Faith Gong: The wedding of my decade

THINGS WENT WRONG for me during this wedding weekend, too. The first was a little thing: My shoes broke.

At the end of July, I attended a friend’s wedding in Indianapolis.

Sounds simple, right?

Friends, if anything was ever simple, these days nothing is simple.

I was thrilled back in September 2021, when my dear friend and former college roommate, Kristin, texted me a photo of an engagement ring on her finger. Kristin is a dedicated and hardworking pediatrician in Indianapolis, so she’s had little time for romance over the decades since college, but she’d found love at last with a longtime friend and fellow doctor, Jeff. I’d never met Jeff in person, but he’d joined Kristin in tormenting me with pictures and gifts of my greatest living fear: squirrels. I figured it was a good sign; to paraphrase the late Stephen Sondheim, “It’s the friends that you annoy together…that keep marriage intact.”

My first order of business was to figure out exactly where Indianapolis was. (I’m only halfway joking: As someone who has lived on both coasts but whose entire Midwest experience is limited to a few days in Chicago, I conform to the stereotype of those who consider the vast middle of America “flyover country.”)

The next task was to figure out how to get there from here. As with most locations, it’s impossible to get a direct flight from Vermont to Indiana, but I could string together two fairly short flights with a layover in New York City.

Should I take my entire family? I should not. Although my children love her and look forward to her squirrel-themed gifts every Christmas, Kristin assured me that Indianapolis would be hot, humid, and generally miserable in July. This, combined with the cost of airline tickets, tipped the scales: I would attend the wedding alone.

Let me pause here to emphasize the momentousness of the previous sentence: In flying to Indianapolis by myself I would be traveling by plane for the first time since 2019, having heard multiple horror stories from friends about cancelled and delayed flights that have become routine in post-pandemic airline travel. I would also be traveling solo for the first time since the birth of my first child 15 years ago.

To say that I felt a little anxious would be an understatement.

But I would do this for Kristin, who has been a steadfast friend. In the 25 years since we graduated from college, she has flown out to visit me in every place we’ve lived — New York, California, Vermont — despite my never setting foot in Indiana. She has called, texted, and sent gifts even when I felt too busy to reciprocate. And she has persisted in bringing together myself and another college friend, Eunice, for destination birthday trips every five years. Looking over that list, it’s a wonder that Kristin even honored me with an invitation to her wedding; getting on a plane alone to help her celebrate her special day was the least I could do.

So I did, and the entire weekend felt magical. A few observations:

  1. Women make the world run.

I spent the weekend with Kristin, our college friend Eunice, and Kristin’s childhood friend Nancy. Together with Kristin’s friend Lori, we put much of the wedding together: Among other things, we arranged chairs and tables in Kristin’s backyard for the ceremony, folded programs, and set up centerpieces, votive candles, and a slideshow at the reception site. And as we worked, we talked and laughed about our kids, our work, the world. I looked around at these four amazing women — two of whom I was meeting for the first time — and was reminded of the incredible power of women working together.

  1. People are beautiful.

My impressions of Indianapolis: It was hot and humid (though clouds kept the temperature mercifully bearable during the outdoor wedding), it was flat and sprawling, it boasted delicious food (with many fried options) and complex cocktails. But as with most travel, the highlight was discovering how many wonderful people are out there in the world. Because both Kristin and Jeff are doctors, it’s perhaps not surprising that many of their friends and family members are in the helping professions; based on conversations with my fellow wedding guests, I’d estimate that the vast majority were doctors, nurses, and teachers. They were kind, funny, and interesting. They are society’s unsung heroes: The people who care for the sick and raise up the next generation, usually without receiving — or even expecting — the recognition and gratitude they deserve. It’s easy to feel pessimistic about people while scrolling through the internet; it’s a lot harder to feel anything but wonder when you actually meet them.

  1. When it comes to weddings, later can be better.

Both Kristin and Jeff are in their 40s, which I have decided is an excellent age at which to get married. Most of our friends got married in a swirl of weddings condensed into the decade between our early 20s and early 30s; those were the years of multiple weddings every summer, my closet full of bridesmaid dresses that I’d wear only once, ceremonies and receptions that blurred into an indistinguishable mass. But Kristin and Jeff’s wedding was set apart as the only wedding I’ve attended — or expect to attend — in years. We could all give it our full attention and appreciation. And I’ve never seen a bride and groom more involved in every aspect of their wedding, or more relaxed throughout the entire process.

  1. Don’t be surprised when bad things happen.

As with any big event, there were things that went wrong with the wedding; little things, things that wouldn’t be obvious unless you’d been involved intimately with the planning. Perhaps the biggest thing that went wrong was that Kristin caught COVID one week before the original wedding date, so the entire event had to be pushed back two weeks. Disappointing, yes, but because Jeff and Kristin had planned a small and simple event, they were able to reschedule with relative ease.

It occurs to me that weddings provide an excellent training ground for marriage: As a couple moves through life together, things will also go wrong — little things, and some big, bad things as well. But in life as in weddings, the important thing is not to be surprised by these snafus, and not to waste time bemoaning what could have/should have been, but to move forward focused on the love that got you here and the commitment that you’ve made to each other.

Things went wrong for me during this wedding weekend, too. The first was a little thing: My shoes broke. Because I don’t wear fancy shoes during my everyday life, I’d tossed a pair of black platform slides into my suitcase that had spent over a decade in a box on my closet shelf. Apparently when shoes sit neglected for years, they start to break down; as I descended the stairs after helping Kristin get ready, the glue that held the tops of my shoes to the soles gave out, and my shoes came apart. I had no choice but to play with the hand I’d been dealt: I attended my friend’s wedding barefoot (thankfully it was an outdoor ceremony, which made me feel a little less conspicuous) and then wore the only other pair of shoes I’d brought — a pair of pink Tom’s slip-on sneakers — to the reception. (Thankfully, they matched my dress).

The bigger thing that went wrong involved my return travel. Getting out to Indianapolis had been so smooth — all my flights on time — that I’d wondered whether the rumors about horrific airline travel were false. But when I woke up at 4 AM for my early flight to New York’s LaGuardia Airport, I had a text from the airline that my flight had been cancelled and I’d been rebooked on later flights that would deposit me in Vermont in the evening instead of in the early afternoon.

Returning to Vermont as soon as possible was important to me because my daughter’s 13th birthday was the next day. My day that began with a cancelled flight continued with an Uber ride to the airport that never showed up, a successful bid to fly standby on an earlier flight, a flight from New York to Vermont that kept getting delayed, and my realization that it would be faster for me to rent a car at LaGuardia and drive home to Vermont. So that’s what I did.

But I regret nothing. This weekend was about the love we share and the commitments we make to others — not just between husbands and wives, but also between friends and family. One pair of broken shoes and some cancelled flights can’t dampen that.

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit director. She lives in Middlebury with her husband, five children, assorted chickens and ducks, one feisty cat, and one anxiety-prone labradoodle. In her “free time,” she writes for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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