Monday, March 07, 2011

The View from my Bicycle [COLUMN]

An Authentic Wedding - by Nick van der Leek

It's no secret, I have a pathological fear of marriage.  So much so that I am loathe to photograph weddings, which is sacrilege if one is pursuing a living - as I am - in photography.  My parents marriage ended badly, to put it mildly, and on a daily basis I see evidence of the hell that follows 'I do.'  But, I am forced to admit, there must be exceptions, and I suspect that a good marriage is a very healthy place to find oneself.

This weekend I was fortunate to attend the wedding of a friend who was my companion at school from Sub A to matric at Grey College Bloem.  I remember visiting their home in Fichardtpark and digging holes in red sand, making pottery and rudely reading his comics.  Hugo and I played soccer together, and swam in a number of galas together.  While I was a better swimmer, I couldn't touch him on the tennis court.  Tennis is something he still actively participates in today at the Camps Bay club.

But the date that set it all off in motion was a boogie boarding session at Llandudno, perhaps the world's most magical beach, and missions to Betty's Bay did the rest.  When I visited Betty's Bay over the weekend, I didn't have very high expectations.  To me BB is an understated nice-ish place. And a bit flat. But I found out BB offers a lot, and give it more than a drive-thru and a lot of the inner beauty begins to sing.

BB has a beautiful botanical garden, which is where Hugo tied the knot.  I say it was an authentic wedding because I find something contrived and cliched in church weddings.  Most people will not like to hear this, but I find the use of God/religion at a wedding a crutch, a lean pole for an occasion that asks for discipline and dedication.  It's particularly appalling when people who are not Christians or of another other particular faith, yet they 'go along' with the trend because it's simply the common way of doing things.  If you are getting married, you'll realise it's a very uncommon experience.  And to give God centre stage for hymns and stories is a terrible waste of one in a lifetime opportunity.

In the flick, The Fighter, based on a true story, Ricky Ward finds himself boxing for the world title, and taking a beating.  Finally his brother says to him, "You have to win the world title, you can't just take a beating.  Fight for it.  Make all the pain and suffering we've gone through worth it.  Take it, it's yours."
The lesson in this is we cannot coast through life on the coattails of parents, or society, or tradition, or religion.  There are moments when we have to make adult decisions, with real consequences.  If we cannot do that, or are not ready to, we should not pretend to.

Hugo and Debbie's wedding was held in a garden, with just a little artifice, a silk canopy held aloft by four young women, and after the ceremony, bubbles blown into the sun-filled air.  During the vows, God was not mentioned.  The 'pastor', from Israel, is a woman very much in demand, because there are a lot of people who don't want a conventional wedding.  Because let's face it, some of our conventions are a farce.  Divorce rates around the world are evidence of this.

I made a booboo during the speeches.  Instead of recording what was said in HD video, instead I listened.  It is intriguing hearing your friend from school described by a beautiful blond woman with such clarity, and insight.  It's good to see a principled friend, who is so grounded, find someone worthwhile.  And the community of support at the wedding, without roping God in, I found refreshing and encouraging.
I also enjoyed the creativity of the celebration.  Having friends and family make a weekend of the wedding, rather than a one-off, one afternoon party.  The use of delicious cupcakes [covered in edible glitter] instead of a wedding cake was another original touch.

I want to close off with two comments that left an impression on [a 39 year old bachelor].  One was getting the entire crowd of people to form a long human cathedral, arms aloft, for the couple to walk through.  The bride kissed every person in that retinue, and each person hugged and congratulated the groom.  It is, apparently a very old tradition that has fallen into disuse recently.  A pity.

The second point...the day after the wedding, after a slow-paced breakfast, a few of us returned to the scene of wedded bliss to clean it up.  The amount of left-over booze bottles was enormous. The amount of surplus beer was also surprising.  The sheer number of wine stained glasses when stacked in the small kitchen was mind boggling.  The smell of beer and shoes was in the hall, curtains and blinds holding out the bright sun, and gloomy interior.  And unusually, both the bride and groom were present to clear up the mess.
It is easy at any wedding celebration to be caught up in the romance of it, particular when the couple is admirable, handsome and beautiful, eloquent and intelligent, as this one was.  But no one is separate from ordinary reality.  Things like the fragility of tall-stemmed glasses.  Or from having to clean-up after one's own party when one's guests are happily relaxing somewhere else.

They are going on honeymoon at the end of the year to an island off Africa.  Meanwhile I have seen a wedding that appeals for its authenticity; it's the sort of wedding [GASP] I'd like to have one day.
If I get married.

In a day when too many marry and there are too many children in the world, we need to get real about why we should marry.  Marriage ought not to be considered a natural, conventional, automatic choice. We should be very conscious about our intentions, and the implications for ourselves, our family, and the community.  We should do what we do for the right reasons, and to do that requires each of us to be authentic in private, and in public, and perhaps eventually, we'll see a world finding its way back to a more realistic and perhaps sustainable and even happy fate.

Is happiness possible? Hugo and Debbie's wedding certainly gives me pause to believe
yes, it is possible. Jill and Matt, not so sure...

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