Weddings of the Newest Kind
When I stepped off the plane in Atlanta, Georgia after 20 years away, I was transported back to my childhood by the I’m-home-again smell of pine needles in the air- memories of fireflies and mason jars, screened porches and crab grass. I was rudely awakened from my revelries by the racial invective spray-painted on the walls downtown. In spite of Atlanta’s metamorphosis into a vibrant, modern city, there remained a palatable discomfort of the “Star-bellied Sneetch” kind between the servers and diners in my lunch-spot, the staff and guests in my hotel, and honestly, in most places I went.
As such, I was supremely anxious about what might emanate from my young children who were still at the “Mommy, look at that insert-politically-incorrect-description here” age when I took them to my beloved Washington, DC soon after. What would my California surf-town babies say at their first glimpse of dark skin? Happily, I can report that my worry was needless, as even to this day, my kids will use a person’s clothing, eye color, hair color and demeanor as descriptors long before skin color enters their minds. As a parent, I am proud of that.
Their attitudes may very well be a result of living in a diverse community that has conditioned them in all the right ways. They have friends with bi-racial parents, low-tech parents, and kids with one mom or two dads. They also attend a school, which integrates sensitivity and diversity learning into its curriculum. They have studied Loving vs. Virginia and Brown vs. Board, the Snyder Act and the Suffrage movement. They have heard Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speeches literally ringing through their hallways.
So, when I come home from work, visibly touched by a wedding ceremony I have shot, my children are beginning to understand that it is not just because I am a hopeless romantic. It is true that weddings are one of my favorite places to be; they remind me of the best parts of falling in love. But it is not the Disney-esque, happily ever after wedding of bride and groom that moves me most. That honor comes more often from being a part of a wedding of a couple who walks the aisle desperately trying to focus on the joy of celebrating the day together rather than the distress caused by the societal finger-wagging they have had to endure. Perhaps it is because I am tied by an invisible tether of the close-up lens- a mechanism that allows me to be one of the few to see the tear before it is quietly swept away- or because I am allowed into the Green Room of these brides’ and grooms’ lives as they prepare to face the reality and the inevitable consequences of the decision they have made to come together formally, that I have a catbird’s seat at the window of emotion the rest of the world generally does not see.
I have watched a bride smile through tears of heartbreak created by no-show family members too ashamed and too unforgiving to share in the day or the future life of their child. I have seen tears flow from a bride-to-be while explaining the vendor list she has been through to find a photographer who would accept her money. I have honored several requests from marrying couples not to post any pictures of the biggest day of their lives in the hopes of keeping their marriage secret at work. I am referring, of course, to same sex unions.
My personal hope is that when my kids return to the South to visit their great grandparents’ graves one day, they will take home with them only the deep smell of pine, and not a “Southern discomfort”; that when they attend weddings, they won’t even remark about the sexes of the grooms. I want them only to sense, to know, to feel that loving someone completely is not a sin nor a shame, but a cause for celebration. I hope that my California-dreamin’ kids will continue to spread MLK’s gospel that “unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word”. That would make me very, very proud.