It goes by in a blur. You won't remember a thing!
This was what we heard over and over (and over) again in the weeks leading up to our wedding.
In the quiet moments afterwards, all throughout the next week in Savannah, Sean and I agreed, with some mix of relief and inner joy, that we had both felt present. Jolting with adrenaline, yes - Sean got to the church early and took a walk around the empty sanctuary, the pitcher within him walking the field before Game Seven. But all-the-way-there in mind, heart, eyes and ears.
Someone, I can't recall who, had advised me to seek out moments to be present. That was one piece of advice out of many that I could say I really appreciated. I gravitated towards the purposeful present, it suited me, and I felt like I'd practiced it before. It particularly reminded me of how I experienced my college graduation, a 48-hour period from which I can still pinpoint vivid exchanges, visuals and emotions.
On our honeymoon, by the river or in a restaurant or in a shady Savannah square, we took the time - real time - to talk about it all. We laughed, recalled and repeated. We swapped tales of "Remember this part?" and "Where were you when...?" We shared our memories, individual and collective, spoke so that we ingrained the experience in a whole new way, storytold so that we will forever have a story to tell, while at the same time beginning to write the next chapters.
Part of me feels like glorifying my own wedding on the Internet tips me into the category of self-centered bridezilla that I tried so hard to avoid. But for better or worse, the storyteller part of me wins out. So does the feeling that our wedding does not trump that of anyone else. How could it? There are no other two like us - the truth of every couple, every person. Together, we have built an inimitable two-in-one, flanked by a unique combination of people and histories that, for one day, gathered in one space and sparked a sacred fire all their own. It is that authenticity that I love witnessing at every wedding I attend, and it is that authenticity that I celebrate about our own - as Claire, as Sean, as Claire + Sean, as Claire's people + Sean's people. Us, and our people. As we wrote in our note in the wedding bulletin, Thank you for making us who we are.
A friend called it "generous," the whole weekend. I'm humbled that anyone would link that word to us, but really it is because we have such generous family and friends. Family and friends who hosted and created opportunities for us to spend time with the family and friends who gave generously of themselves to travel from far and near. A party on Friday night and brunches on Saturday and Sunday meant that we had an abundance of time - still not enough, but not too shabby for a wedding - with the people we love. Each event felt like us, primarily because of those who surrounded us. They embodied generosity from left and right, above and below, and most of all, from within.
I'm so grateful for all of it, for all I remember.
We had our rehearsal dinner in the back room of a boisterous Friday night French restaurant, and we went from toast to toast with each person wearing Sean's grandfather's straw hat. If 92-year-old Gramsdaddy couldn't beam in from his Louisiana home, the second best thing was for his hat to open the way for stories, laughter, and raised glasses.
I walked into the rehearsal after-party and was suddenly bombarded by the sights and sounds of my entire... life squeezed into one room. When I made it through the door, my six-year-old cousin Austin pointed at me and made faces, and as I moved towards him and pointed back ("I'm watching you, bub!"), on my left side I could simply sense Jenny's presence more than I could actually see her. I could hear her laugh and feel her beam pulsating, and she wasn't in Seattle, she wasn't in our senior year apartment, she was here, next to me, and it felt normal and totally not-real-life at the exact same moment.
In that hotel hospitality room, friends and family from both of us, from both sides, from everywhere, created this loud buzz of excitement and joy (and shrieking when reunions struck). Somewhere under the overwhelmed jubilation and the wish to split myself into about 10 pieces to talk to everyone was thought that went something like, how did I do enough and see enough and be enough in the last 27 years to deserve all of these spirits and souls and laughter and hugs?
I slipped out of the party for a moment, to the floor where my grandmother was getting ready for bed. I have two grandmothers, and this one lives far away, and she had to sit through a 7-hour car ride to get here. She's ninety years old. She's lived in the same house where my mother grew up by herself for 40 years since my grandfather suddenly, unexpectedly passed away. She still walks in her neighborhood and up her stairs. She is the model of quiet, elegant grace and perseverance. And it was such a privilege and a pleasure to knock on that hotel room door and see her soft, surprised smile ("I didn't expect a visit from the bride!") and give her a great big hug before she slept.
