The wedding adventure began one day in January when Holly messaged me on my work email and said, “I know you’re busy, but I’m getting married tomorrow.” A quick Montana JP wedding was followed by the invitation to me to officiate the “real”wedding in August.
Holly and Dan are not like me. That is to say, where I am organized, they are spontaneous. Where I am a planner, they are spontaneous. Where I am list-maker, they are spontaneous. While I would like to create a ceremony and write vows more than a day in advance, they are spontaneous. Where I hate chaos, fear chaos, do everything to avoid chaos, they are spontaneous.
To Holly’s credit, she has spent the past number of months rallying her amazing Montana friends to craft beautiful things for the wedding: invitations, flower girl baskets and headpieces, vases, candle holders, her dress, and much more. She enlisted us to fold a thousand paper cranes. One friend even made the delightful wooden cake toppers in the shape of their pets.
But I knew going in that chaos would reign supreme throughout the weekend. I knew, too, that I was the designated bride calmer. They asked me to stay at the house instead of camping up the creek with all the boys so that I could keep Holly sane. I wouldn’t have it any other way; I set up my tent in the field next to the house and dedicated an hour each morning to meditation with the bluebirds, goldfinches, and harriers expressly for that noble purpose. And it worked. We hummed along in happy chaos, getting everything done and done with flair. All of Holly’s hard work paid off in love and laughter and exquisite décor. The love came in the form of many happy helping hands who brought the vision to fruition. I have learned, and always need to relearn, that if I can breathe through chaos, dance through chaos, love and laugh through chaos, that it can become something magical, even, upon occasion, transcendent. And so it was.
Holly planned a pre-wedding-day float of the Teton River on Friday for everyone who had come for the wedding. I had my new kayak ready to go. Alas, I hit trouble. My first sign of crankiness came with the long wait for us all to amass at the put-in. Somewhere new friend Billy has a picture of me giving him the finger as we waited. Oh, grace. Then, partway down the river, I started losing air from my inflatable kayak and then started taking on water. Helpful people kept commenting on this. Actually, it was only a few but it felt like too many. I had an offer to use a pump since stupidly I hadn’t yet learned to always carry my pump. Alas, their pump didn’t have the right attachment for my boat.
New friend Jeff and his kids paddled by and Jeff commented that I probably wanted to say some choice words. I replied that I was waiting to not have an audience. Perceptive son Shannon said especially not with kids around. No, actually any audience—especially the one that kept trying to helpfully tell me my boat was sinking. Yup, I was cranky. Finally, I had the river to myself and gave myself an attitude adjustment: possibly the most beautiful place on earth with the Tetons in the background and ospreys flying overhead, the most beautiful day ever made, a river full of friendly and helpful people, and in fact despite carrying more water than air I was limping successfully down the river. Arriving cranky at the take-out was not an option, so I let it go and enjoyed my float.
After the float, we all went back to the house exhausted, hungry, and still needing to string a couple more hundred cranes. All those people, no plans for dinner. When here comes Jeff and his family to the rescue. Best timed sandwich EVER award to dear Jeff and Finlay and Shannon. They’d stopped at the store and gotten some monster sandwiches, the kind you cut into eight pieces, and potato chips and salad. Some nice woman was trying to talk to me and kindly asking me about myself as I was eating my sandwich like a feral animal. I hope she forgave me. She did take a bunch of cranes which she and her kids returned the next morning strung beautifully.
The High Priestess
Wedding morning proved another clear, sunny day. In a much-too-brief heartfelt conversation with Uncle Frank, Dan’s brother, I learned that Dan had christened me The High Priestess, as celebrant of the wedding. Frank wanted to check my credentials, my bona fides, on that one. I demurred. But later, when Dan called me that, I decided to strive to live up to it and take it as my own. Frank, by the way, was best dressed—second only to the lovely bride—in red corduroy pants and a flashy black and white shirt.
