THE GREATEST OF THESE
The wedding was to be held in Iowa’s famed Eagle Point Park, overlooking the grandeur and gentle flow of the Mississippi River. The road meandered up and around the park, past limestone and wood Depression-era WPA pavilions scattered among maples and elms, oaks and sycamores, to the highest point where the ceremony would take place.
The cloud-cover and damp air during the rehearsal kept people huddled inside jackets and shawls. Rain was predicted, and I worried that the outdoor wedding the next day would be a bust and everyone would be cold and barely protected under the roof of the open pavilion. I tried to image a hundred white folding chairs squeezed together on the cement square. Those seated on the edges would be caught in the rain. I kicked at dead leaves and spider webs and wondered if anyone would sweep all that away before 4:00 pm the next day.
A tenuous security permeated the atmosphere and unsettled the thoughts of family and friends who supported the almost-newlyweds and wished them well, but who didn’t know whether to be optimistic or pessimistic for the couple’s future. Tree branches, sensing the inevitable fall chill, held on to their amber leaves, knowing frost would toss them to the ground, where they’d lie in wait for the winter freeze and eventually be buried in snow.
Sean’s mother Jackie asked me to take pictures of the rehearsal and wedding. There was something special about this wedding, this couple, this family, this venue—and I also wanted photos so I could memorialize the event with tangible images that captured the love and beauty of this short, yet momentous, slice of this couple’s journey to happiness.
During the rehearsal, the minister helped the wedding party find comfort levels within the anxiety that ran rampant among them. The couple worried they’d falter while reciting the vows they had written. The attendants worried they’d mess up their parts and spoil everything. And they all worried about the reactions of naysayers and skeptics. The minister calmly directed the participants through the processional, the readings, the pronouncements, and the recessional. He reminded them that it was a joyous occasion, and it should be fun. He cracked jokes. They laughed and relaxed.
Sean’s sister Maureen practiced her reading. She figured if she read it ahead of time, she wouldn’t cry during the ceremony. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. So faith, hope, love abide—these three. But the greatest of these is love.”
Sometimes rehearsal dinners can be awkward, with people seated at long tables where conversation is difficult and food is passed family style—the big eaters taking the best pieces of chicken. But Jackie and her husband Dan hosted their rehearsal dinner with charm and grace in the private living room of an Irish inn. Just like home.
We sat on couches and over-stuffed chairs and drank champagne and ate cocoanut shrimp and chatted about whether or not it would rain at the wedding, and when the couple would return to London so Sean could finish Veterinary school, and why no one from the other family was able to travel all the way from Australia for the ceremony, but that there would be a celebration in Sydney later on in the year. Then we all went to the bar and watched Irish dancers toe-tap their way through precision routines.
It was when I showed Sean’s dad the digital pictures that I understood the full significance of this wedding and his deep gratitude for the support and encouragement extended to his family. Dan’s eyes filled with tears, and he talked about being a father. “I have only ever wanted happiness for my son. There is nothing more important to me than seeing Sean find his true path in life. He is so much in love, and there is nothing more wonderful than that. I’m grateful that he found someone who makes him so happy.” Dan lowered his head and wiped his eyes.
What does one say after such a deep-felt declaration of the heart? “You’re right?” “I agree?” “I know what you feel?” No. It wasn’t about right—or wrong. It didn’t matter if I agreed—or not. And how could I possibly know what he, Sean’s father, felt after twenty-some years of hoping his son would find his rightful place in the world?
The day of the wedding changed from overcast to slightly sunny to magnificent, rather like a bad mood that realizes it’s more pleasant, and even easier, to laugh off whatever is making the nerves ache. Guests assembled at the pavilion, and although there were a few people unable to sanction this union, they were there, in attendance, with gifts, which spoke louder, and held more importance, than any private opinion about holy matrimony and its traditions.
“Family and friends, I present to you, Sean and Greg, Husband and Husband.”
As the musicians played the first notes of the recessional, sunlight streamed through the golden tree-gazebo, creating a wispy glow, like a luminous blush under a billow of sheer fabric as it floats in slow motion to the ground. The halo-effect hovered over Sean and Greg and touched them like a blessing as they held hands and walked down the aisle and through the leaves into their future.