Goodness, that whole night... My family that I've known forever next to my college friends that I feel like I've known forever. My family and Sean's family, two boisterous crowds that have their own jokes and traditions and stories, and both know so well how to love. Weaving in and out of pockets of people, glancing eagerly at the door as more flowed in... If that had been the whole weekend, I would have already marked it the best one ever.
I woke up the next morning in my high school home, took a shower and puttered and made a list like I do when I'm packing for a trip, kissed our dog that we got when I was 14. Sean sent me his usual text - the "good morning!" text that we've done every morning for three and a half years - and I took in the wonderful routine of it coupled with the fuzzy surreal knowledge that one door was closing and another was opening. No more 30-mile commutes from one house to the other, no more texting good morning or good night.
I spent a wonderful morning with nearly all of the girls that I call my dearest friends. I didn't want a fancy luncheon, I didn't want a wild bachelorette weekend - I just wanted the cheer, love and presence of my girlfriends to surround me, even if only for an hour. Our dear family friend Cheryl agreed to host - she's never met a stranger she didn't love, and vice versa - and I savored the comfort of being in a house and with a hostess that I adore, knowing that I could walk through the carport to the kitchen and greet Libby the dog instead of knocking staidly on the front door. And then they all showed up! From Julia and Claire and Mollie, whom I've known since birth, to Kari my wonderful sister-in-law, to Liz and Jessica and Sarah and countless other college kindred. We had no agenda, no toasts - just eating and laughing and reconnecting (though it basically felt like I'd seen them all only days before). It filled me with the best energy possible, and when we all squeezed onto the couch for a group picture, with me in the middle, I felt again that rising thought: How did I get so lucky to find all of these amazing women?
I drove a few blocks over (I drove myself around on my wedding day! Ah, freedom) to another friend's house for makeup and hair. I've known Bridget, my hairstylist, since I was fifteen or so, and I've known Terri, our makeup pro, since she was our elementary Sunday school teacher. For two hours, my four bridesmaids, my mom and I sat in rocking chairs and drank lemonade and chatted in the midst of quiet and calm. Such a change from the brunch, but more good energy, a way to relax and breathe.
It did feel blurry when we got to the church and I put on my dress; things were starting to speed up. But something so clear is the memory of walking down the sidewalk in my dress towards our first look and hearing the shrieks, cheers and claps from the pink-clad breast cancer walkers across the street.
Something so clear is his face when he turned around to see me in front of my great-grandfather's bench.
I remember other faces when they saw me for the first time: my brother, my dad, my in-laws, my grandmothers, Kate and David, Emily and Anna as they walked up the hill (and Em's happy/surprised face just looked so Emily, almost like we were freshmen in college again and talking about boys), Jamie and Sarah and Michelle and Sarah Mac, Betsy and David and Calla. I liked not being hidden away, I savored being myself even in these lead-up moments with friends and loved ones who I wanted to share in this day.
The wedding party was standing under the covered steps outside the church, in the middle of photos, when I let out an "Oh dear Jesus!" and a big laugh: the thunder clapped and it was suddenly pouring like it was late July.
We finished photos and walked through the narthex, where the bulletins were out and ready for everyone to arrive. Can I just say how amazing it was to have such personal invitations and bulletins, calligraphied by Sarah and illustrated by Kate? Every time I looked at another generic cursivey font on a wedding invitation website, the more I wanted something different. Our friends gave of their time and gifts to create art that we will always hold close in our home and our hearts.
We waited downstairs in the bride's room, heard the organ music starting, and the girls got giddier and picked up their bouquets, straightened their shawls. Jessica came in to pray with us, and I loved the feel of a circle of friends, of warmth and quiet, and words of grace and blessing.
