The Middle Distance 8.12.11: Love is Real

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photo by Sean Cayton

Before the wedding, people kept giving me warnings and sly looks. On the plane from Colorado to New York, a fellow passenger raised an eyebrow when I said I was on the way to my daughter’s wedding.

“Well,” she said, “Lose a daughter, gain a son-in-law.” Then she described the state of nervous breakdown that pervaded her own daughter’s nuptials — crises over the dress, the flowers, the music, and the mother-in-law.

Her diatribe didn’t surprise me; I’d heard versions of it for weeks from other bruised mothers of brides. But from where I stood out in the long middle distance of parenting, I knew only to expect the unexpected from my daughter, a self-determined creature from the day she was born. Besides, I’d had no part in the planning of this wedding, so whatever happened I was free and clear of blame.

This was the first sibling wedding in our immediate family, and my daughter had waited until her mid-30s to be a bride. She’d lived away from home for 17 years and had led a life that was part mystery, part squalor, part glamour, a life creative and improvisational, a faraway life of art I didn’t understand.

Her husband-to-be had followed a similar path. His talent for life had led him from his small North Carolina hometown to form a psychedelic rock collective best known for drowning crowds in a deluge of noise. In his role of rock entrepreneur on the fringe, his path crossed my daughter’s and he fell in love with her over years and miles, until finally they settled down, stopped touring, and he came to New York to claim her. They were engaged last Christmas to the cheers of our family.

I vowed to have no expectations for the wedding. I met the groom’s parents and family, made it through a weepy toast at the rehearsal dinner, and avoided making a complete ass of myself at an after-party in a packed bar where I was the last of the older crowd to drag myself home.

The following afternoon, I watched as my daughter let her friend the makeup artist, a cute guy in blue suede chukka boots, transform her face with brush strokes. She sat as still and serene as a geisha, receiving, just receiving. Another guy with a fabulous shock of silver hair standing straight up all around his head, waited patiently to do her hair. I remembered the period in her life when she had studied butoh, an avant garde dance form comprised of exceedingly slow movement, and had followed her teacher to Berlin. In letters home, she described her life as a squatter in the former eastern part of the city, in a building recently liberated from the iron fist of the state. I remember that she painted her room blue and cooked, with a cadre of other artists, on the roof, over an open fire.

The dress arrived, along with my daughter’s friends, the designer and stylist, and while the minutes ticked away toward time for the procession, she moved slowly, with a dancer’s precision and deliberation. I felt lightheaded in the halo of her clarity and went along for the ride, down the elevator to the open terrace over the East River, where we walked hand in hand toward the groom and our old family friend who was officiating. A Mahler piece sung in an ethereal falsetto as light as gulls’ wings fluttered overhead.

We ate and drank in a glassed-in dining room as the orange sun sank over Manhattan and city lights beyond the Williamsburg Bridge began to glimmer across the water.

The band, musicians the bride and groom had performed with over the years, assembled just for this night, played everything from an Argentine tango to ’60s girl band tunes, from Neil Young to punk rock. Bodies old and young crashed across the floor in unabashed celebration. The bride bounced and spun through an extended hard rock anthem, crescendo upon crescendo. Finally, we all gathered on the dance floor, typed lyrics in hand, and sang in unison John Lennon’s “Love.”

The groom pumped his fist and urged the waiting crowd: “You’ve gotta believe it! Sing like you believe it!” We sang loud and strong —Love is real. Real is love. — the melody and words familiar, the tone unfamiliar, rough and resolute. Around me, faces of hope united in song; voices raised in determined ecstasy, high above a weary world; my daughter’s life, an unpredictable work of art, awash in a sea of love.

Kathryn Eastburn is the author of A Sacred Feast: Reflections of Sacred Harp Singing and Dinner on the Ground, and Simon Says: A True Story of Boys, Guns and Murder in the Rocky Mountain West. You can comment and read or listen to this column again at The Big Something at “The Middle Distance” is published every Friday on The Big Something and airs each Saturday at 1 p.m. right after This American Life.


15 Responses to The Middle Distance, 8/12/11: Love is Real

  1. Eva says:

    perfect portrait of a perfect day.

  2. Sarah says:

    Beautiful! Congratulations!! xxx

  3. Ellen says:

    Congratulations Mom. You survived your first child’s wedding and it sounds like a great one. Love the dresses and the song. You both look beautiful.

  4. Anne Lennox says:

    Dear Kathryn,
    I’ve never met you, but am one of your long time readers and admirers.
    Thank you for sharing your life in such beautiful words.
    Anne Lennox

  5. Barbara Summerville says:

    Congratulations, you took me back to N.Y., loved the story. The make up person and hair stylist remind me of my old world. Barbara Summerville

  6. Sunny (Armstrong) Fawcett says:

    I am in Portland visiting my kids- both Aaron and Heather live here. Heather has a little boy, August.

    I can’t wait to show the picture of you and Katie (?) and the description of the wedding to Heather!

    and wonderful words of happiness for you- you all richly deserve! p.s. I still remember going to hear music with you and Rebecca all those many years ago! love, Sunny

  7. Rosanne Gain says:

    You write with such intensity and beauty – I felt as if I was there. It took me back to my NYC days so that I could visualize the location – how wonderful for you, your daughter and everyone else involved.

  8. Louise Anastasia Vigil says:

    Congratulations Kathryn! Both you and your daughter are stunning. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Chuck Murphy says:

    Kathryn: Your stories, and the way you write, always moves me…..sometimes to laughter and other times to tears….I eagerly await the beauty of your words…warmest regards to you and yours…Chuck Murphy

  10. Cindy Fowler says:

    Congratulations to your whole family! You are all long overdue for this lovely celebration of love…I hope you “received” the joy that was given…
    We are so happy for all of you…much needed.
    Cindy and Emily Fowler

  11. Doris Mogen says:

    As I prepare to go to my youngest son’s wedding in Philadelphia this coming week,, I am so moved by your account of your daughter’s wedding. I love the photo, mother and daughter striding forward into life, embracing the unknown, loving each other. Beautifullly written, and timely for me. Thank you for sharing so deeply of your life with all of us.
    Fellow Threshold singer and friend,
    Doris Mogen

  12. Liz says:

    I am still reeling from the perfection of it all…the gathering of family, the conversation, the tears, the laughter, the grace, the humility, the beauty and…..the love. I will remember it always. Thank you for the beautiful documentation of such a joyous event!

  13. Lynn Young says:

    I love the way you showed up for every speck, every blessing, every possibility. Open and curious. Transparent, gritty, whole and real—your words once again evoke tears and breathing and grinning. That’s my idea of alive. I’m so glad I could hug you before—and no look forward to the after hug. And the deep momma knowing, too.

  14. Kendall says:

    Being the flower girl at Katie’s wedding made me feel special. It felt soooo good to be at an untraditional wedding since I have been at so many traditional ones. I loved dancing with everyone until their backs were to sweaty to touch!

  15. Karen Flitton says:

    Kathryn, Thank you for sharing this watercolor in words of a beautiful day. Katie is as beautiful a woman as she was a child. My affectionate good wishes to you all.


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