If Rube Goldberg were tasked with engineering a convoluted contraption miraculously comprised of a kajillion strands of human DNA and an infinite web of interacting personal histories, he might have devised the interlocking preamble, ceremony, and epilogue of a typical American wedding.
The average American wedding is a seething cauldron of heightened emotions, stress, and a number of complex moving parts involving multiple humans in a state of hyper-vulnerability. Tender sensibilities of every conceivable sort must be assuaged, travel arrangements must proceed well (if not perfectly), major illnesses must be avoided, weather (especially if it’s an outdoor wedding) must cooperate, clothes must fit, small children must be appeased and occupied, the needs of elderly guests must be considered, and unpredictable, loopy uncles (like me, for example) must be neutralized in a socially acceptable manner, to cite just a handful of relevant concerns.
Something always goes wrong. Always. We live in a fallen world, after all. You can only hope that whatever it is, it proves to be relatively unimportant, inconspicuous, and/or that the affected parties roll with the punches with a nod and a smile. No wonder those most centrally involved lose considerable sleep and consume mass quantities of antacids during the process.
This past Sunday morning, my niece, Shannon, married her beau of many years, Spencer, in an outdoor ceremony at a historical mansion in my hometown. Defying the considerable odds implied above, it was spectacular in every important regard. The “event” itself, if one can call it that, was the stuff of dreams: the sun shone brightly and the temperature was perfect; the guests arrived on time, sober and in pleasant moods; the flower girls and ring bearer performed their duties with the perfect combination of precision and spunk; the bride was resplendent as she descended from the massive limestone staircase to join her groom and exchange vows; family and friends laughed and hugged and cried and clapped and danced in equal measure and at all the right times.
As Shannon completed her vows, I journeyed mentally backward in time, to June 1997. Shannon would have been 2 or 3 years old then. Our entire extended family was spending a few days together at Disneyworld, and I recalled another sunny morning that occurred during that trip. I had tagged along with Shannon, her older brother Jonathan, and their parents to the Magic Kingdom. Unmarried and childless, I accompanied them to see if I could lend a hand with the two little ones. First stop, the Dumbo ride. I was in charge of little Shannon and held her hand and joined her charming conversation as we waited in line. At the appointed time I plopped her in a seat, buckled her, and exited so I could watch behind the wrought-iron fencing surrounding the ride. A couple of minutes and several circuits later, I reentered to unbuckle and extract her from Dumbo’s backside. She shrieked in genuine horror: “NONONONONONONONONONONO!” She bucked. She flailed. She kicked. She shrieked “NONONONONONONO” a while longer and at higher decibels, just in case I hadn’t understood her highly nuanced message. She was articulate, even as a toddler.
“Shannon, honey, it’s time to get off. We have to get back in line if you want to ride again.”
“NONONONONONONONONO!!!!” More kicking, more flailing. I grabbed her with one arm and protected my face with my other.
“Sorry, Shannon,” I whimpered as I carried her shrieking, thrashing body out of the swarm of toddlers and parents. “That’s just how this works.”
She peppered me with more spirited toddler-speak, explaining in highly technical and complex language why various plebian rules and social mores ought not apply to her, employing arcane terms like “STUPID,” “I HATE,” “ME!,” “AGAIN,” and the popular “NONONONONONONO” in the process. In time—perhaps 10 or 15 minutes later—it became evident to her that Uncle Tim was the densest human on the planet and simply was not going to grasp her point, so she gave up in disgust and exhaustion. She rode Dumbo again and, seeing me approach when the flying elephants came to a halt, protested with half as much vigor as before, swapping her thrashing technique for a hearty shoulder shrug (“don’t touch me!”) and a few eye rolls (“this uncle is seriously dumb”).
Back in the present, my mature, gifted, tender-hearted, generous, and beautiful niece listened attentively to the homily (more on that in next week’s column) delivered by her grandfather who performed the ceremony. She then kissed her extraordinary groom and recessed down the red brick aisle—a married woman embarking on a new chapter in her life, a chapter so profound, so complex and so unpredictable not even Rube Goldberg could conceive it, a chapter occasionally more vexing than any toddler’s frustrations.
Godspeed, Shannon and Spencer. We’ll be praying for you and supporting you in any way we possibly can. And take it from a doltish uncle with a little experience under his belt: The ride you’re beginning has its bumps, for sure, but it is way better than anything at the Magic Kingdom.