"Life is like playing a violin solo in public..."
Bastille Day 1984
“Life is like playing a violin solo in public
and learning the instrument as one goes on.”
We picked Bastille Day because it fell on a Saturday. I don’t remember how far ahead of that date we had made up our minds that we would get married, but it couldn’t have been more than a few weeks. Both of us had been married once. Neither event involved a large celebration. I think that we would have been OK with another low-key affair.
I was seeing a psychologist at the time. Trying to figure out what it was about my first marriage that made it not last. Sometimes it’s not one individual or the other; it’s just that you’re not meant to live together. In other instances people change. There are a few cases where deceit is involved.
I needed to know the absolute truth. But there is no such thing. You set out on a sailboat; you look forward to a nice and exciting trip. But you still depend on favorable winds.
I told my counselor that it would be a small affair. The man who would never tell me what to do or what was best for me (“You’ll figure it out.”) almost jumped out of his seat.
“You need to have a party.”
We have no money. We wouldn’t have been able to afford our house had it not been for GI bill financing. We cannot afford a party.
“You must have a party. There will be times when you will regret having married this woman. You need to be able to remember the celebration. The bigger the better. Borrow money if you must.”
Reluctantly I carried the news home. She’s not much for being in the public eye. Hates it when people look at her. Will not buy a flashy dress. Now I’m asking her to get a wedding gown. As flashy and attention-getting as it gets.
To my surprise she agrees. This sets in motion a series of preparations. Men always think their events are easy to handle. Little do they know.
First came the venue. I’m a Washington U. graduate. I can use Graham Chapel. I’ve been fond of that structure since I first saw it soon after I started Med School. It’s beautiful; it’s iconic; the cost will be minimal. Check one.
She somehow finds a gown that she loves, and it will be ready on time. The groomsman’s wife knows a caterer who’s not already booked. Someone else comes up with a photographer. There is a hair stylist who is free. We find a printer for the invitations. One of my patients is very talented with the guitar; he will sing. Neither one of us is deeply involved with a religious affiliation. The Ethical Society leader agrees to officiate.
This is so easy!
I get a look. Never again will it occur to me to even think that this is a stressless event.
D Day minus two. Family begins to fly in. My sister and her husband from Spain with their two kids. Her sisters. We leave our house to the guests and we move to a hotel. I talk to my mom.
Do you think she’s right for me?
She gives me the mom look.
“You are the one who knows.”
“But she’s a lot like us.”
I decide that I’m showing up for the wedding.
On wedding day morning we get up early to play tennis on the hotel courts. Just another day. I pick up my tuxedo; early afternoon she disappears into the vortex of hair dressing and makeup administration. I have nothing to do but make sure that I won’t forget the lyrics to the song that I’ll sing for her.
The time arrives. I’m at the altar with the best man. Her dad has a bad hip; she’s ready to faint because everyone’s looking at her. She says Graham Chapel has the longest aisle of any church in creation. My patient begins to sing “Beautiful;” the Gordon Lightfoot song.
“At times I just don’t know
How you could be anything but beautiful…”
He has time to finish the song; such is the slow pace of the bride and her father. She arrives at the altar to join me. She is beautiful.
I had written the vows; we recite them. We exchange rings. We are legally and spiritually joined.
We leave Graham Chapel together; a much shorter trip down the aisle this time because she can’t wait to leave the public view. I realize, with much satisfaction, that I have many friends and family who seem genuinely happy for me.
The photographer wants to take more pictures. Of us at the altar. And outside. With flowers; without flowers. We look at each other. We want to join our friends at the party. We fire the photographer on the spot. Better to form memories than to get a good picture that was staged to begin with.
“But I haven’t even taken pictures of the reception.”
We reassure him that he’s done enough and that he will be paid.
We go to our backyard; it has been sprayed for mosquitoes and decorated in a very tasteful way. The food was great. My patient is a fabulous entertainer. He does country, and rock, and pop. The crowd loves him. He helps me to sing my anthem to my new wife.
“When I look in your eyes I go crazy.” It goes well.
I begin to thank everyone for coming; for taking time off to help me celebrate. I begin to realize what the psychologist meant about parties, and forming memories.
The evening’s over. We go back to the hotel. We look at each other. Our first obstacle course conquered. The psychologist was right. This was page one of a long and complicated book. Many times I’ve asked myself what was I thinking when I decided to propose. I’m sure that she has had her moments too, but she’s so practical and patient, and I’m so emotional… She shrugs it off much, much faster than I do.
But we had our party. Many others followed. Bonds; threads that join together to make the union tighter. Now it’s hard to conceive of life without this same person that occasionally unnerves me.
Today, on the eve of Bastille Day 32 years later, I went to Graham Chapel for a stroll down memory lane. Dozens of smart-looking students walked about. A few of them look at the old man with the Cardinals cap on. They wonder why he’s taking the time to take a picture of a building which, for them, is just another glob of stone.
I want to tell them that we took on playing a violin without lessons. That we did well. Soon, they will have time to form memories too.