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Canceling our well-planned wedding seemed like a nightmare. But it turned into something beautiful.

Elizabeth Johnson and Jonathan Kosobucki at their wedding April 25 in front of their Arlington Forest home with guests socially distanced in the background. (Jonathan Kosobucki)

We had planned our 130-person wedding for April 25 in Washington, D.C. When covid-19 started hitting the United States in early March, it quickly became clear that we had to make a choice: postpone, or radically change our plans.

For us it was an easy decision — we wanted to start our life together. Fortunately, our families, who are in California and Wisconsin, were supportive of our decision to stick with our date, even though it meant they would not be able to attend in person.

Given the stay-at-home order in Virginia, our new venue would be our home in Arlington Forest, which we had bought and moved into almost a year earlier. At the end of March, as the situation with the virus became more dire, we quickly biked over to the Arlington courthouse to pick up one of the last marriage licenses before the courthouse marriage bureau closed.

Our next-door neighbor, who had previously officiated the wedding of his niece and nephew, offered to preside over our wedding and petitioned the court to provide him with a rushed one-time authorization to perform our ceremony.

Suddenly, our wedding date, which had previously been barreling toward us, seemed precariously far out, as each day brought new uncertainties about how our community would weather this challenge.

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In early April, however, our plans started to fall into place. Neighbors stepped in to help us fill in the gaps: A next-door neighbor made my bouquet from her garden, several others with professional gear became our photographers, and Jon’s close friend who lives two blocks away prepared to serve as a reader during the ceremony.

On the day of our wedding, a small number of friends with cars drove over with masks, signs and chalk for their kids to decorate our sidewalk with messages. We set up a live stream so that family and friends from all over the country and the world (including Germany, China and Croatia) could watch from home and post messages in real time.

We had 130 virtual guests plus about 20 guests in person. My mother and father, who live in California, still walked me down the aisle via FaceTime, and gave me away at the front steps to the house. It would have gone more smoothly to have had them there in person, but I really felt their presence.

While canceling our original, well-planned wedding initially felt like a nightmare, it has turned into a blessing that we never could have anticipated. By discarding all of the material aspects of the wedding we had been concerned about previously — cocktail napkins, decor, hotel arrangements — we were free to focus entirely on what was important: staying healthy and officially joining our lives together.

During the ceremony, my veil fell off multiple times, Jon’s head was cut out of the live video stream and dark clouds threatened rain the whole day. But we were so exhilarated that we were pulling off our wedding, of course none of that mattered.

What we had originally planned would have also been beautiful, but getting married in the place where we are building a home together, surrounded by our community of neighbors and friends, held more meaning than we could have ever predicted.

Spending the first few days of our honeymoon scrolling through photos of our families and friends celebrating us with bottles of champagne while dressed in suits and dresses in their living rooms brought us a joy we never would have imagined. We get to step outside every morning onto the very spot where one of the happiest moments of our lives took place.

We still envision gathering family and friends to celebrate in person, perhaps around our first anniversary. When we do, we know the celebration will take on more meaning and joy than it otherwise could have, as everyone attending will already be connected by the common experience of celebrating with us from afar.

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