Dad and I stood at the top of the stairs after all of the bridesmaids had started to walk. That's when he said, "I love you, Claire Asbury."
I tried to catch every single face as we walked down the aisle. Rachael was taking pictures for Amy in the hospital with new baby Evelyn. I remember the fullness in my heart and the ache on my face. I remember Mom's happy teary face in the front row. Sean hugged my dad before he took my hand and we walked up toward the altar together.
It was silent as we climbed the stairs up to a small table where four candles had been placed. I had bought them at Michaels a few nights before, and tried to bless them as I put them gently into my store basket. Now we stood facing the congregation (I wanted so badly to just stare at all the faces, take them all in). I remember Sean taking two cards out of his jacket pocket, in memory cards for his aunt and grandmother, and placing them next to the candles. I tried the lighter and I tried the match, but my hand was shaking and I couldn't light any of them. I remember Sean gently taking the match from me and calmly lighting each candle - for Grandpa, for Pop Pop, for Aunt Pam, for Grams. With each candle he lit, I whispered, "We love you."
We sat in the front row during the first hymn, the readings and the homily, so we could sit and catch our breath. I loved getting to be part of the audience. I remember standing next to my mother as we sang "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty," and grabbing her hand for a verse. Then to thy need, God as a mother doth speed... Hast thou not known His sustaining? I remember the feeling of being backed and supported and encouraged by the wave of sound and music behind us - the joined voices of our many who matter.
I watched Kate's beautiful face and listened to her read from Corinthians, and then her husband, David, read from Colossians. I felt so full, thinking of the history they have, and the history I have with them, thinking of the first night I met them at Methodist Fellowship in college and how I couldn't do without them as a sister and a brother.
Jessica's smile shone as she stood before us and gave her homily from the heart, recalling when she first met me, when she first heard about Sean and then met and got to know him. I thought of our first meeting after church in 2007, and when she came up to Davidson to visit me during a particularly rough patch in 2008 and took me out to Carrabba's and prayed for me in the car, and how much that meant to me. I thought of 2009 when she drove nine hours to Richmond to hear my first sermon (and go see Half-Blood Prince), and only a few weeks ago when she came over at 7:30 p.m. to bless our new house. I thought of introducing her to Sean, and how he warmed to her immediately, and how she has always helped to welcome and love him. I felt her joy radiating as she told us to clothe ourselves in love.
We got back up in front of everyone and faced each other during "For the Beauty of the Earth," and he held my hands and moved them up and down to the hymn's rhythm. I glanced across the way at my brother and made (what I hope was) some subtle face during the verse, For the joy of human love, brother, sister, parent, child... I ached to take in every single face in the congregation, and turned ever so slightly to try and drink it in.
I remember speaking our vows, the way his eyes looked and his voice inflected, the relief and happiness that we were finally at this part. It took an extra minute to get the wedding band on my finger (my knuckle never cooperates), and when he succeeded, Sean gave a thumbs up to the chuckling crowd.
We knelt and Jessica wrapped our hands in her stole and I heard the words of the prayer we had chosen wash over us, like wind at our backs, our family and friends speaking on our behalf, "Lord of life and love, hear our prayer."
When we approached the front again, I half-interrupted Jessica (quietly) in my giddiness to ask her if we could turn to face the congregation. She laughed out loud, said yes and introduced us as husband and wife.
Timothy launched right into the triumphant Widor Toccata as we kissed, which is one of the most epic organ pieces you'll ever hear, especially played by him. I remember walking up the other aisle and seeing new happy faces that I loved (the best part about having two aisles!). I remember getting about halfway back and this big pile of Davidson rows suddenly upped the decibel level like we were in Ford Field. I remember seeing Jamie and Big John and Judy and Sandy and Christine in the back rows, connecting the place we came from to the place we were now.
