Pretend you’re an alien sent to this planet to study the culture of American weddings. Granted, that’s as ludicrous a premise as the idea that, for some reason, aliens like to “probe” humans, but let’s go with it.
To conduct basic research, you scan TV channels such as TLC and WE and HGTV. Pretty quickly, you decide weddings are actually a sport.
Families compete to see who can spend the most because, hey, the more you spend, the more you love your kids, right? Brides try to win the “It’s my special day!” competition. Grooms … well, except for needing two parties to say, “I do,” grooms appear to essentially be non-essential.
As with many sports, there is judging involved: Spectators critique the venue, the food, the cake, the decorations, the bridesmaids’ dresses (an especially hot topic among the bridesmaids themselves), the music, etc.
So, you come to a few basic conclusions: Every bride is totally self-absorbed. Every groom is a doofus. Every family is dysfunctional. And every guest wields a sharp and eager tongue.
To test your hypotheses, you decide to see a wedding in person, so on Dec. 29, 2012, you attend the wedding of Maggie Ritchie and Taylor Rhodes at Bethany United Methodist Church in Weyers Cave.
There, you learn Taylor is a Marine Corporal. He and Maggie got engaged in January 2012 when he came home for a weekend sandwiched between a month in the field and a trip to California for two months of training prior to an overseas deployment.
Taylor left for Afghanistan that April and served as a member of a scout sniper team conducting drug interdiction raids. Maggie worked at Green Valley Auctions and took on a second “job” writing countless letters to her fiancé.
Taylor came home in November after being away for a little more than 200 days (not that Maggie was keeping track, mind you). Although they were engaged for a year, due to his training and deployment, they were only able to spend 55 days of that year together.
You also witness a Quaker tradition Maggie and Taylor incorporate into their service. Sam Moore, Maggie’s grandfather, explains that the congregation will sit in silence until anyone present feels moved to stand and speak.
And, for the next 20 minutes, people do — offering prayers for God’s blessing on the marriage, sincere best wishes, offers of support and friendship and love.
Later, you learn that, after their honeymoon, Maggie and Taylor moved to Camp Lejeune, where Taylor is stationed. Next February, when his five-year commitment ends, they plan to move back to Bridgewater.
And despite your original conclusions, it suddenly hits you: Some weddings aren’t about glitz or glamour or one-upmanship or, “This is my special day and I want everyone to know it!” Some weddings aren’t a symbol of conspicuous consumption, but are a celebration of two people, two families and two larger communities coming together.
Some weddings are about tradition and belief, caring and support, promise and commitment — a symbol not of one day, however special that day might be, but of the beginning of a lifetime spent together.
You realize that real life doesn’t play out on TV, and neither do real weddings. Real weddings, such as the wedding of Maggie and Taylor Rhodes, are heartfelt and genuine and moving — not just to the bride and groom, but also to those who witness the celebration of two people and two families coming together … and of the hopes and dreams they all share.
And you realize you were fortunate to see a real American wedding.
Jeff Haden lives in Harrisonburg and is a ghostwriter, columnist for Inc. Magazine, and LinkedIn Influencer. He can be reached at www.blackbirdinc.com.