Then you freak the hell out.
That’s what happened to me, six months ago, when my friend asked me to guide him and his beloved through their June wedding in Philadelphia.
I wasn’t worried about writing the ceremony or performing in front of an audience. (I’d done that before). I did not secretly believe that my friend was making a mistake in his choice of life partner. And I was not surreptitiously in love with the bride.
What plagued me was my own mind. What do I know about love, anyway? I chided myself for weeks before the event. I’m so horrendously bad at it in all of its dimensions.
My feeling that I wasn’t meant for the job was solidified when, after asking everyone from my sister to my most horrendous ex, I couldn’t find anyone to accompany me to the wedding. I put off mailing in the RSVP card until the last possible moment, and then I didn’t send it in at all.
“How can I officiate a wedding?” I moaned to myself. “I can’t even get a platonic wedding date.”
“You’re coming, right?” my friend joked via text message. “We kind of need you.”
“Of course I’m coming,” I promised. “I just have no idea who I’ll be bringing with me.”
Each time I tried to work on writing the ceremony, I struggled, shuddering at everything I put on the page. My own words read as contrived, so I turned to the greats for inspiration. Neruda? Sentimental! Rumi? Cliche! Rilke? Pathetic. Nothing was good enough.
A generally confident person, I was weighed down by doubt. “What do you know about love, Adina?” I asked myself, over and again. The night before the wedding, as I finalized my remarks, alone in an airport hotel room, I cried like a child, mournful and defiant. Fortunately, having traveled to the wedding without a plus-one, no one was around to hear it.
The next morning, the day of the wedding, I walked into my hotel bathroom to prepare. “You are going to get it together,” I mouthed in the mirror. “Not everything is about you. Put a smile on your face, put on your grown-up trousers and get marching.”
I continued with my pep talk, lecturing and applying eye makeup, eventually glancing down at my phone to check the time. At some point during my pep talk, I’d received a text from a man I adore — the only man I did not invite to the wedding.
Knock ‘em dead tonight, it read. The text was accompanied by a photo of a (terrible) poem by vocalist Aaron Neville, with lines such as: “My dear, dearest darling, you know I love you so / And I’ll tell the world so everyone will know.”
I threw the phone into my bag and headed toward the venue. It was a beautiful spring day, sunny and warm. When I arrived, the couple was taking photos with their families, everyone in high dress, illuminated against the backdrop of Philadelphia. I could not believe the beauty that surrounded me. My friend was happier than I’d ever seen him. His partner was also radiant.
I swore I wouldn’t weep, but I choked up several times when I looked at the crying couple, two people I genuinely adored. I felt so happy for them, and I was so happy to witness and share in their joy. The ceremony was a success, the reception was excellent, the night stunning. For all my anxieties, I was thrilled they had invited me to play such a central role in the day.
The next week, the friend who’d sent that text as I was preparing for the ceremony came to visit me in the countryside where I had recently moved. Not long after his arrival, we walked down a dirt road so I could show him the pasture where the woman I consider my mother was planning our imagined wedding.
“It’s beautiful, but not large enough for a reception,” he said.
“You’re out of your mind,” I countered. “How many acres could we possibly need?”
He smiled and I imagined for a moment the words I would choose if writing a wedding for him.
“Hey, how did it go?” he asked, snapping me back into reality. “Your friend’s wedding, I mean.”
“I did what I could,” I said.
“I’m sure you did more than that,” he said, smiling as he looked out over the field of flowers. “You always do more than that.”
In preparing for that ceremony, I lamented my lack of love. But when I reflected back on that day in Philadelphia, I realized: My life was teeming with it. I looked away from the man and at the pasture below us. Sometimes you have to step away from something to really see it.