We went downstairs to wait as everyone gathered outside. We could finally let out our joy, relief, and grief, just us, together. We could still hear the organ music and the buzzing of voices upstairs, but at the same time it seemed far away. Husband and wife, finally, but also still just Sean and Claire - we were ourselves in fancy clothing, sitting together and talking and taking deep breaths into the future.
I remember reaching the top of the stairs outside the church and the five o'clock fall sun flashing on the marble, looking out into the sea of faces and once again brimming through the whole of my being. I remember the claps and cheers and whistles that went up as we stood in the open doorway and then walked through the joyful noise. Who needs rice or sparklers or bubbles? Hands and hearts were more than enough.
We walked across the bridge to the reception when one of my many second cousins (once removed), a three-year-old adorable blonde in a shiny pink princess dress, a little girl I'd only met when she was an infant, ran full speed towards me and I caught her in my arms. We exchanged pleasantries about each other's pretty dresses. I think we both saw each other as princesses.
When Sean and I finished our photos, we walked up to the quiet second floor conference room while the party blared upstairs. The event coordinator met us with a grin and the college football scores for Sean. He'd been part of this massive process for so long that it felt like he was nearly one of the family. I remember sitting alone in the conference room with my husband, both of us chowing down on crab cakes and fried green tomato biscuits, no worries of being hungry or being bombarded by people or missing time just us two.
I remember coming up the stairs and standing at the edge of the foyer before we were announced into the main reception hall, waving and winking at those who spotted us. I remember our friend, Sean's former boss, whom we've both known for years, walking towards us with a serious look on his face. I remember thinking he was coming over to crack a joke or shake our hands. I remember seeing his distressed face as he moved closer, hearing him tell Sean that he was sorry, he'd had a big emergency and he had to leave. This part does get blurry. I remember somehow having the knowledge imparted - by him or by our friends who followed him with furrowed brows - that he'd just learned of his father's sudden passing.
I remember the look on Sean's face as he reached out and hugged his friend, said simply, "I love you," - and then they were gone. I remember the twist of shock and sudden mourning, the reminder that all at once, life and death can become intertwined. The next weekend, we drove to South Carolina for the funeral. It felt right to be there, to support our friend who had been there to support us. The messy sun and mud of life draw us deep into circles of love and sacred relationship. It felt right and important to be there, and to hold my husband's hand.
Our first dance wasn't fancy or practiced, twirls here and there, but mainly us just singing the chorus so that only we could hear each other. The song makes me think of sitting outside on his patio in the first house where I knew him. The song, like him, makes me feel safe and full.
I savored the whoops and claps that rose up when Dad and I took the dance floor and the unconventional father-daughter guitar riff began. I'll remember grinning, singing, laughing and spinning with my wonderful father with whom I have danced and sung ever since I was a child, he taught me the joy of it, faster and faster, and being cheered on by the whole room.
We spent so many moments with friends and family of all kinds. My six childhood girlfriends surrounded me for a photo and then a group hug, my honorary big brother embraced me with such kind and wonderful words, I cracked old inside jokes with my brother and two of our great friends (because pretty much everything we say is an inside joke).
Sean's aunt hugged me and then held something out in her hand - a white handkerchief with small pearls sewn into its lacy edges. It had belonged to her mother, Sean's beloved grandmother. Grams passed away in May at 89; I'm so glad I had a chance to meet and spend time with her several times in the last three years. I'm also thankful that she left me more than a handkerchief. She left me her name, Claire Lennox - a twist of the world completely unplanned and so meaningful to me.
Later, Sean and I voiced how grateful we were that we could interact with people as we each wanted to, in the ways that suit our respective personalities: I visited on the dance floor, he visited off it.
