Short Stories

Laurie White – Before & After

Short Stories By Jesus Series

Our fall worship series was entitled Short Stories By Jesus, in which we were looking at Jesus’ parables, especially some of the most problematic ones.  We enlisted the congregation to write Before & After stories.  Each Sunday one member shared a story in which there was a before and an after, and after which, many things in his or her life changed dramatically. Here is one of those stories.

A Wedding—or Two

In 1956, one of my parents’ friends, a widow, got married for the second time, and I attended the wedding.  Until then, I was unaware that people could have a second wedding.  There was only supposed to be one wedding and the bride was supposed to wear a long white dress and be young and beautiful like Elizabeth Taylor.

I was eight, and this bride appeared to me to be one hundred years old, although she was actually closer to fifty.

My mother explained that everything about the wedding was in perfect taste: the elderly bride wore a beige suit and got married in the dimly lit chapel off the side of the sanctuary.  She had one flower, pinned to her pocketbook.

The congregation sang a mournful Presbyterian hymn about predestination. (No, I’m making that up.)

As the decades marched on, I saw wedding innovations that surprised me:  homemade vows, weddings in parks and on beaches, dogs in a wedding, women as best men, a pregnant bride–beaming proudly–in a fancy white dress.

And then there were the 1980s:  Princess Diana did for the wedding industry what Dickens did for Christmas.  But who am I to criticize? Ten years before Diana’s, my own wedding included a total of nine bridesmaids, nine groomsmen, one flower girl and a ring bearer. As a twenty-three old, I thought of my wedding as a pageant with me as the star.  The marriage, I thought, would take care of itself.  I can only remember one thing the minister said: he prayed that we’d have enough trouble that we’d come to depend on each other and God.  That was a jolting enough statement that I stopped thinking about all the wedding paraphernalia for a minute.  Whoa! Trouble. I hadn’t thought about that.

Marriage was hard, it turned out, not lurid and tragic—like the royal couple’s—but hard.  Through the years, I became a skeptic about weddings.   As I watched one radiant bride after another walk down the aisle, I would think to myself that she’d soon know the hard truth of marriage.

Eventually, five of the nine bridesmaids got divorced—and so did I.

Divorce is hard, too, no matter the circumstances. Everything that happens after a wedding happens again after a divorce—but in reverse and accompanied by a heavy heart:  spending the first Christmas alone, taking down the wedding portrait, packing up the household items.  I found things I hadn’t seen in years—including a box of my childhood dolls–among them a “bride doll,” as we used to call them.  She looked ravaged, her face cracked, her eyeballs faded, her tulle dress yellow and stained–a zombie bride.

A wedding.  Who would do that again?


We did.  When Walter and I decided to marry in 2007, we met Michael for a counseling session—to talk about marriage and the wedding.  We had thought of marrying at the courthouse, but we agreed that we wanted to be married in a church, this church, specifically.  We talked of a subdued wedding–a few family members sitting in a circle in the church library, singing an unaccompanied hymn–  sort of a Pilgrim wedding at Plymouth Rock.

Michael drew in his breath and said… “No.  You’ll have flowers, and it will be in the sanctuary, and David Soyars will play the organ. Also, you will kiss and make that kiss last for a long time.”

And that’s what we did.  On that Friday in March, in our light and airy sanctuary, there were fifteen people as witnesses, and I walked down the aisle in a new dress and carried a bouquet of flowers, and David played Bach, and then he opened up the organ, and we all sang “For the Beauty of the Earth.”  Afterwards, we went back to our house, and Walter cooked dinner for everybody, and we drank champagne.

Throughout the service, we took turns crying—sobbing if you want to know the truth.  I don’t know if it was in good taste or not, and I don’t care.  I saved a copy of Michael’s words, and we have read them together from time to time in the last eight years.  “Marriage is a new combination,” Michael said, “two unlike nouns coming together to form a tertian quid, a third thing, something new and startling.”

And then he read these words from the Song of Songs, which he calls “God’s Love Story”:   “Bind me as a seal upon your heart, a sign upon your arm, /For love is as fierce as death, its passion bitter as the grave. / Even its sparks are a raging fire, a devouring flame. / Great seas cannot extinguish love, no river can sweep it away. /If a man tried to buy love with all the wealth of his house, he would be despised.”

Here’s the truth: our wedding was thrilling, and, thanks be to God, I was changed forevermore.  I have such hope for couples on their wedding day!  Younger or older—gayer or straighter—richer or poorer!  With all my heart, I wish you well.

And please remember:  if you need an additional pair of witnesses for your wedding, consider inviting Walter and me. We will be there with more tears of happiness for you than you can imagine.

Laurie White, Sept. 11, 2015

Comments Off on Laurie White – Before & After