Some dates are etched by memory. For many, it’s a shared experience. I remember exactly what I was doing when Challenger exploded. When the Twin Towers fell. When Canada beat the Soviets in the final hockey game of the Summit Series in 1972.
But sometimes, the experience is singular. This one happened to me on Saturday, May 26, 1979, just before 5 pm. It had been four days since my father died — two weeks after his 58th birthday — and just one day after his funeral. That morning, we buried my aunt, who had Down’s Syndrome.
I was reeling. Over the preceding six months, my family had known such loss. It started at Christmas when the boyfriend of an aunt, a man I really liked, died on the train enroute to Halifax. It continued in the New Year with a dear neighbor. Then one of my high school friends. Then my favorite uncle. Now my father.
Five funerals in five months.
I was stoic, but I was just 19 and scared shitless. I had not cried. Not upon learning of my father’s passing. Not when I saw my inconsolable mother after she arrived home from her shift at the hospital. Not when I saw my four sisters weeping openly. Not when I learned more about my father at the funeral home during his wake than I had known all of my life. Not when this wooden coffin was lowered into the ground on a despicably cold, rainy day.
But that Saturday, I was shaky. We had guests dropping by all afternoon, and I just wanted some peace and quiet. My mother had asked if she could nap in my bed and, forgetting she was there, I entered to find her prostrate on the floor, sobbing pitifully. My sisters were hovering, trying to be helpful, but the house was raucous with cleaning and cooking and organizing.
Finally, I retreated to the cozy chair where I studied for exams in high school and university, and tears flowed silently. My 3 year-old niece —the only one of the grandchildren to meet my father — found me, and ran to her mother.
“Come Mommy, come. Uncle Richie is crying.”
My sisters rushed to hug me, to offer their love and comfort. But I asked them to leave me alone.
And I gathered Tara up in my arms, and held her to my chest, and we rocked. And I cried until I couldn’t cry any more.
I had such a special relationship to that kid. We did everything together after I discovered that I loved being an uncle. We went to movies. To pancake breakfasts on Sunday mornings. I babysat her as often as I could and enjoyed the experience so much that I tried to replicate it after each of my eight nieces and nephews were born.
So I felt honored when Tara asked me to perform her wedding ceremony in April when she married Ryan Hinderaker, the love of her life. Thanks to the generosity of family, we were able to travel to Mexico to share something that my family sorely needed after so much heartache the year before.
This time, the experience was shared.
The ceremony began with a quote from Rumi.
Welcome, my friends.
The minute I heard my first love story,
I started looking for you, not knowing
how blind that was.
Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere.
They’re within each other all along.
Welcome to this most sacred day in this most beautiful place. We’re here for a very fine purpose.
As you all know, Tara and Ryan are already married in the eyes of the state, but the real ceremony is this one, for their love is being celebrated by all of you, and the joyous embrace of dear friends and devoted family will make memories this weekend that will keep them warm well into their golden years.
I am grateful to see so many radiant faces, for Tara holds a special place in my heart. Her mother, Linda, was living at our house when Tara was born, and watching her grow during those four precious months changed my life forever.
I knew she was special.
I am here to tell you that she was magical from her first moments. I was determined that we would be close, and watching her grow from a precocious kid to an amazing and talented woman has been one of the greatest experiences of my life.
After an arduous search, we were so pleased when she met Ryan, who embodies all the fine traits that characterize America’s heartland — perseverance, warmth, steadfastness and tranquility. A man after my own heart. That he navigated his first Levangie Christmas with such unflappable grace speaks for itself.
We live in a hectic world. We lead bustling lives. Yet this wedding has made each one of us pause and take a breath. We come here with one voice to praise the greatest aspect of humanity: our capacity for love, our ability to find fellowship in an uncertain world. Weddings make us quiet, and they make us happy. They make us consider our own lives, our daily struggles, the many sweet joys and whispering sorrows that mark our days.
I want each of you to understand something vital. The real reason we are here.
Each of us here today has a role to play. By making this journey, we pledge our support. In the years ahead, Tara and Ryan will need our kind words, our friendship, our love and, yes, our shoulders to cry on, because no one gets out of this world alive.
And thus we are here not only to witness their vows, but also bestow upon them our own benedictions.
[Become the Reverend Al Green] So I ask all of you today to answer two simple questions. Do you bless this union with your hopes and good wishes for a long and happy life together?
I can’t hear y’all! Do you bless this union?
And do you promise to support and strengthen this marriage by lifting Ryan and Tara with your love and concern?
Say it again! I can’t hear y’all!
[Softly] I am a writer by training, so my days are spent pondering small things that carry deeper meaning and intention. So I am asking for the wedding rings to pass through this gathering. Hold the rings for a few seconds, think about your own happiness and the best wishes you can conjure for this lovely couple, and then send good thoughts and unreserved blessings to speed them on their journey together. Then pass the box along to your neighbor.
Again, I say: welcome, friends. Tonight will be brimming with wonderment and magic…
And you know what? It was all that and more.