I danced to my favorite dance songs, and somehow always found the people that I needed to dance to each particular song, thanks to memory and adventure and nostalgia. Megan and Mollie and ATLiens for "Hey Ya," Jessie and Michelle and my college Epics for "I Gotta Feelin'," Chris, Becca, and Jeremy for "Ice Ice Baby" (I may have bellowed for Jeremy when it started and I think I scared some people, but he came running into the room). Everyone for the Wobble and the Cupid Shuffle, which still reminds me first of sophomore year at Davidson, and second of teaching it to the students in Nigeria. Yes, those dance songs are hokey and corny, but I wanted to burst at the sense of joy that surrounded me because my friends physically surrounded me, twisting and tapping and singing. I know it's silly, but there's something about doing those unison dance moves that reminds me we're all in this struggle, this happy, this life together.
My six-year-old twin cousins tore it up on the dance floor, and my friends surrounded them and howled with laughter and amazement. My friend Zach put his sunglasses over Austin's eyes, and the kid took to them - and the attention - like a duck to water.
We cut our scrumptious Publix cake, and Dad gave his wonderful toast - written as a poem in honor of my grandfather, who I like to think helped him pen it from the sky. Dad recited a line (I can't remember what came before it) that described part of my Davidson experience: "Where she cheered on a basketball star named Curry." As he spoke those words, the room erupted with shouts, and I heard David Baker's distinct, deep, "GO 'CATS!" and I thought (again), about my friends and my husband, we have all been through and seen so much together, we already have a history, and it is only just beginning.
I remember calling up all of our Davidson friends to the front for a photo, and the noise that traveled with them. I remember that when John Harper showed up, everybody got even louder. John worked for Davidson dining services for years; he got to know all of us when we came to the Wildcat Den as 18 and 19-year-olds and he learned that I always wanted a water and a jumbo chocolate chip cookie to go with my toasted turkey sandwich. He learned that so well that when Sean and I started dating (after I'd graduated and could no longer frequent the Den), he would send Sean home from work with a jumbo chocolate chip cookie for me.
But John learned more than that - he learned about us, and remembers all our names, and when he sees us visiting for football or basketball games, he invites us over to his truck for a brat and a beer. With John - with most Davidson staff - it was always more than a job, and we were more than random students. So when John and his wife Judy accepted the invitation to our wedding, I was so excited - and when he came up to be in the Davidson photo and a generation of his graduated students started clapping and cheering, I nearly began to tear up. Over and over again, I think of how cool it is that Sean and I didn't know each other when we went to the same college, and we had very different experiences - he was an athlete, I was an... English/religious life nerd? - and yet we had the same experience. And our Davidson crowd at the wedding, alumni and staff both, was great proof of that.
David and Chris and others starting up the school fight song, and afterwards Chris told me that this was the first Davidson wedding where he had ever sung the fight song. "That is a big deal," he said, and I grinned. Then we sang and danced to "Sweet Caroline" and I pointed to Jessie on the chorus because it's only what have done in Belk Arena for years.
I took breaks from dancing to mingle and talk to friends and family. With the number of people that we had, I'm still slightly in awe that I didn't feel rushed or crushed, but everything flowed so smoothly. One of my favorite cousins hadn't planned to come from Boston until the last minute, and I was thrilled that he was there, and he was thrilled that he was something of a wedding crasher.
"Wagon Wheel" was one of the last songs - another one when I needed to be with the people who root me in that song. In the circle that we formed on the dance floor, I found their faces: Elizabeth, from Odyssey before freshman year. Jeremy, Sarah, David, Kate, Jamie, my MCFers, strumming the ukelele as we wandered down Main Street. My uncle Logan and aunt Mary Lynn, as we belted it to Logan's guitar in my grandfather's hospice room. We sang and we swayed and I couldn't stop looking at all the faces of the people that I love, who had come so far to lend their voices and their hearts to ours.
