In the midst of the socially-distanced hiatus – and within the space of a single week – I found myself travelling the roads of our two most deeply-held rituals through an unfamiliar landscape of erosion, its layers of social-sediment freshly exposed by the flash-floods of the pandemic.
There were many reasons to grieve in the wake of such mighty waters. But there sprang at both occasions – in their very different ways – delightful geysers of laughter and hope.
Early on in the crisis, Jen and Gary had plumped to postpone their long-planned wedding day another year. But since they’d always intended to do the legalities separately, they chose to go ahead with them on the original date.
And so we were six: the bride and groom, their two children, and Jonny and I as witnesses. Which, given the rich garden of their vivaciously imagined celebrations, could well have felt diminished and incomplete – a deflated party-balloon of disappointment, shrunk and shriveled with the stretch-marks of escaped dreams.
But instead it became a magnifier; a focal point of their light. And like a hot-air balloon beribboned in collective joy, raised its modest handful of travelers to unexpectedly giddy heights! Beautiful Jen effervescing in a kaleidoscope of colour and gems, and banana-bold Gary sporting his Hawaiian shirt and sparkly shoes; Jess brimming with queenly majesty, iridescent handbag clutched triumphantly to her side, and Toby resplendent in red lipstick under his burnished halo of autumn-curls.
And so we all rose to the occasion on mythological wings of finery…
Because, more than a celebration of shared love, this was an alchemy of family – the unique elixir of a magic blend. As they wrote on their Save the date card: ‘Yes, it really is OUR wedding – all four of us!’
Six people, six hearts, scattered like an exuberant tiddly-winks across that large and airy room. We couldn’t hug them. We couldn’t even get close. But what joy there was on their little two-chair islands, with Jen squealing occasional delight like a camping-kettle on its stove!
And when the officiant pronounced grandly at the end, ‘Once you’ve finished you’ll find wet-wipes at the side’, I simply couldn’t contain my mirth! Ah, such extraordinary twinkles of mischief in life’s beneficently-gleaming eye.
The same was true at my stepfather’s funeral, just a few days later – no matter the small group of chairs all spaced further than our reach, and the odd mosaic of face-masks and eyes; the kinship of expression smothered in the trappings of fear.
Because, as the opening music played, my beautiful seven-year old niece quietly whispered, ‘It’s a bit like going to the cinema isn’t it?’, and my heart swelled with glee – for the children who twiddle our reception dials, and help us tune fully in. How staggered we were that she and her tiny ragamuffin brother – the poor little imp who’d vomited strawberries all over his Mum’s white dress just moments before they’d arrived – sat in heart–melting contentment through the whole sombre hour. And how moved when the closing choral music started to play and both kids began humming so happily – so spontaneously – along.
Yes, it was odd to be in facemasks.
And it was odd to be so few, so far apart.
But there is nothing – no virus, no barrier, no distance – that can separate the joys and sorrows of the human heart.
I’ve had many surprising incarnations in this life so far; academic, nursing assistant, footballer, rugby player, au-pair, epidemiologist, fancy-dress enthusiast, ice-hockey player, circus performer, professional gardener, artistic doodler and occasional duck. But in forty years, writing is the one area I’ve most deeply yearned to express myself but rarely found the courage or pluck. And so now I’m travelling this inner journey of exploration and expansion at last, a curious cartographer of inner worlds and outer reflections in the mirrors of life, gently unpeeling layers of my created self to unearth the rich bedrock beneath. And I offer my journey here, to whoever it may reach, as a token of connection, courage, love and trust.