My husband Peter and I have been married for 31 years this August 9. Anyone who’s telling the truth knows that being married for a long time is NOT EASY. We’ve hit the wall many times, but we somehow manage to climb over and come out okay on the other side. So when I see couples getting married, I wonder if they have any idea about the hard work it takes to STAY married.
The sweet couple who rents the apartment on our property got married recently at Red Gate Farm, down the road from our house. I’d asked Sydney, the bride, if I could take a photo of her on their porch as I am a sucker for a beautiful bride. And beautiful flowers. Two of my favorite things to paint.
AND I’d photographed and painted our daughter in this same spot last year.
This time last year we were deep in wedding-planning mode, as our daughter Sonya was getting married to Howie on August 13 on our property. How crazy is it that two brides have stood on this porch in less than a year? My husband Peter is an artist, but he’s also a renaissance type of guy who can pretty much build anything, so he spent six months “sculpting” our land to get it ready. Howie and his friends came over to our place many times to help build stone walls, the wedding pavilion, and all kinds of other projects Peter had planned with them for the big day. This made for a very meaningful connection and a great way for us to get to know Howie and his friends apart from Sonya. So when the day came and we all stood on the beautiful pavilion they helped build, it was especially meaningful.
Howie comes from an Orthodox Jewish family. He’s the only one in it to have “broken out” of the Orthodox community, but he’s still very close to his family. In order to avoid having two separate weddings, Peter and I happily agreed to everything that Howie’s side of the family needed. I am Jewish, but Peter is not, and although I grew up with one yearly Jewish tradition (Passover), little attention was given to being a Jew the rest of the year. AND we celebrated Christmas. So the world of Orthodox Jews was new for us.
Sonya and Howie are both musicians. Peter and I are both artists. People from all walks of life mingled together, which made their wedding a wonderful melting pot of many different people and traditions.
I designed and illustrated a “story” that all the guests received in an emailed PDF before the wedding, explaining some of the traditions and how the flow of the day would go. I learned a lot myself while researching and talking to Howie about these traditions.
As Howie approaches Sonya, you will hear traditional Jewish music signaling that the groom is coming. Howie will be led by his gentlemen while he is cheered by all with singing and clapping along his path. Afterwards, guests will be escorted to sit for the ceremony.
Above were the words in the story. But what REALLY happened was a wonderfully raucous celebration of men (and women) drinking Scotch, dancing, and singing. Walking up the stairs of Peter’s studio into this scene was like walking into another country. It was amazing. And the Scotch was REALLY good. AND I got to break a plate with a hammer.
During the Bedeken, Sonya will be seated on a special chair surrounded by her mothers, grandmothers, and bridesmaids. This throne is where Sonya will meet her guests as she waits for Howie to place the veil over her, signifying that she is the one he will be marrying. This custom is rooted in the Old Testament story where Jacob gets tricked into marrying the wrong woman! Therefore the Groom errs on the side of caution, ensuring that he is the one to veil the bride before the wedding.
Above were the words in the story describing the Bedeken. But what REALLY happened was: We sobbed like crazy as the men came to Sonya — it was the most emotional part of the day for me. I seriously get teary now even THINKING about the intense emotion that this scene invoked. I just followed Howie’s mom Arlene’s lead. Whatever she did, I did. Okay, this is kind of embarrassing in retrospect — but at one point she took Sonya’s head in her hands and whispered what I guessed was a prayer. Then she did that with Howie. So, I did it too. Only my whispered words were, “I saw Arlene do this, I have no idea what to say here — but I just want to do what she’s doing.” I could have had some more meaningful words to whisper. Oh well. Teeny bit of regret there. My only other regrets? My beautiful strapless satin gown borrowed from an actress friend looked good, and I felt great in it. I even wore a fascinator! I had no idea what that was before my friend Rosie dressed me for the wedding. But as the night wore on, maybe the dress stretched a bit and more and more of my cleavage became exposed, making for some slightly embarrassing candid photos. And while I felt like I was in great shape from hot yoga and spin, some of the candid shots of my bare arms? Yeah. Teeny bit of regret there too.
