“When is it?” I replied, scanning the calendar and mentally fiddling with the word ‘emergency.’
“Uh, on Saturday actually,” she answered.
“Yeah. That’s right.”
“Okay. ‘Emergency wedding?’ What exactly does that mean?”
It meant that the bride-to-be weighed less than 90 pounds and was dying from cancer. It meant that she had already had most of a leg amputated and was scheduled for surgery to remove the rest and was not necessarily expected to survive the surgery. It meant that her boyfriend finally wanted to get married and proposed over the weekend. It meant an emergency wedding.
Who can refuse that?
As Suzanne and I got together during that week, to choose pieces and practice, I tried processing the circumstances around this emergency wedding. For every question I asked her…
“Is she going to try walking down the aisle?”
“Will she be in a wheelchair?”
“Why don’t they have a civil ceremony and skip the fuss?”
“What made the boyfriend suddenly decide they should get married?”
“Will it be a keyboard or a full piano?”
“If she is doing so poorly, is she expected to live until Saturday?”
“Are they having a wedding rehearsal?”
…Suzanne had the same answer: “I really don’t know.”
There was only one question that she answered differently. When I asked if it was to be a small wedding, she said, “Yes. Just family (the bride was a relative of Suzanne’s husband) and a few close friends.”
That Saturday, I drove to the city and found the Salvation Army church in the usual flurry of pre-wedding activity. Suzanne and I briefly explored the stage and then, with less than twenty minutes until the ceremony, we tried to figure out the sound situation. A broad-shouldered, uniformed Salvation Army worker came on stage with us, pointing out cables and microphone possibilities. She offered, “Well, you (Suzanne) may have to stand on the opposite side of the stage from the piano. I can’t find a microphone with a long enough cord to reach the piano. Will that work?”
“No,” I said, curtly.
Starting to sweat, the Salvation Army worker hunched down on the stage, rooting through cables and extension cords. “Here! This will work.”
Once situated, Suzanne and I ran through our pieces as the church began to fill up. Next, just in case, I practiced “The Bridal March.” As I struck those familiar opening chords, the red-faced Salvation Army worker shouted from the back of the church, “Oh! You have the music! So I don’t have to download it from YouTube! Great!”
That’s when I decided that I would sit on the piano bench for the entire ceremony and do all the music.
As I continued with a normal prelude, more and more people filled in the rows in the church. The quickly filling sanctuary, combined with the multitude of decorated reception tables and the kitchen with its mounds of delectable food, made me think, “This is no small, quiet wedding. This is a grand celebration, a feast!”
Ten minutes after the top of the hour, in a packed church, the wedding officially began. The bride coming down the aisle, leaning on one crutch and her mother.
The preacher, the helpful, sweaty woman I had snapped at earlier, met the couple in the middle of the stage to perform the ceremony. Holding a damp and crumpled paper, she led the couple through their wedding vows and guided them to the table to sign the wedding registry, a Canadian wedding tradition. Then she pronounced them husband and wife. It was turning into the quickest wedding ceremony I had ever seen, and I readied music for Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” for the triumphant exit of the couple. At that moment, we were all caught off guard by the pastor’s next words.
“And now I’m going to talk to you for a little while,” she announced to the surprised couple, whereupon she began reading a longish wedding story, meant to be cute and a joke, off her creased paper. A dissatisfied air settled on the congregation. This wasn’t what they had signed up for, coming to this wedding, only to be trapped into a sermon after the vows had been exchanged. I felt a bit disgruntled myself, stuck on the piano bench on the elevated stage. But by the time the preacher reached the punchline and transitioned into more personal remarks, the mood mellowed. Suddenly the ceremony became very beautiful.
Smiling, the pastor paused, wiped off her forehead and looked at the couple. She reminded them about past hard times they had endured and about the harder times still to come. She spoke of her own heart, wishing they could see into it for themselves to see the love she had for them at that moment, wanting them to know that it was the love of God for them. She also spoke simply and beautifully of God’s desire to carry them through the hard days ahead. Her love for the couple and her words of hope filled the room and brought many in the audience to tears.
The pastor gave her final blessing. The ceremony ended. The reception began.
And I drove home thinking about unexpected moments of beauty, hope in hopeless situations, and demonstrations of love that defy death.
Image credits: uptimeblog.enigma.com; weddingpartydestinations.com;