them. Tall vases for the altar, yet none seemed tall enough, or else cost exorbitant amounts; flowers for the bouquets and decorations; mason jars that we decorated with lace and silver ribbon but had to have a silver rim rather than the usual gold; small cloth letters to spell out Mr and Mrs and then to be hung on a silver ribbon across a wicker suitcase that would collect cards and gifts at the reception; a thousand final items that seemed to elude us as we sought the perfect ones.

At last, we had everything. Every item perfect, almost.

When they spoke of the blessing of hands, Lorena and Derek holding each other's, I teared up again. Hands to hold when we fall, hands to hold us as we age, hands to caress us even when we are not deserving. Oh, don't let me smear my mascara on this day of photographs ... but I did, just a little, as Alex, my nephew and escort today, quietly let me know. I dabbed with a tissue. My days of perfection, long gone.

Husband and wife. Bride and groom leaned toward each other for a kiss, then another, then one more. They turned to all of us, beaming, near floating on air, hands raised together. Mr. Derek and Mrs. Lorena Vaughn.

Why these tears? Did I even believe in marriage? Such an imperfect union. So much struggle, even for the best matched of us. Friction and conflict, constant compromise ... was it worth it? I looked up at the two of them, bright with love, shining like stars, in this perfect moment.

It was. It is worth it. Even when two unwind back into one and one. I felt it again, that conviction in my heart, that these two would remain lifelong as one. I felt that because these two, more than most, understood struggle, compromise, communication. It was indeed their initial friendship during personal struggles that had brought them together, first as best friends, then as beloveds. They understood that life wasn't perfect and never would be. All week I had watched them balance each other. When one had a moment of anxiety, the other one remained calm. When one needed more, the other gave more, and then, that one reciprocated, as needed.

They understood imperfection and were willing to work with it.

And so, when it came time for a champagne toast, as all of us gathered again on the cruise ship Odyssey at Navy Pier, and floating out on Lake Michigan with the Chicago skyline in the distance wrapped in mist and gray clouds, I held my champagne glass in a firm clutch and swayed across the floor toward the new couple. The ship swayed this way, then that way, and my steps had a drunken sway along with the ship's. Hardly graceful. So imperfect. But I made it to their table, turned to face the shipful of wedding guests, and gave my toast.

I spoke about the blessing of imperfections. On this day that is supposed to be so perfect, it is, after all, the imperfections that make it so. Two imperfect beings coming together to form an imperfect union, one that will test them lifelong. Yet what else is love but acceptance of each other's imperfections? It's easy to "love" the beautiful and the young and the unblemished. But it is when we are sick, aging, blemished, anxious, angry, sad, wrong, ugly, mistaken, and still loved, that we know our love is true.

The blessing of imperfections is that working through our imperfections bonds us into a team. Into family. As we work through our weaknesses and troubles, we become stronger. As we make mistakes, we become wiser. As we endure weakness, we learn compassion. And our misadventures, those times when we get lost, those are the favorite stories we share ever after. Life is enriched by imperfections.

I wished the young couple a life blessed with imperfections, not so great that they would call "game over," but the sort that become the grit in the oyster's shell, that it chews upon until the grit becomes a pearl. Grit, gaps, glitches that would keep them holding hands until death do them part, and perhaps even beyond, two made one in a union that would, had already, become family, that net that supports us when all others break.

Family, after all, is not just connected by shared blood lines, but by the fact that these are people who accept us and love us and support us in spite of our imperfections, and even because of them. Our friends are our friends for the same reason.

A new family branch has been added to our family tree. Derek's family and Lorena's family, and all our friends, celebrated this (im)perfect day. Love is the miracle of imperfection made perfect.

Congratulations, Lorena and Derek! We love you.

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