The ceremony will take place under a traditional Jewish wedding canopy, or Chuppah. Sonya will circle Howie seven times, signifying the envelopment of her love and protection, much like the walls of the home that they are building together. The marriage ceremony will end with the breaking of a glass, at which point you all cheer, Mazel Tov! The ceremony will be followed by a cocktail hour, dinner, dancing, and an evening of love and celebration.
Above was the last tradition I outlined in the story. That’s pretty much what happened. When we circled Howie seven times, I really struggled to not trip over Sonya’s dress, and as a result I felt the slightest possibility of a giggle fit coming on, which would not have been cool. The ceremony was in Hebrew, and even though I didn’t understand a word — it was beautiful.
This front row scene of our friends’ VERY independent daughter Zelda sitting between a bunch of men was such a visual feast! I burned the image into my brain so that I could paint it later. It was killing me that I couldn’t grab my phone to take a photo. So far I’ve only done this sketch.
The music was of course amazing. Howie said it was the best concert he’d ever been to. They’d given all their musician friends a list of covers to choose among, and many talented singers and musicians sat in with the “house band,” who were actually Howie’s bandmates. The showstopper was when Sonya sang “At Last” as a surprise for Howie, and then he responded with “Something in the Way She Moves.” Whoa. Now that is some kind of call and response.
But the bottom line and most important part of this wedding and any wedding… is love. No way could I still be with Peter for more than half my life if I didn’t love him a lot. I mean, don’t get me wrong, sometimes I really don’t like him, too. And our kids would probably say they’re surprised we’ve made it this far, as the two of us are VERY different. But we just really value what we have and are committed to working on our shit. When I hear of couples separating after a few years of marriage, I want to say, WTF?! Did you think it was going to be EASY? When marriage first came into existence, we didn’t live much past 40 years old. We’re only just now figuring out how to stay married to one person for a long time, and there really aren’t that many great models for how to do this.
The only break from tradition in the orthodox ceremony, and the only woman who spoke, was our friend Mags who delivered a message at the beginning of the ceremony. I like to call Mags a “spiritual midwife.” (Her real name is Margaret — you know how when you meet someone as one name, and then they change it and you can’t let go of the name they had when you met?) She’s a licensed therapist, but the work she does is more than therapy — it’s deep soul work. She’s known Sonya since her birth, and it was very meaningful for us to have her speak. It turned out her beautiful words had a profound effect on many of the people there, too, including a number of Orthodox men and the Rabbi! (Many of them came up to Mags later asking where these words came from and could they have a copy?)
It is these words below that inspired me to write this story.
Wedding Words on Love
Love is one of those forces beyond words that many try to put words around. It is our most profound human experience. To put it simply: Love is as essential to human relationships as air is to breath. It waits for our return like our breath. And we sure know when it is missing.
We are so fortunate when we meet a life companion — someone who has our back, who signs up to navigate life with us and draw the best out of us — someone who is essentially our best friend. This companionship gives us the opportunity to do the work of love.
In doing the work of love, it is good to remember that love has no opposite. It is the most intelligent force within us, a unified field that holds us and everything in us — good, bad, and indifferent. It allows us to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes and sees no need to compare or to blame, and no need for perfection. It is flexible with failure, appreciates difference and moves us to gratitude even when things are not going our way. It allows us to come into a place of rest together in the awareness of the heart when the world gets too much.
Does this happen all the time? — no — because remembering to return to love requires work, and skills and tools developed over your life together — skills like making agreements, finding the balance between safety and excitement, togetherness and privacy, vulnerability and trust, firmness and gentleness, control and letting go — you and me. Holding these paradoxes is the work of the heart.
And so, in conclusion, every moment of every day for the rest of your lives together, Sonya and Howie, will present you with a drop-down menu of options for how to treat each other. Every reaction between fire and ice will be offered.
You met by chance, but your affection for each other over the long haul will be sustained by choice. And the best choice each day — and each moment of each day — is to make your hearts your home and to live in the shelter of your love for each other.
Having said all that, I must emphasize that there is no right way to love — Love is the Way. Refuse to disconnect from it, and your relationship will be ever renewing and replenishing.
— Margaret O’Connor