The night is clear, and from our balcony we can see the changing colours of the CN tower and the vast Toronto cityscape. The day has finally ended. Joyous, stressful, exuberant, hushed; it has been the longest day of my life. And also the greatest. My bride sits next to me, beautiful and quiet as we process what has happened. What it all means.
"Do you want to open the cards?" I ask.
She nods and then laughs, and it reaches a place in me that resonates deeper than any other. One by one, we open the gift cards, taking turns to carefully read each card. Each sentiment. Halfway through however, I can not continue, as the tears slowly began to slip down my face.
"Can we stop for a minute?" I ask her. She looks over at me, and noticing the tears, walks over and hugs my neck. I can smell the lotion on her skin, and I am, as always, struck by how easily she fits into my arms. She slips into my lap and together we look out at the city. The gifts are extraordinary, and I am not sure what to do with them. So many people have sacrificed to make our day special, many of whom have reached well beyond their means to let us know how much we are loved. The effect is both surreal and humbling. A while later we finish opening the cards, and even back inside, I remain close to tears. I cannot shake this idea that something has happened. Something more than marriage. Or that many people might not understand the significance of this day and what their gifts and love have meant.
We all have dreams of the ideal relationship when we're young. Even boys, although it is often less articulated than that of young girls. When I was a kid, I remember thinking about marriage, but it was an abstract idea. As in, of course I am going to get married and be happy. Those were the stories I read about in my books, and it seemed like a simple thing. Just love each other and everything will be okay. Until the time of my break up with my first girlfriend, I always assumed the one I was with would be "the One". A romantic and silly notion for a 23-year-old perhaps, but idealism has always been something of a trap for me. Married at 25, divorced a few short years later, the idea of a "perfect" marriage had long since faded, to the point where I was certain it could never happen. I was too difficult to live with, too picky, too cynical, too finite about my views of God and just a bit too… strange. Who could possibly fill all those requirements? Who would be willing to see past my scars and hurts and accept me for who I was?
The years passed, and while I found friendships that would last forever, in itself an unbelievable turn of events for someone who had once locked themselves away from the world in his late twenties, I never found that special someone. The person that I had dreamed about as a young teenager and later as a young man. Even as I lived and looked however, my ideas about the "One" began to change. I watched my friends with good marriages. Watched how selflessly they interacted. Watched how they asked for forgiveness and worked hard not to pin their own struggles on their partner. In the glaring light of these examples, my ideas about love changed from the Disney twinkle of Cinderella's shoes, to the clasped hands of sweating, smiling teammates after a long, hard fought game. So much as sentiment is as natural to me as breathing, this was a difficult revelation, and it cast a different light upon my past relationships that struggled to make their way past the end of "happily ever after." For as much as I could claim a personality mismatch, it would be unfair to exclude my inability to work as part of a team. Too often I had relied upon the romanticized idea of "boy meets girl, boy loves girl", with a clear delineation between both the boy and girl and the role each one was supposed to play. There were, in fact, buried within this seemingly simplistic ideal, any number of rules and regulations that for the life of me I could no longer understand. No wonder then, when I thought back to my past relationships, to my past struggles, that I remembered the times being paralyzed into inaction due to my inability to navigate the world of boy meets girl. It was all so complicated, so difficult, this road to love.
Three years earlier, I'd mentioned to a colleague of mine that the possibility of meeting someone and marrying would probably never happen. He'd scoffed at me like a patient teacher. "What? How old are you? Thirty three? You're young, Steve. It'll happen." I'd nodded that day, but didn't bother explaining to him the reasons for my hesitancy. The reasons for the occasional sadness that would flutter onto my shoulders like a black winged butterfly. Despite all this, despite what I'd learned, I held onto the slimmer of hope, enough to spend one winter night gazing up at the stars, with the tears rolling down my cheeks, asking God for a second chance at a first chance. Little did I know that just a short eighteen months later my prayer would not only be answered, but with such a resounding boom of grace and love from friends and family it would leave me speechless and my world completely redrawn.
One Week Later
The balcony is quiet this morning. Rain drips onto the edge of the railing, as the sun struggles to break through the clouds. The steady drumming of construction is absent for the weekend, and only the faint hum of music from another apartment pushes past the breeze shushing through the trees. A tiny, yellow tailed bird hops onto the branch about five feet from where I sit, flashing her wings and riding the swaying branches.
I head back inside to refill my coffee and trip slightly on one of the unopened boxes of cookware. The apartment is filled with gifts and boxes, most of which have been pushed to the side. Some have been opened, some not, but either way it is overwhelming to walk past them. I pour out the coffee from our new coffee pot and stir in my condiments. My mug is also new. Also a gift. Everything we have, it seems, is a gift. My mind flashes to the week before. To the arrival of Jackie and Mireille. Of Jackie's cake making and their sure hand at taking over the details so that our day will go smoothly, not the least of which will include the sound system and flowers. I think of Alanna and her 75 hour work week and the unbelievable amount of cooking and errands she does for us. I think of Bethany's brother, selflessly running errand after errand, and her sister, Heather, volunteering for whatever needs to get done. I think of Jeremy, my long time friend, and his wife, Heather, who have sacrificed their weekend to do the ceremony.
And then there was the day itself, with Allison and Brice and so many others pitching in to make it special. With Mark and Naomi driving us from place to place, putting themselves at our disposal. My mind drifts back to the reception, to the kindness in the speeches, to the laughter fomented by my brother, forced to pull double duty as a best man and M.C., and his own speech, which seven days later still brings tears to me eyes. Even when the dance ends, they are there. Mark, Naomi, Jackie, Heather, Allison, Szymon, Brice, Mireille, Alanna, Lindsay, Nathan, Elias, Ernie, Jeremy, Heather. All pitching in to clean up while the music plays. All of it a gift.
I head back out to the balcony, past the table where we have put the cards and the cluster of gifts placed temporarily on a shelf. I can't help but wonder what this means in light of God's love. Is this what it means when Scripture teaches us that all we have is a gift? I have done nothing to deserve my new life or the gifts, both material and otherwise, that have been heaped upon Bethany and I. It is beyond humbling, so much so it casts my very existence in a different light. I'm not sure I'll ever be the same again. I hope not.
The balcony door rattles open as Bethany pokes her head outside.
"If I make you a protein shake, will you drink it?"
"Yeah, that would be great." I pause unable to speak for a moment. "Did you know I love you?"
"Yeah. Know I love you?"
She smiles, her hair pulled back into an early morning pony tail, and heads back inside. With a shake I realize that with all the generosity of my friends and family this past two weeks, with all they have given us, with all the boxes and items and things and details and work, the biggest gift of all, is her.
Not a wife.
Not a romance.
Not a perfect relationship.
But a laughing, wondrous teammate. Someone to share in the ups and downs of life. Someone to lay my head against. Someone to discuss things and make a difference with in a world that often makes no sense. Of all that we have been given, it is that gift, more than any other, that keeps me both humbled and excited about the future. I put down my coffee and open the door.
"Hey, love. So what are we doing today?"
This column is dedicated to the people who worked so hard to make our wedding day special. To our parents and families, and especially our friends, most of whom have been mentioned. There are no words for how to properly thank you for what you have done for us. Know that we love you and will treasure it always.