Some people come into our lives for a brief moment in time. They touch us in some way and then they are gone.
Others remain in our lives for years, only to ebb away as the tide leaves the shore.
Then there are those few, rare individuals who breathe when we breathe, who feel what we feel, who stand by us with no regard for time or distance or consequence.
I have one such friend.
We’ve known each other for more than 45 years, and have been best friends since high school.
We’ve seen each other through rocky adolescent romances, the first blush of marriage, and the pain of divorce.
She was at my side on my wedding day (both times); there for the birth of my two children; their graduation from high school; the death of my father and mother. She has been my confidante, my roommate at 15,000 feet as we shared a tent together on our way to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
The longevity of our friendship is rare enough; that is has endured all these years despite the 3,000 miles that separate us – one coast from the other – is a true wonder.
So when she asked me to be her maid of honor at her wedding 11 years ago (the second time around), I thought nothing of hopping on a plane and meeting her in Las Vegas, where she and her fiance had decided to tie the knot.
I have to admit I was a bit cynical when she told me the wedding was in Vegas. Las Vegas, after all, is the wedding capital of the world, where over 140,000 couples exchange their vows each year. No waiting period. No blood test. No shortage of places to say “I do.”
Couples can choose from more than 40 chapels including the Chapel of Love, home of the original “marriage carriage” and a flower-covered gazebo in the parking lot.
There is no shortage of ways in which to say “I do” either. There are “ministers-to-go” and drive-thru weddings. There are weddings in hot-air balloons, in helicopters, in hotel rooms. There are fairy-tale weddings and Elvis weddings.
There are weddings that take place in the Rock ‘N’ Roll Chapel and include an electric guitar version of the wedding march and recession, or couples can opt for the Camelot wedding, completed with Merlin the Magician/Minister, period music, trumpeters, knights and fair ladies.
Vegas is famous for its glitz and glamour, its irreverence for all things reverent, but the solemness of the occasion became readily apparent to me when I stepped inside the chapel. Set within a grove of exotic island foliage built on the shores of an 11-acre tropical lagoon, the Chapel at Mandalay Bay was a bit of paradise at the end of the Las Vegas strip.
Seated inside were 30 of their friends and family, each of whom had traveled from all across the country to share in their celebration.
At first glance, the bride and groom seemed in stark contrast standing there side by side at the altar, with her in her off-white, off-the-shoulder long dress and high-heeled sandals and him in his button down shirt, black jeans, black leather vest and riding boots.
Yet all I had to do was look closer to see how similar they really were. I had never seen them so present, so unshakable, so connected to each other.
They were not two halves joining together to make one whole the way society tends to idealize marriage, but two unique, flawed, accomplished people in their 40s, each with a strong sense of self and a genuine understanding of what it takes to make it work the second time around.
It takes real courage to try again, to risk it all once more in the name of love, with eyes and hearts wide open despite the knowledge that there are no guarantees.
The depth of that understanding was overwhelmingly clear to me as I stood next to them both, listening as the minister told them that there are no accidents in life. They were brought together for a reason. Their love was special. They needed to honor it, honor each other, and to never lost sight of what brought them together in the first place.
Later, when it came time for the maid of honor to toast the couple, I choked.
No words came out.
“Wishing you a lifetime of happiness” hardly seemed worthy of what they had just vowed to each other. As someone who makes my living using words, I could think of nothing potent enough to express the depth of what I wished for them both, what I wished for my best friend of so many years.
I had wanted to tell them to respect each other.
Listen to each other, and say what is difficult to say.
Laugh often and together, and share in the kindest way possible.
I had wanted to tell them to continue to grow individually as they grew in concert, to breathe when the other breathes, to feel what the other feels.
I had wanted to tell them to stand by each other with no regard for time or distance or consequence.
I had wanted to tell them in Vegas and didn’t.
So I do now.
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