Family gatherings around life events are often joyous, emotional occasions. Wedding preparations take the cake when it comes to lots of Big Feelings. Mix the mother of the groom, the father of the bride, siblings, relatives—shirt-tail or otherwise—and there is sure to be no shortage of rough edges on the Big Day. Everyone involved has an investment in the couples’ happiness. Or at least an opinion,(“They paid HOW much for the honeymoon?!)
Pressure for the event to be Pinterest ®perfect is not helped by the fact that those who are invited into the picture are often strangers. The bride and groom know and love each of their friends, but rarely do all the friends and relatives know or necessarily love each other. Even when they’re in the same family.
My nephew was married two summers ago. To celebrate the occasion of her only child, my sister invited my other siblings (there are 5 of us altogether) and respective spouses to stay with her during Wedding Week. She has a large home in Southern California and we had all visited one time or another. However, there would be at least 8 of us coming and going; this would be one great sleep over.
Mornings and evenings were chillaxing times over meals, telling the same old jokes, teasing each other the way only family can do. There was an ease about the early morning coffee quiet and comfortable dinner table conversations. We enjoyed late nights on the patio listening to a backdrop of crickets or inside listening to the electronic ‘plink’ of Words with Friends (on our separate devices while sitting in the same room. Of course.)
My sister informed us she’d planned a luncheon the day before W’s wedding, sort of an ice-breaker/get-to-know-each-other time with the groom, his Best Man from college in Texas, and…her ex-husband. Maybe it was just me, but it seemed the stucco walls inhaled a bit as if holding their breath. This could a very tricky situation.
My sister’s husband had left her for another woman when my nephew was very young, over 20 years ago. My angry feelings towards him all these years later had dissipated, but I also still remembered how he hurt her. The deep pain was ‘beyond explanation’ as Linda described it; reconnecting with him after what he’d done could be fraught with disaster and I wasn’t sure I wanted to see it.
But he IS the father of the groom. And he was paying for the wedding.
Although he had remarried, he and my sister had long ago reconciled differences for their son’s sake. However, none of us had been in any family settings with him for almost 25 years. I recalled more than one occasion when my brothers had stood in as strong, supportive males when my sister needed them. I sensed their own unspoken misgivings about our former brother-in-law’s presence but we were all there to support her that week especially, so we kept our thoughts to ourselves.
Lunch was to be a decidedly unfancy meal, take-out from the local Mexican kitchen. With all the activity going on that week, plus the size of the group expected, there was no time to think about preparing food. Linda placed an order for all the rice, beans, tacos and enchiladas we could eat, salsa, chips and extra guacamole on the side.
Friday came and my brothers picked up and delivered the abundance of food nestled in overflowing aluminum pans. We dumped chips into bowls, grabbing pitchers of water and iced tea, nervous energy permeating the room.
My nephew and his best man were the first to arrive. Chatting among ourselves, I wondered what the reception would be like when B knocked on the door. Would there be a rush or a hesitance? A cold-ish welcome or…? I prayed for a peaceful re-entry into our family, pondering just what forgiveness would like in these circumstances.
I knew in my head that grace and kindness would be the only response, but walking it out in my flesh was another thing. While I stewed in my unresolved negativity, my brothers made nervous jokes with my nephew and his college buddy. Thank God for college buddies. Thank God for jokes.
Then the knock on the door.
To this day, I don’t remember who answered it. Probably my sister. My nephew quickly embraced his Dad and my former brother in law gave my sister a quick kiss on the cheek. He slowly glanced at our small group, perhaps registering uncertainty. From the edge of the living room, near the open sliding door, I watched as if in a trance. I was unsure that what I saw was actually happening.
The next many minutes are still a blur of movement in my memory—a rush to shake hands and give a hug—everyone was hugging, it seemed. I came in close to add my own warm hello. Zero angst attached to my hug, anger gone, bitterness erased. Only love and happy tears, my heart pouring out through my eyes.
Sisters, sisters-in-law, my brothers, the best man, and my nephew—all crying. Tears of release and redemption, acceptance and grace. Tears because words couldn’t express such great relief, overwhelming joy, the grand peace that filled the room.
After the tears we headed to the table. My brothers were now joking with B, just like old times. I marveled at the miracle of forgiveness and reconciliation, this simple but astounding gift around a common, ordinary meal.
The food was cold-ish, but no one seemed to mind. This pre-wedding, post-healing, old-family luncheon was greater than any elaborate banquet. We dug in, sticky cheese stringing from our forks, salsa dropping on the tablecloth. Chatter filled the room as folks found accommodating knees or accessible table space to eat. This is what reconciliation sounds like, I thought. That, and the clink of an iced tea glass full of cool, refreshing water.
There was no dessert served that day. Tomorrow would be another dream, with its own delicacies—cake! But no one needed any other sweetness–we had all we could ever hope for and more. Grace and forgiveness have a taste…it might be close to tacos with extra guacamole.