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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 KRCC.org. “The Middle Distance” is published every Friday on The Big Something and airs each Saturday at 1 p.m. right after This American Life.