There is no way to talk about it yet. Have you noticed that? We don't talk about it, we talk around it. We say where we were, or what we did, or how we felt. We say what was, and what is, and what could be because of it. We don't really understand it, though. And sometimes I think we don't even really know what "it" is. Is it a date? A word? A concept? It's history, it's change, it's fear, it's hope, it's an end, it's a beginning, it's all of us and all of our stories.
We don't really know. I don't really know. But this is the story I think of.
My friends, Emily and Nick, were married in New York on October 6, 2001. They had, along with their families, spent months planning and organizing and working out every last detail to ensure a spectacularly special, spectacularly memorable event.
Both Emily and Nick are very musical people, and their wedding had something of a theme: "Love is friendship set to music." Throughout the entire weekend, love and friendship and music were in evidence everywhere.
For example, following the "down home," Midwestern-style rehearsal dinner banquet (to which all wedding guests were invited), there were live musical performances. Em and Nick had been in a cappella groups in college, and since some of the members of their groups were in attendance, they reunited for a few choice songs. Emily and I also sang together. And of course, the bride and groom performed a couple of duets that couldn't have been more lovely or heartfelt.
The next day, as Emily and her bridesmaids walked from the neighboring meeting house to the picturesque chapel, we all sang a giddy, impromptu rendition of "Going to the Chapel" just before walking down the aisle.
There are dozens of other examples, too. Ways in which love, friendship and music were woven into the festivities -- from how they selected their processional and recessional music, to their band, their first dance, even their wedding favors* -- but it was later, at the reception, where I felt "it" most acutely.
I'm not sure if it had ever even entered their minds, the idea that they could postpone their wedding. Perhaps that's what some of the world did; maybe the events of September 11 were too devastating for some to want to carry out a celebration. But for Em and Nick, it was that much more important.
Rather than be afraid, rather than live in dark, rather than allow the bad to control their (our) lives, they gave us a celebration. Life is precious, and goodness matters. Love, hope, happiness, harmony. Family and friends had come together in peace and with goodwill to applaud and laugh and cry and take pictures and eat and drink and be merry and hold on.
And people flew from all over the country to be there, to say I am not afraid. Or maybe they said, I am damn well terrified, but this matters more. I don't actually know what anyone else thought as they packed their bags and put on their fine clothes and gathered for the nuptials, because we did not discuss it. It was a happy occassion, and what would we have said? Em and Nick simply gave thanks to everyone who came, everyone who found it important to be there.
A finer detail of the event was a little card that Em and Nick had put on every table at the reception. It stated that, contrary to popular tradition, they would not kiss each other simply because guests decided to tink their glasses with silverware. If you wanted to see the couple kiss, you had to work for it. You were to stand up and sing a song that had the word "love" as a lyric, and your entire table would have to join you. In unison.
Now, at first, this might not seem like such a difficult task, but I'll tell you -- finding a song that you and the rest of the people at your table actually know all the lyrics to is really quite challenging.
Our table resorted to "Summer Lovin'" from Grease. Another table of younger folks launched into Barney the Dinosaur's theme song. Throughout the evening, most of the tables tried at least once, usually with amusing results.
I think we may have assumed that the dignified table in the back, the one where the grandparents and older guests were seated, would not be partaking in the singing game. Maybe we assumed they thought it was too silly, or too difficult, or too...something. But the moment they all stood up, the room noticed.
Aww, I wonder what THEY will sing. Maybe we thought that it would be sweet, or funny, or maybe kind of cute, the way people are always saying about older folks (meaning it as a compliment but sounding a little condescending).
But it wasn't cute. It was a gift. They stood up and sang God Bless America.
The moment they started singing, without hesitation or prompting or question, everyone jumped to their feet. Everyone started singing.
Land that I "love"...
The entire room full of people rose at once and joined in, and it was amazing. We were happy (relieved, maybe) to have been given a chance to express what we otherwise couldn't. We cared about our country, our world, and were only barely beginning to understand how one day had changed everything.
It is said that in the weeks and months following 9/11, people in New York looked at each other differently. I know when I meet someone who has lost their parents, we share an immediate bond of unspoken understanding. We nod at each other. We know.
The wedding was, of course, about Emily and Nick. But during the one special song, we all knew. We stood tall and we looked around the room at each other and we all knew.
"It" happened and we were angry and frightened. We still are. But when I am scared most of all, on the days when I believe we have lost our way, and I fear that things are worse now, and I worry that all is lost, I try to think of the simple, joyous good. I think about their wedding day. I think about everyone singing.
"It" is real and scary.
But we have "love."
*They gave every guest a CD filled with songs that held special meaning to them, with an explanation of each selection printed on the homemade CD jackets.