I attended an unusual wedding in the temple yesterday. The ceremony was, as usual, uplifting, thought-provoking, and a profoundly spiritual experience. The only somewhat surprising element of the ceremony itself was that the sealer quoted from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism on the meaning of the temple (a citation which probably merits further discussion on another thread, but not here). I’ll leave out the specificities of my relationship to the bride and groom, as well as their names, for reasons that will likely be clear as I go on. Suffice it to say, I am close to both and, to a somewhat lesser degree, their families.
This was a surprise wedding, almost a temple elopement. I found out about it two weeks ago, and was one of the first to learn of their plans (they wanted me to be able to make travel arrangements with advance notice). The groom’s parents also found out two weeks ago. Both sets of siblings and a handful of their closest friends found out a week ago (give or take). The bride’s parents learned a few days ago, and until they actually walked into the sealing room, it was unclear whether or not they would be there.
Most of us saw the wedding coming; the precise when and where were the only things really in question. The bride and groom have dated for just over six years now, going back to high school. They actually came a hair’s breadth from marrying early last year, but illness and surgery (among other things, more on this below), threw the union into what felt like indefinite abeyance.
The long and short of it is this: the groom did not get along with the bride’s parents. Which is to say, they didn’t like him (her siblings were actually remarkably friendly), and he tended to reciprocate the antipathy. The ill will dated back almost to the beginning of the relationship. From my perspective, both sides were responsible for this. He is a far from perfect young man, and they knew it and made their feelings widely and repeatedly known. In their concern for what they saw as their daughter’s best interest, they exaggerated his imperfections and tried to encourage her to leave him. And while he is not remotely as flawed a person as their characterizations would lead one to believe, his own injured pride played a major in preventing conciliatory gestures. He dismissed them pretty much as openly and vividly as they disapproved of him. Both parties had reasonably just cause for disliking the other; both parties also unreasonably allowed the differences to dominate the relationship and reinforce hostility.
Last fall, the groom (to be) went to her parents and informed them of his intent to marry their daughter in a few months. He told them he would be proposing that weekend, and while their blessing was not really necessary, he still hoped they would be willing to give it and start fresh, for her sake. They gave their (surprisingly enthusiastic) blessing, and plans were underway. They remained supportive. But a few weeks before the scheduled wedding, the bride to be contracted an ailment that necessitated immediate surgery, and a lengthy recovery.
During which something happened to cause her to postpone the wedding indefinitely. It’s not entirely clear what exactly happened, but according to both the bride and the groom, her parents redoubled their efforts at discouraging her from marrying him, viewing her sudden illness as some kind of divine, ominous sign and encouraging her to view it in the same light.
This development moved everyone involved into a painful holding pattern. They continued to date and spend copious amounts of time together. They were warm and affectionate as ever. She continued to wear the ring and to describe them as engaged. They continued to jointly furnish his apartment in anticipation of her moving in. Relationships between the bride’s family and the groom’s family were awful. The groom’s parents took the bride’s parents’ disparaging of their son (with good reason) as insults to their parenting. His unworthiness to marry her typified their own failures as LDS parents.
Of course, the biggest casualty in this whole mess was the bride — torn between the man she deeply loved and the parents she had loved and respected her entire life. Whatever earlier inabilities to get along or play nice had now evolved into what seemed like open, intractable, vivid disdain.
All of which brings us back to the temple — few in attendance, his tearful (for all the wrong reasons) mother sitting next to him, her father sitting next to her mother with the other attendants (as opposed to them sitting in a witness chair and next to her, respectively). The sealer was aware of the situation, and the ceremony was perfect. Afterward, I took photos of bride and groom, friends and family, in what felt like an unusually warm and civil atmosphere. The bride’s father made somewhat, but not entirely, futile gestures at reconciliation via friendly handshakes and amicable small talk with the groom’s family. Everyone smiled for the photos and the bride and groom were visible ecstatic.
Later, at the somewhat low-key dinner, the groom’s father stood up to announce that the happy couple would be sharing a first dance. He tearfully and sincerely thanked the bride’s parents for raising such a wonderful daughter, a woman who made his son a better man and a welcome addition to the family. After the dinner, both sets of parents quietly stepped aside together and shared embraces. I was putting my camera away, nearby, and heard the bride’s father say with an enormous, tearful smile: “we’re so happy. we’re completely on board.”
I have always had a profound sense of the temple as a place where God’s work was accomplished on a uniquely grand and efficacious scale — where only the best feelings of unity, of healing, and of atonement prevailed. Yesterday, I witnessed a miracle in the house of the Lord the scope of which it is almost impossible to overstate.