In late 2016, my phone alerted me to a new message. It was from my cousin Liz, and it was just a photo of her and her boyfriend…and her left hand. “We’re engaged!”
A little over a year later, their family and friends gathered at a beautiful hotel/resort in the suburbs to celebrate their big day, and it left me with all the feels.
Both sides of my family are relatively large; my dad had seven siblings and my mom has four. Fast forward a couple generations and between all of the cousins and the kids they’re having, there are a lot of us. Which is wonderful on the occasion of a wedding: it’s exactly the best reason to gather all (or most) of us together to catch up and celebrate.
Liz and Al’s big day was no exception. From beginning to end, the whole affair was lovely.
I’d arrived a bit early (I rented a car to get out to the hotel, and was nervous about traffic and directions) and was greeted by a string quartet playing romantic standards as guests arrived. Before long, we were all seated and the procession started (to a string arrangement of “Kiss the Girl” from The Little Mermaid). The ceremony itself was brief but thoughtful, and their chosen officiant spoke warmly of the commitment involved in marriage.
The sweetest moment came just after the bride and groom exchanged their vows. Before family and friends, they affirmed they did, indeed, take the other in sickness and health, conflict and tranquility, etc. etc. Reading the room, and perhaps the nervous looks on the couple’s faces, the officiant suggested a deep breath after the weighty moment, and of course got a welcome laugh from the bride, the groom and all of us as well.
With the ceremony and reception in one place, the only thing required of guests was that we follow the food to the next portion of the event. A cocktail hour in a foyer outside the ballroom offered a martini bar (hello, Cosmos!), passed hors d’oeuvres and a buffet of small bites. We mingled and visited until the doors opened onto a ballroom set for a party; lush table settings, draped walls, even a custom projection on the wall announcing the newlyweds.
And after dinner, the dancing. So much dancing! From the youngest ones who kept us all literally on our feet, dragging someone new onto the dance floor every few minutes, to our parents cutting a rug to all the classics, we danced and drank and laughed and danced some more. By midnight, my feet were killing me and pretty much anyone who wasn’t staying the night at the hotel had said their goodbyes. I took it as my cue to head out as well.
The drive home was smooth at that hour, free of the traffic that usually congests Chicago’s expressways. And as I drove, my heart continued to swell with the fresh memories of such a lovely night. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect of myself that evening; attending weddings alone is never that fun, and with a shift to work the next day, I figured I wouldn’t be partying too hard. What’s more, I knew it’d be a bittersweet milestone to celebrate since our grandparents both passed away.
But I should’ve known better.
I should’ve known that anytime your people gather together, and especially on such a joyous occasion, only good things can come of it. As we all get older and build families of our own, as we move further away from where we grew up together (both physically and metaphorically), the reasons for all of us to be in the same room become fewer and farther apart. Which means that when we do carve out an evening for each other, it’s even more meaningful.
After the ceremony but before the dancing were the speeches, and the bride’s sister proposed a lovely toast about her best friend who’s found her soulmate. She ended with a sentiment I adore, and one I join in wishing for the bride and groom. I’m beyond happy for them both, and excited to watch them grow together. And I’m grateful their union allowed all of us the chance to reconnect, to catch up, to celebrate.
As she ended her brief cheers, the maid of honor said, “As you start your life together, I hope today is the day you love each other the least.” Cheers to that.