I really wanted to wear a green dress for my wedding. I found one in the sundress section of a catalogue shortly after we set a date, and I was determined to be different. It was from a catalogue because I don’t care for shopping in any form, and wearing green seemed like something that would be a fun way make a statement. To be contrarian. To be different from America’s typical run of the mill wedding detail. To damn the wedding culture man, as it were. A way to make sure people understood I was doing it my way. Etcetera.
The green dress was a no-go. My mom and I visited a few wedding dress shops, and I ended up getting a white one instead, still simple, still from a catalogue. But it was white, and from the “wedding dress” section.
I also wanted Nick and I to say our vows in a field down by the Big Sioux River. I love nature, the prairie, feeling the wind on my face, looking at the sky. I wanted to step into marriage on my own terms, and at the time, one of the ideas that made me feel like things were on my terms was having the wedding in a field of prairie grass down by the river. We didn’t do that either, and thinking back I’m not sure I ever actually suggested this idea out loud. The ceremony was held in the church I grew up attending, with my future father in law presiding. So, at the end of the day, I wore the white dress and had the church wedding. And I’m glad I did, because my wedding wasn’t just about what I, the bride, wanted at that point in my young adulthood. It was about grafting a new branch onto the family tree. It was about public commitment to a new way of being in partnership with another human. And it was a commitment to a new way of being in relationship with a new group of people – an extended family.
At the end of the day, to step into “family,” be it via an official marriage or some other avenue, is to step into a mixture of separate beings that identify as a collective. Family doesn’t have to mean two married people and a couple of kids — it can mean a group of singles who are steadfast in their support of each other. It can mean finding your kin outside the blood lines you were born into, or it can mean embracing the blood lines that you have, even if you don’t see eye to eye more often than not. At the core, no matter who the individuals are, the idea of “family” in action is a blend of compromise and honoring our own values. It’s living with the question, “What is it like to be you?” at the center and learning to listen to the answer, even if the outcome isn’t the perfect ideal. When it’s working, it is about living in relationship with others in a way that takes those other perspectives into consideration on a regular basis.
Looking back on the experience of having a wedding, all those voices that told me to take other perspectives and wants into consideration were right. I would have regretted the green beach dress…and the grandmas never would have made it half a mile on foot through a tallgrass prairie to stand next to the river. Compromise.
And even though the ceremony wasn’t in a field of prairie grass, Nick and I walked down the aisle together to get to the front of the church, and we had a fabulous time at the reception that was held in the backyard at the farm. My then-23 year old twin brothers made the wedding cake from scratch, the food was local and organic, a dear friend harvested and arranged the flowers from the garden, the barn became a gathering space, and most people changed out of their fancy ceremony attire as the night wore on. I’m pretty sure there were fireworks, the farm cats had free range, people camped out in vans, and a new phase of life began in a way that felt right. Honoring values.
To be part of a family is to be part of a conglomeration of stories: happy, sad, some full of grief, some full of joy, some annoying, some endearing; some that will be easy to forget, and some that are burned into memory forever, even if memory eventually starts to fade. It is being in relationship with another being, even when there are no shared genetics, or when the ‘family unit’ is a mixture of the unexpected. At the end of the day, I’m inclined to believe that we are all one big family anyway.
A collective, a unit of individuals who are together, either by choice or not: that is what a family is. And when it is at its most beautiful, it’s a witnessing of life through the lens of compassion. It is continually asking “What is it like to be you?” When we can ask that question over and over and over again, that is when we might see the world start to heal.