We ended the party with "Wonderful Tonight." It was Sean's idea, and besides just being a great song, we have a fun memory of driving to a Clapton concert and hearing it on the radio, and about four hours later, hearing it live from the source. This time, our loved ones stood at the edges of the dance floor as Sean and I danced the first two verses by ourselves. I'll especially remember We go to the party, and everyone turns to see this beautiful lady walking around with me... On that line, my husband spun me out as if to take a bow, and everyone clapped and cheered.
Sandy, our DJ and friend (oh it was so awesome to have a DJ that we know and love, and who knows us. Thanks, Sandy!), made an announcement that if anyone was unable to drive home safely, we'd find them another way home, and everyone applauded that classy move. As Chris observed, "Davidson gentleman right there."
It was lovely to not have to depart the reception in a rush. I shook hands with every member of the wait staff that I could find, savoring their grins and congratulations. I realized that hearing gratitude directly from the bride was an act of appreciation that I could give, however small. I hugged our coordinator and the event planner and the catering managers, the people who made all of the many logistics fall into place.
I finally left with Mom, walking down the wet stairs in my bare feet and picking up my dress so it wouldn't drag. We walked over to the YAAB parking lot, where I spent so many childhood days. I hugged Mom and my brother and his girlfriend goodbye, and commenced to squeeze myself and my pouf of a wedding dress into the driver's seat of Sean's car. I revved the engine and drove a block down North Decatur Road in the misty darkness to pick up my husband, who was waiting on the corner with his bag. (I let him drive after that.)
I remember Billie Holliday crooning "A Foggy Day in London Town" on the radio as we drove to the hotel.
It felt special yet simple to park our car and in all our finery, drag our bags into the lobby. And before that, to be hollered at by the two women sitting on the bench for a smoke break as we walked through the revolving door and one of them shrieked, "Oh, he knows he's getting lucky tonight!"
I remember being met by smiles and smatterings of applause from strangers and from our friends - I didn't realize how many friends were still there!
Sean stood in the midst of his cousins and friends, and next to them, I sat in the midst of my dearest friends, and Jamie had her ukelele, and Sarah had an MCF songbook, and we sat in the Marriott lobby and sang softly, Lord take your home and make it mine... help me to live the good life... I truly cannot explain the blessing of that moment.
Friends dropped by the couch we had claimed in the lobby for the the next hour. I remember laughing and talking with my dearest friends, kicked back on the couch in my wedding dress. I remember just feeling like myself.
"Happy Paris-versary!" I said to Ann - because six years ago that night, we were standing in front of the Eiffel Tower, watching it sparkle. So many memories, so much life together - and it just keeps going.
I remember the bartender saying out of the blue close to midnight, "I'm going to make you a strawberry mango smoothie. I bet you've had a long day and you probably haven't been drinking much. What you need is a strawberry mango smoothie."
The next morning, our cousins hosted a brunch for our out-of-towners before we all went our different ways. I remember the joy of still being surrounded by family and friends, of being able to mingle and talk and visit with folks that we may not have seen much at the reception. It felt good to wear a sweatshirt and jeans and no makeup. I got to visit with both of my grandmothers, and visit every table. I remember telling the chef manning the waffle station that this big brunch was for our wedding, and he said cheerfully, "Welcome to the club." Another chef said, "I truly wish you and your husband all the best."
We said our goodbyes, went to my folks' house and ate wedding cake out of the box, packed our bags, and burned rubber all the way to Savannah.
Marriage does not equal closure. This is not a story with an ending, but one that is only beginning, many chapters that we cannot yet see. And we will always be filled with gratitude that those we love helped us create a beginning so authentic, meaningful and truly unforgettable.
We travelers, walking to the sun can't see ahead,
but looking back, the very light
that blinded us shows us the way we came,
along which blessings now appear, risen
as if from sightlessness to sight, and we,
by blessing brightly lit, keep going toward
that blessed light that yet to us is dark.
- Wendell Berry, "Given"
P.S. If you are a 21st-century engaged couple with zero desire for a wedding hashtag, it is possible to escape. I promise.
(Thanks to the many friends who took these great photographs!)