I’ve named 2017 ‘the year of weddings.’
I’m told that everyone has seasons like this, but it’s a first for me. Over the span of six weeks, four of the most influential women in my life are getting married, each in a different state from New England across to Southern California.
I’m maid of honor, cake baker, chalice bearer, and candy maker.
But as a single woman who has never been in a serious dating relationship, this series of celebrations inevitably carries with it a tinge of loss as well.
“You have to think of weddings as kind of like funerals,” a friend told me in the midst of some ugly crying last fall. “You have to allow yourself time to mourn the passing of the way these friendships used to be. It’s okay to lament the change.”
Most of the time, I love being single. I have a really fun career in food; I have the ability to travel around the world. I have the freedom to move across the country this August to study a topic I love.
But as roommates, siblings, and friends came to me in quick succession last summer with the announcement of their engagements, I felt as though I was losing the people who used to turn to me when excited or stressed or confused or bubbling with joy as they found their needs fulfilled in their new partners instead. I was left still with needs for companionship, but no partner to whom I could turn.
Despite the beauty of singleness, God says it’s not good to be alone. This does not mean that we are all created for marriage, but that an important task of the Church is to learn how to address the needs for touch, for attention, and for love that exist among all her members, especially those of us who are single. I’m slowly learning to shirk the cultural belief that romantic love should be my goal, reorienting my understanding of family by placing church community at the center instead. But in this year of weddings, my need for close companionship has become increasingly clear.
Baking for me is more than a simple vocation, it is stress reliever and embodied prayer, it is science and art. I know that if I cream to the correct consistency and scale with precision I can anticipate the desired result. Meanwhile, working with my hands guides me through my emotions and hopes and fears. I tell stories of myself and the people I love through the food that I make; the world ingests small slices of who I am as they savor the flavors I combine.
Flavors work together much like music. Individual components might taste good on their own but the correct balance of flavor amplifies all that is good. A skillfully composed dish takes the diner on a journey through a symphony of taste. A dance of sweet, sour, bitter, and umami; acid, fat, and salt.
Salt makes sugar all the sweeter, while sugar makes the salt possible to bear.
Throughout this year of weddings, I’ve allowed myself to feel the weight of all my emotions. I’ve baked cakes and wrapped caramels, kneaded bread and poured wine for Communion, mourning and lamenting all along the loss of the way things have been. The process has revealed my need for love and for touch, it’s deepened my reliance on my relationships spread around the world. But most importantly, it’s allowed me to celebrate with my loved ones in their joy all the more. I tell my own story through the bread and caramel and cake served at each reception—of the salty tears that make each wedding sweeter, of the nights spent dancing and dining that make the transitions all the more possible to bear.
Cake isn’t necessary to life or to marriage; bread, however, is. Cake is a tasty extra, a beautiful symbol of celebration. But bread represents sustenance, the daily reliance on God’s provision for both a healthy relationship and physical nourishment.
Similarly, marriage is not necessary to life or happiness; companionship, however, is. Marriage is a beautiful symbol of Christ’s love for the Church; it can add great fulfillment to life. But life can still be full of joy and adventure without it.
The importance of communion, however, of love, of touch, of closeness with family, friends, children, and mentors, cannot be overlooked or diminished. Whether receiving a simple text from a friend while lying alone in bed or ingesting a bite of bread on Sunday morning, every time my community reminds me that they see me and they love me, they provide the necessary nourishment for life as a single woman.
I’m not sure what this year would have looked like if I didn’t have both my kitchen and my church to hold me near. I don’t know if I could have made it through each wedding if not for the cake or the caramel, or most importantly, the bread.
And I’m grateful to know that when the year of weddings is past, I can continue turning to these dear friends whether excited or stressed or bubbling with joy. To know that my community of friends both single and married will dine and laugh and hold me close.
They’ll offer me, every Sunday, a small bite of bread.
And sometimes even a slice of cake too.