She decided to wear three dresses.
One day my sister, Holly, came up to the chalet in the mountains and we pulled out “every wedding dress in the house.” There were, surprisingly, four, belonging to myself, my great aunt, my grandmother and my mother. She’d also brought two she’d ordered online for comparison, a grand bridal fashion show. Two of the six were declared winners, neither of them the purchased ones, which she promptly sent back. The third dress, the one she made, came later, inspired by the Sugarplum Fairies at the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s production of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker last Christmas. So, three dresses for my sister’s wedding.
Far from the only unique element of the wedding, the costume changes were just the beginning. Holly and her fiancé, Chris, dreamed up a grand affair, which included a marching band playing themes from Star Wars, a parade through Woodland Park in Seattle, homemade macaroni and cheese for 250 people, and desperate prayers for good weather on the day of the picnic reception. The evening finished with a talent show, coffee and pastries, uniting their love for baked goods and espresso with the community of musicians that had surrounded them since their beginning.
And now, on her brilliantly sunny, late-April wedding day, I’m standing at the front of the church, sunflowers in hand, watching my little sister approach with a parent on each arm. The ivory satin dress, first worn by my grandmother Nadine on Christmas Day, 1943, ripples down the aisle behind her. I imagine my grandmother, who missed the wedding by a year and a half, watching with glee. My grandmother, whose middle name Holly has, who always spoke to her with both names: “Holly Nadine.” What a proud moment this is for her. For all of us.
And I think about how weddings, like other highlight-reel moments in our lives, are about the past and the future. Here we are celebrating a beginning, Holly and Chris and the gloriously genial married couple they’ll be, but behind that celebration there are so many years of history making it all the sweeter. Most of us don’t attend weddings for strangers (except occasionally as dates); we go to witness the next steps of people we know and love. It’s Grandma Nadine’s dress that she wears, but it’s Holly’s history I’m remembering. The baby sister, the laughing, elfin little girl, the theatrical teenager and the gracious, world-traveling adult. We come to celebrate the people God created, then put together just at the right moment.
John Donne wrote that no man is an island, reminding us of our interconnectedness in communities and families, but today reminds me that no day, no matter how remarkable or climactic, is an island. These days are more like mountaintops, the last few pebbles or crystals of ice atop many layers of days below. A graduation is special not because of billowing robes or square hats, but because of the years of work leading to the final day. A birth is infinitely more precious because of the months, and sometimes years, of waiting and anticipation prior to this tiny one’s arrival. Every moment is built on the ones before, and days like these are so much more beautiful in their context.
Hours later, after vows and rings, macaroni and picnic, coffee and songs, we stand with sparklers on the sidewalk, waiting for the new Mrs. Prairie and her groom to emerge. Here she is, the grinning bride in a white and gold ballet-inspired dress, dodging flying sparks and gripping her husband’s hand as they make their getaway. They ride off on bicycles, and not the cute old-fashioned bikes you see in staged wedding photos. These are their everyday bikes, and they’re conscientiously wearing their everyday helmets. Still wearing today’s finery and riding tomorrow’s bicycles, they glide away as we cheer for their future, grateful for the pasts that have brought them, together, to this summit of a day.