After rehearsal, driving Linda over the pass to get the cake, supervising the setting up of chairs, watching out the kitchen window as the girls decorated the tables, witnessing the slacker boys from the creek stepping up with tables and keg-fetching, fastening a purple festooned headpiece around my hat, writing out a pretty welcome sign on a chalkboard, and putting on my party dress, we had us a wedding.
The ceremony was brief. Dan wanted less, but Holly and I convinced him otherwise. In the end, we had a nice compromise and we got lots of compliments afterwards. I was not one bit nervous. In fact, it was very fun and really a profound honor. And I had a good view. I learned a few things about what to do differently next time, if there is a next time. Mostly, spend more time with the flower girls ahead of time. Can’t just tell them once or twice what to do. And even though I didn’t feel nervous, I do think there were some things I could have done or said that would seem maybe too casual but in this case would have worked well. Can’t second guess it; we all did brilliantly.
One surprising highlight of the wedding was our surprise musical accompanist. Billy, childhood friend of Dan’s, is a composer of film scores. He and Uncle Frank showed up in a VW pop-up van and camped in the driveway. He found Hank’s guitar and provided acoustic background for pre-wedding arrival and seating and for bride aisle-walking. He then turned on the recession song and took it upon himself to keep music playing during the reception.
Dinner was provided by a local Thai restaurant. They brought pans of pad thai, rice, and a vat of chicken curry. Because we didn’t have quite all the right utensils, they came back a half hour later with some tongs and a ladle. Too late really for that; we’d made do. But they also brought us a big pan of egg rolls and wontons, which I took around to the tables calling them crispy bits with yummy sauce. Too bad they forgot them the first time, guests commented. Oh no, I replied, we didn’t order these. They just brought them because they love us. And I meant it.
Something funny happened on the way to the wedding…everything we touched turned to love.
With the reception and the sun winding down, we desperately sought our second wind. For me it came in the form of the guitar. A few of us sat around the front yard and sang some songs on Hank’s guitar. Hank, Dan’s housemate and “other wife,” cajoled me into singing a few of his songs through the magic of being able to look up lyrics on the cell phone these days. Didn’t take long for the Stones’ Dead Flowers to become the unofficial song of the wedding.
Send me dead flowers every morning
Send me dead flowers through the mail
Send me dead flowers to my wedding
And I won’t forget to put roses on your grave.
Yeah, alas, that’s how we roll.
I think that's Uncle Frank off to the side in his red cords and fun shoes.
And then I ate cold pad thai and cold crispy bits with yummy sauce and went to bed.
I think I can’t talk about transcendence without talking about the cat we had to kill Thursday night, because it was a very low point. We were driving home from Music on Main in Victor when we came up on a couple of cars pulled over on the side with flashers on. In the road was a cat who had been hit but was still alive. I pulled around the cat and the cars and pulled over in the ditch. Jeff was behind me and followed me to do the same. Dan hopped out and went back to help. I sent Holly back with my big maglight, although I was sure she didn’t want to go back there. In the end they dispatched the cat using minimum tool that did not involve my maglight. The next morning, when I was quietly meditating in the breaking light and sending a prayer to the cat and its family, I thought about how harsh this world by nature can be, and how we must step up and do the necessary things.
Sunday morning the sunlight hurt. Or maybe my heart hurt at having been broken open wide by the beauty of the experience. After one last epic breakfast followed by some leftover cake, I exchanged a lot of deeply sincere hugs and hit the road, driving into a three-day crash like a kid coming back home after a really good summer vacation.
Here’s the thing: it is so rare that I am placed in a situation where I’m encouraged and allowed and helped to be my best and truest self. And then to feel like people really see this self of mine and embrace it and love it. Love me. For me. This is what happened. And I think it happened for many of us. I was a part of creating a safe space, and I reaped the benefits. Maybe it’s too much to analyze why it was such a good time. But I leave it behind in gratitude for all of my fellow pilgrims on the road.
Ceremony photo and sunset cowgirl photo by Elissa the appreciator.