Stephen and Sarah’s wedding day, four thousand eight hundred and twelve miles away. How can I mark the day auspiciously? Should I dress up? Should I go and stand outside Aishalton’s empty church at the appointed hour? Or find a white butterfly to throw confetti at? My stiff upper lip is at a loose end.
The wedding is almost ready to begin. You stand front right, waiting, nerves stretched tight as a harp. Stephen. I remember the undersized purple shrimp pocketed in a frail elbow. Two days old and still losing weight, four pounds twelve I think you were, and a peeled grape of tiny squeals. For some reason I remember vividly the bad eighties haircuts round the bed. Helen’s mullet, Philip’s loose perm and tight jeans. Esther’s exhausted face and dark (scared?) eyes. That was the last time I remember you looking helpless. You were an adored little thing, the beadiest most heart-rich smile 309 Whitewell Road ever saw.
I have a wonderful recording of you as an eleven-year-old, accent thick and chewy as liquorice, saying “So, am I going solo on this tape or what?” and a dry-as-dry-ice adult voice in the background drawling “Just carry on, Stephen”, as you entertained me strangely (far away in the Chinese desert) with jokes about corks up doggie’s bums. I never saw a child so suited to the epithet “irrepressible”.
As the readings sound out, I remember you reading at my wedding, almost two years ago. 1 Corinthians 13, the naming of love’s parts. Your strong accent somehow turned those adjectives into commands. I see my father’s face, heart-shaped and pointed with illness, the black eyes clinging on to you, averted for just a moment from the shadow of death. Seeing himself in you, hearing himself in the certainty and clarity of your voice. Profoundly and unshakeably proud of you. I exhort you with those words now. Love IS patient, it IS kind. It is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way. Never forget, both of you, that love does not just aspire to these things. It IS these things.
The ceremony finishes. “Splendid!” booms the organ. I am in the back row, standing by the aisle as you leave the church. As they throng you outside, I take you in my arms, and tell you everything I wish for you. My heart for your happiness, my smiles for your joys, my teeth gritted in sympathy with the difficulties, my stomach clenched with the pains, my hugs for the coldness and my tickles and Monty Python for the dullness. I share a warm and excited hug with your bride. And as you leave the reception, amidst a big goodbye, for the first time on your wedding day I am akin with all the others. We all say farewell and continue on our diverging paths.
True, it is only the beginning of a journey. Not all is lost- I have not ‘missed it’. I am seeing your wedding through a glass darkly. And you both know that in a sense I was right there with all the others, seeing you off in style.