It’s always the same. The bride glides down the aisle, and no sooner has the groundhog titter at the priest’s threadbare welcoming joke petered out than we’re into the first reading. From gold-gilded pages of ornate cursive print, chosen friends read aloud solemn definitions of love. Love is patient, love is kind. Love is never having to shave your legs with the same regularity etc.. And though this is a celebration of our two hosts, all I can think about are the guests.
I estimate the row directly in front has a combined 150 years of marriage between them. Stalwarts of an institution that has no notion of going away. How do these words ring in their ear-pieces now? Do they chime with how it played out, or has time earned them a detached wry smile?
How about you two over there – what, five years since you strut back down from the same altar thoroughly delighted with yourselves? What are your thought bubbles saying to each other now two children on? They steal a joke between them, their vibrating shoulders suggesting all is well. I eventually avert my thought bubble away from the couple nearby them who have hit a kink on the road, hopeful that their pooled silence will form a landing plain for a reminder on love that could matter for the better.
No couple on the brink of commitment is going to feel the true weight of these spoken-worded warnings on marriage. How it requires minding if it is to go the distance of our silver-haired role models up front, and the dangers of leaving it to fend for itself. It is the private thoughts of onlookers that suspend belief in the fairy-tale for those few minutes, however wide the grins of the newly-weds to be. The test of a marriage is to sit through another couple’s wedding ceremony. An opportunity to invigilate your own re-sit on the vows you pledged.
I hone in on the man next to me, whom I took for better or worse three years ago this month. Just the two of us, and a pair of witnesses picked up along the way. And still, I managed to mess up the brief responses required of me, mixing “I do” with “I will”. Looking sideways at him now, having failed to escape the guilt trowelled on by St. Paul (himself a bit of a misogynist shit by all accounts), I want to tell him I definitely will. I will try a bit better, be less of a wanker, shave my legs more regularly etc.. He looks back, inscrutable at first, then looks at me in that way when he’s fearful I’m about to go off on one about the Catholic Church. Or he suddenly realises he is married to a drag queen after she let herself go. Paying to have my make-up done carries such risks.
So, I take the fancy order of service and tickle him under the chin with the feather attached. He does his Ken Dodd laugh, and I crack up. We later join the procession of couples yawning out of the church into the rain, scurrying in different directions.