Just under two months before our wedding—the wedding Sam and I had planned for nearly 18 months and the wedding we talked about practically since our first date in 2017—the world changed. At first, we thought—and the former administration clamored—we’d be “fine by Memorial Day.” But as cases rose and cities locked down, the prognosis became increasingly grim.
Should we postpone? Should we get legally married now and have our Jewish ceremony later? Would we have time to change course? Weddings mean so much to so many people in so many different ways. The union of two people, the ritual of tradition, the gathering of everyone you love in one place, the list goes on. My PowerPoint outlines helped, yet we changed our minds constantly and didn’t always agree. No matter the stress and emotion, we reminded ourselves that we were healthy and in love.
We decided to proceed with May 24, 2020, the date on our ketubah, inscribed in our rings and for which we’d been physically and emotionally preparing for months. We’d retain as much of the day as possible, albeit in my parents’ suburban backyard instead of a chic industrial venue in downtown Boston. We’d marry under a chuppah, host a celebratory “mazel tov drive-by” and enjoy an intimate evening of dinner and dancing.
Abandoning the 200-plus person festivities we’d always envisioned was difficult, especially considering the months of planning and how family and friends couldn’t attend in person. Yet despite the uncertainty of the world, we were certain about our love for each other. We were eager to begin our lives together and warmed by the idea of creating joy and memories that would last decades.
We snapped into accelerated planning mode. A lot had to change—and quickly. Informing guests, setting up Zoom (before it was commonplace), canceling and rebooking vendors, setting up the revised venue. My mom, who’d managed the logistics of the original plan, pivoted gracefully to ensure all meaningful aspects of the day were maintained. Let’s just say several more PowerPoints were created.
I awoke on May 24 to sunshine (thank goodness!), nerves and a sense of magic in the air. My maid of honor arrived and we did our own hair and makeup with bridesmaids and grandmothers on Zoom. When I slipped on my wedding dress (the tailor made an exception to come into the studio to finish) and my mom affixed my veil, it finally felt real.
Outside, the venue was coming together. My dad’s homemade chuppah was where I kicked soccer balls as a kid, its antique barn wood covered with an elaborate array of flowers, just as I had picked out months before. Surrounding the makeshift aisle were socially-distanced white chairs with custom hand sanitizers, a photo collage of our loved ones my mom had made and a large monitor displaying our Zoom guests, who were just trickling in.
While there were only a handful of in-person guests awaiting the procession, I was shivering with nerves. I could only imagine what I would have been like with 200-plus in the audience! When the acoustic tune began, I walked slowly down the makeshift aisle with my parents by my side. While on Zoom hundreds of faces were already strewn with happy tears, all I focused on was Sam’s smile under that chuppah.
When the rabbi (who oversaw the preschool where we met and who was recovering from heart surgery) began the ceremony, I was overcome with emotion. The profundity of this life milestone. The warmth of loved ones (and the longing for them in person, especially my tuxedo-donning grandparents who blessed us from their Florida living rooms). The comfort of marrying my best friend in an intimate and beautiful setting. I remember wanting the moment to last forever.
After we smashed the glass, our guests (still in tears) watched as we danced to “Something in the Way She Moves” and toasted champagne. I felt a sense of relief and excitement as we swung into the front yard for a parade of 40 cars of family and friends cheering with posters. My brother even surprised me by inviting my childhood soccer star idol, who pulled up in her red pickup truck.
The celebration moved into the garage, transformed into a lively party venue. We ate and drank, thanks to my brother (head caterer) and his girlfriend (fabulous sous chef). We danced and sang, courtesy of my mother-in-law (hora lead) and brother-in-law (DJ and emcee). We laughed and cried into the early morning around a cozy bonfire. You would’ve had to convince me there were only 10 of us there.
I’d heard that “your wedding is the best day of your life.” During the months of planning, I didn’t put too much pressure on the day, especially as the pandemic took hold. Yet it was everything I could’ve hoped for and so much more. While we didn’t have a big party or check off every wedding detail, all the important things were there—traditions and rituals passed through generations, memories with loved ones and the marriage to my best friend and love of my life.
And there were so many unexpected surprises. The beautiful cake (baked by my new aunt), lush green setting (which we had forgone for the industrial venue) and elaborate dinner. The outpouring of patience, energy and love from family and friends, the sense of community from those who came together to make our wedding possible, the creation of joy for those cooped up at home, the quality time with our loved ones. A story that’s uniquely ours.
One year later, it’s tempting to think about if we’d postponed. We likely could’ve had the wedding we envisioned, or at least closer to it. It’s likely we wouldn’t have had to forgo some of the festivities and people that I may long for when we start attending weddings again. Many couples have postponed for these reasons, and I respect that—everyone is different. And many couples (fingers crossed!) will never have to make this decision.
But I’m so glad we went ahead. We experienced May 24 on May 24. We had the most unexpected of surprises and brought joy in a time of global strife. We started our journey as a married couple and were able to face the challenges of 2020 together. We’re thrilled to be celebrating our one-year anniversary and are enjoying continuing the celebration with our loved ones in the coming months.
What our non-traditional backyard wedding proved is that no matter what, love prevails. Whether a large party or small, whether a wedding or just greeting a friend, what’s more important than decorations, guest lists and detailed agendas is the people you care about and how you show up (physically and virtually) for one another. I hope that as we re-emerge from quarantine and host big weddings and other parties, we remember this lesson.
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