Here’s one thing we always say about weddings: “It’s the biggest day of your life.”
Here’s one thing we almost never say about weddings: “You can do whatever the hell you want.”
Hilary and I have been together six and a half years, and when we started talking about getting married, we talked about all the things people usually do: this tradition, that tradition. Listing off things, one of us would eventually say, “I don’t know if I want to do that.” Then the other person would say, “We don’t have to do that.” Eventually: “There are no rules.” We’d ask each other what the point of the whole thing was, and although we never wrote down a theme, or thesis, or mission statement, I would say that we wanted to make something that was half-party, half-creative expression, that communicated how much we loved our lives, each other, and our friends and family. Something that came from us, not from the past or from tradition.
My friend Justin Roth, shortly after his own wedding in 2012, wrote something on his now-gone blog that’s always stuck with me. I’d long paraphrased what he wrote as, “A wedding should, above all else, be true”—but it turns out his actual words were, “If I were to pick a word to describe my ideal wedding, it would be ‘honest.’”
I think we just wanted to create a wedding that was true, or honest, like Justin wrote. Not an extravagant ceremony and reception that pretended we both come from crazy wealthy families, or a ceremony where someone else told us what to say or do, but something that was true to us. We didn’t want to have a wedding simply happen to us; we wanted to make a wedding.
We managed to pick the last fall weekend of good weather in Estes Park, Colorado, sunny but a little chilly in the afternoon. We wrote our own vows but called them The Declarations of Interdependence in the program, had one of our best friends officiate, had readings from Mary Oliver and Kurt Vonnegut, and ended the ceremony with The Lifting of the Bride, because every time I have lifted Hilary off the ground in the past six and a half years, she has burst into laughter.
Hilary started her Declarations of Interdependence with a story from a Grand Canyon raft trip, and I started mine with a story from our first time rock climbing together. We mentioned heavy backpacks, numb toes, windburn, cold hands, and alpine starts, in front of a group of friends and family, a majority of whom we had shared some of those things with in the mountains.
Weddings have meant a lot of things in the few thousand years that we’ve been doing them, and like everything else, I think that meaning is evolving. You don’t have to be married to live together or to have a family at this point, and you don’t have to have a ceremony to be lawfully married. I think a wedding is a party celebrating a relationship, and that’s a wonderful thing. You get all your friends and family together, say deeply heartfelt things about why your favorite person in the world is your favorite person in the world, make promises to that person to be the best version of yourself possible and to do everything you can to help them be happy for a very long time, and then everyone eats cake. If the marriage itself lives up to the joy and aspirations of the wedding, you’re in pretty good shape, I think.
Everyone has different reasons for getting married or not getting married. In the past few years, we’ve seen a few friends and acquaintances die too soon, often in the mountains. While we were standing at a young friend’s memorial a year ago, Hilary felt the urgency to have a wedding, to get everyone together and celebrate a good thing while we all could. Which is as good a reason as any, I think. I struggle with telling people what I feel when I’m with them, and stepping back and acknowledging when things make me happy. Getting married to my favorite person with a few dozen of my favorite people was a macro effort to do just that, for me: to say how I feel and tell someone why they make me happy.
The very brief selection I asked my brother to read during the ceremony was a paragraph from Kurt Vonnegut’s A Man Without a Country, and it went:
I had a good uncle, my late Uncle Alex. He was my father’s kid brother, a childless graduate of Harvard who was an honest life-insurance salesman in Indianapolis. He was well-read and wise. And his principal complaint about other human beings was that they so seldom noticed it when they were happy. So when we were drinking lemonade under an apple tree in the summer, say, and talking lazily about this and that, almost buzzing like honeybees, Uncle Alex would suddenly interrupt the agreeable blather to exclaim, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”
So, I do the same now, and so do my kids and grandkids. And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”