Broken Families, Weddings, and Cupcakes
When families break, the fallout can be toxic, but the atmosphere does clear, eventually. I hoped we would enter a toxin-free zone last weekend when we traveled to my stepdaughter’s wedding in Austin, Texas. Even broken families coalesce around adult children’s weddings, but there is no escaping the fact that the broken bits may spew and sputter a little.
“I don’t know what to expect,” my husband said, shaking his head, as we discussed the trip and meticulously planned festivities. “Last time I went to one of these, I was not exactly, uh… welcome.”
Understandable, I’d thought, as my husband’s divorce at that time had been recent─a raw wound still─ and time had not had a chance to heal either he or his ex-wife. Or his grown, heartbroken children. I’d thought about a similar experience when I had attended a funeral for a beloved grandparent of my recent ex. The glares from his side of the family had burned a hole through my already fragile composure, and I could feel my cheeks reddening as I stumbled my way to a seat. I had no other agenda than to pay my respects to a person I’d grown to love, but sometimes people hold offenses even when they do not know the facts about the situation. This is understandable, too. Not right, exactly, but understandable.
As I write this, I am reminded of my own divided loyalties. A couple of my girlfriends’ marriages had crumbled, and according to them, the husband was to blame. But was he, really? How would I know if I hadn’t heard what he had to say? I am guilty of assigning blame based on my unwavering loyalty to my friends, and often join them in their post-divorce, adversarial verbal annihilation. I must be more careful, though, to tread lightly. Things are not always as they appear. And on a side note, it is absolutely none of my business.
My sole responsibility, I am learning, is to love. To extend honor and grace, and not assign blame. Especially when I have no idea what I am talking about.
“Let it happen organically,” I encouraged my husband. “There will be some who let the past be the past, and some who won’t.” I shrugged.
My husband was silent, his hand drifting to his chin like it always does when he is thinking. His face cleared, and he heaved out a breath. “You are right,” he said. “It will be fine.”
I enthusiastically agreed, but still… a slight tension tugged at us. My husband and I prayed over the situation and its various potential land mines. We asked our Bible study group to pray as well.
After rehearsal and tiptoeing through a somewhat cautious rehearsal dinner, we breathed a joint sigh of relief. No difficult conversations, no glaring contests, just the relaxed undercurrent of chatting guests with one thing in common: celebrate the blessed union of a couple they love.
On the day of the wedding, in eerie parallel to our trepidation, the dark clouds over Austin that had threatened to put a damper on the outdoor event cleared at the perfect time. A light breeze ruffled the leaves off huge trees in golden benediction over the whole affair, sweeping aside our petty concerns.
The bride was beautiful, the groom stunning and attentive, the ceremony inspiring. The thick, gnarled arms of a hundred-year-old mesquite tree stretched across the platform as a backdrop to the wedding party parading down the grassy aisle between rows of white chairs. My wisecracking husband managed to suspend his jokes as he walked his daughter to her groom, kissed her on the cheek, and returned to his chair in the front row where his ex-wife and I had been seated on each side of him. I felt humbled to be included beside the two people that had actually raised the bride, and especially honored that my presence was warmly accepted.
As bride and groom left amidst cries of celebration, the three of us on the front row stood shoulder to shoulder with everyone, clapping and smiling and hooting. I laughed in awe. Even broken families can pick up the pieces and move on, and at least celebrate the celebration of family.
Smiles all around, we watched months of planning satisfactorily conclude and the beaming couple prance out of sight to get ready for phase two. Onward to the reception!
We danced like mad stompers beneath shivering rainbow lights to 70s and 80s hits, and whatever it is that thirty-somethings dance to these days─I without shoes because stupidly I wore new ones and my feet hurt, and my husband, with abandon in amazement that he remembered the rumba and swing steps from two ballroom lessons I made him take a few years back. In sudden epiphany in the middle of the dance floor, my husband and I realized that enough time had elapsed to dull the pain and chaos of divorce. We experienced a curious freedom from what anyone felt about… well, anything. Throughout the merry evening, hand clasps, hugs, and ridiculous dance moves sparked long-dead friendships back to life. We were grateful.
When bride and groom made their way to the wedding cupcake tower, smart phone photo-flashes and huge smiles surrounded them. Soon, everyone had a cupcake in their hand. It is pretty hard to hang on to lingering offenses with a cupcake in hand.
On the return flight, I did a lot of thinking about the many difficult phases of life. We can choose to pass through them with shoulders squared, brave; or trudge through in despair, moaning. It is a choice. I believe the bravest among us choose to let go of an unruly past─its hurts and lies and detours─ casting off its weight to reach, instead, for the lightness of joy.
And maybe a cupcake.