A Feast of Reality

This past weekend I attended a wedding.

It was a natural thing, in harmony with the beauty of the world and the beauty of mankind. Therefore there was order to it, and the sweet solace of dwelling in a human way, in time, from one generation to another.

My nephew was marrying his lovely bride. He is handsome and she is winsome; and most of that is simply attributable to the fact that he is a man and she is a woman.

Not all men are taller than their brides, but my nephew is taller than his, so that when they danced, her head nestled softly against his shoulder and chest. Even small men have men’s bodies and faces, heavy of bone, often broad in the shoulders and hands, with thicker skin and the hair that may recede from the dome but that always shadows them by the cheek and chin, no matter how good the razor is. It lends them a cast of gravity. You could see that too in my nephew’s countenance during the brief moments between words and laughter, dancing and toasting.

That look, as it regards the bride, says, “I will love you and protect you. You can rely upon me.”

Not all women are slender, but my new niece is, with the roundness of shoulder and hips that suggests tenderness and fruitfulness. All women have the woman’s face, the shape that suggests an oval, not a lantern; a flower, not a block of granite. All have that smooth skin like a child’s, and the mysterious voice, which is mature and childlike at once, unlike the voice of a man, richer than the voice of a boy, yet still a girl’s voice.

There were men and women of all ages at the wedding, and they talked, told stories, drank wine and stronger stuff, danced (a lot), and laughed. If they were married, they leaned into one another, or held hands. The unattached young people flirted cheerfully. Some of the girls flirted with my nephew, like girls teasing a big brother. One of them began to “fight” with him on the dance floor, jabbing him with her fist, while he pretended to duck and to fight back. Then another girl pretended to intervene, and so he had two “opponents” to dance with.

She could do that because she was secure in her girlhood, and he was secure in his boyhood. For men never really cease to be boys, and women never really cease to be girls. No, not really – what would be the fun of that?

Because it was a wedding, the girls wore dresses and the boys wore suits. Because it was my nephew’s wedding, the dresses were attractive and the suits were – suits. The kinds of things they wore brought out the beauty of the kinds of beings they were, these boys and girls, these men and women.

When the wine’s flowing and people are celebrating that wondrous event, when despite and because of and across all their differences a man and a woman join in marriage, they do what comes most naturally. They don’t think about what a man is and what a woman is. They don’t have to. They simply are.

So those girls danced with a lilt in their step and a swing in their hips that is impossible for any boy to imitate without absurd caricature. If there wasn’t a boy to dance with, they danced with each other. Then sometimes one of the boys looking on would jump into the dance like a soldier leaping into a battle, and take a girl for his own, with bravado in his eye, and she’d go along for the fun of it.

It was all like that, in one way or another. The bride’s father walked her up to where the groom was waiting; she and not my nephew was then the focus of everyone’s attention. Why should that be? Why, if not that we sense that something momentous is drawing near, something that pertains to her in a deep and mysterious way? The bride is dear to us because she is the one who will bear the child in her womb. She and not he will feel the pangs of labor. She and not he will bring forth the new life in her blood.

When we see a new bride, in a gown that sets off the modest blush, we see the mother-to-be. We all do. If we hear, “They plan to have no children,” we are disappointed. We think we are witnessing an imposture. Into the mind of every man and woman in attendance came the inevitable thought: she and he will make love, and they will have a child.

And the married men and women thought of when their lives changed forever, and when they had their children. Indeed it is one of the fine pleasures of a wedding, to see the generations; as I saw my nephew’s first cousin, a kid I had last seen long ago when he was a sprouting teenager, now six-foot-five, with great square shoulders and a boyish grin.

There was a very small child at the reception, a little girl in a puffy skirt, with a bow in her hair. She was “dancing” too with the young men and women, learning in her very bones how to be happy as a girl, and smiling when one of the boys took her by the hands. My mother didn’t dance, because her knees won’t have it, and she has to walk with a cane. But she recalled her own wedding reception, a simpler affair, and I recalled my father, who I confidently believe dwells now with the Lord.

Everything real and true and fine and ordinary – reflecting the order of God’s creation – is our friend, and the closer we draw to it, the closer we draw to Him.

Anthony Esolen is a lecturer, translator, and writer. Among his books are Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture, and Nostalgia: Going Home in a Homeless World, and most recently The Hundredfold: Songs for the Lord. He is a professor and writer in residence at Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts, in Warner, New Hampshire. Be sure to visit his new website, Word and Song.