Last week, I took a trip to Colorado from my home here in Japan. I was invited to my nephew's wedding several months ago and at first responded "no" to the RSVP. It's such a long trip (about twenty hours, counting travel time to the airport and layovers), I am no longer young (soon to be 62), my elderly in-laws need a lot of attention, it is very hard to take holidays from my job teaching English to Japanese businessmen (the schedule is set in stone unless somebody dies), and if I went to the wedding, it was going to cost me a lot of money for international airfare, hotel stays, rental cars, restaurant meals, etc. But then I decided to take a look at the engagement website set up by my handsome nephew and his beautiful fiancee, and there I saw my chubby older brother Ken's smiling face in the section where the parents of the bride and groom are introduced, remembered how my drunken father had verbally abused Ken at the dinner table every night when we were teenagers, realized that my sister Meredith's advanced kidney disease might prevent her from attending, and predicted that my younger brother Hugh's usual avoidance of family gatherings would mean that he would probably end up not going as well. Our parents died almost twenty years ago, so if it turned out that none of us three siblings attended the wedding, our side of the family would be glaringly underrepresented, and that would be a rather sad and maybe humiliating outcome for Ken. I decided to go after all.
When you accept an invitation out of a sense of moral obligation, that does not necessarily make you a good guest. I still had very mixed feelings. I'm not poor, but I'm not rich either. Did I really want to spend all that money, travel all those thousands of miles, and put myself through so much stress for what was essentially just a long weekend, I asked my husband Toshi, who replied very simply with "Go." It would be a ritzy affair, held up in the mountains at a resort an hour's drive from Denver. While cheaper accommodations at a slightly lower altitude were listed on the couple's website, if you wanted to stay at the resort where the nuptials would be held, it would cost you more than 300 dollars a night. If I had not had to pay trans-Pacific airfare, there's a slight possibility I would have considered splurging on the five-star luxury hotel, but under the circumstances, I opted for a much cheaper room at a Best Western along the highway in the small town nearby, which turned out to be a much more comfortable fit for me, especially as my ailing sister was able to make the trip, and she and her husband Robert (at 82, twenty years Meredith's senior) stayed at the same hotel, as did Meredith's adopted son Perrin (who had a horrible car accident last Christmas and is now a paraplegic) and Perrin's wife. We commandeered the sofas and armchairs in the hotel lobby on the first day and talked for three hours--about Perrin's new life, about how he is slowly getting back to work as a welder, a job he loves, and about his daughter, who will be two years old this coming March. The next day, the day of the wedding, we were a strong presence at the breakfast buffet, sitting around until the staff came to take away all the food. I talked so much, first at the hotel and later at the events surrounding the wedding, that I lost my voice, which hasn't happened in a very long time.
Anyway, back to my fear of driving in unfamiliar places. Before this trip, I had never set foot in an American city west of St. Louis. After landing at Denver Airport in the early evening, instead of picking up the rental car and trying to drive up into the Rockies in the dark, I spent the night at an airport hotel, where I accessed google earth and obsessively viewed, again and again on my tiny iPhone screen, the route I would take the next day. Which lane would I have to be in when Pena Boulevard merged with I-70? Would there be so much traffic I wouldn't be able to get over to the correct lane in time, as sometimes happens here in compact Japan? Would I be able to turn around and come back without getting lost? There was no GPS device and my Japan-based phone plan allowed me to connect to the Internet only when using the hotel's Wifi. How would I know what to do if I got lost or missed my exit? Would I remember to drive on the righthand side of the road, especially after making a turn? In Japan, we drive on the left side, and I've been confused in the past when transitioning from one country to the other.
The directions seemed so easy--take Pena BLVD until it turns into I-70, then exit at #232, then stay on US Route 40 until you come to Winter Park. Any fool could understand such simple instructions! But I felt like it was June 5, 1944, and I was scheduled to land on the beach in Normandy the next day. I knew how crazy I was being, but I could not go to sleep. When I envisioned myself careening off the road the next day into a deep valley and dying, thus putting a damper on the wedding, I asked God to please help me get out of this sick mindset. After that, for the first time in my life, I was able to shut down my own brain, and I fell asleep right away, slept peacefully, rented the car the next day, and drove up the mountain through some of the most stunningly beautiful scenery I have ever seen. It was my first time seeing the Rockies. Being from Georgia, I had seen the green Appalachians many times. The snow-covered Rockies were something different, and I was awestruck. Although the drive required concentration because of the numerous switchbacks, all I felt was gratitude that everything was so much easier than expected and deep reverence that God had created such a magnificent world.
Then there had been the monumental issue of what to wear, which I spent far too many hours trying to resolve. The invitation said, "Cocktail attire is encouraged," and I thought, "What is cocktail attire?" Well, actually, I have an idea from my early adulthood, when Meredith was married to an attorney, from whom she bitterly split two years after they adopted Perrin, which marked the first of many sad episodes in Perrin's life. That's another story, but what Meredith used to wear to all the cocktail parties she was expected to attend as an attorney's wife in a mid-sized Southern city--that's what must be cocktail attire, I thought--shiny dresses, high heels, stoles, lots of jewelry, perfect hairdo, perfect makeup, high-end perfume, etc. I started a search on the Internet for something appropriate, and one day, after much deliberation, on a sudden reckless impulse ordered a lovely black maxi skirt with a sheer outer layer, matched with a shiny silver-toned top that had a grosgrain ribbon to be tied just below the chest to create an empire waist. I'm overweight but not plus-sized, so when I saw that the top looked really good on the plus-sized model, I expected it to look good on me, too, a petite-obese size 14. Well, I was wrong. It did not look good. That shirt was a whole lot shinier than it had appeared online. It was covered with sequins (not visible in the photo!), and the material was like a glittery lame sewn into the shape of a lot of little ornate flowers. Somebody in a faraway factory had worked very hard to make that shirt, and I was so sorry to come hard up against the fact that it would just not do for me. Don't get me wrong. It would have looked good on many other people, but because it was so very different from what I usually wear, I could not make peace with it, no matter how hard I tried. I was briefly infatuated, but deep down I knew that this was not a good match. I put it on with the long black skirt, then went to Kana's room and asked, "Does this outfit look okay for the wedding?" And she hesitated a very long time, which told me that it did not look okay and that she was searching for a polite way to deliver the news. "Um," she said. "Um, yes. It looks okay." When I found out how much it would cost to send the silver shirt back to Macys in the US (almost as much as the shirt itself), I renewed my efforts to believe that it was right, but part of me knew I needed to face the fact that it was too tight, too low-cut, too glamorous, and too out-of-character. I hated wasting money, but I knew I was rejecting the shirt not because I thought I wasn't good enough to wear an expensive fancy item (I wouldn't have considered it in the first place if that were the case) but because I liked myself enough to want to look my best and feel comfortable at the wedding. To make a long story short (can you believe that I had even more thoughts and inner struggles about this shirt than I'm expressing here?), I ended up pairing the new long black skirt--which I loved--with a white empire-waisted blouse (empire seams flatter every figure, girls!), a pastel pink cardigan, and to add some "cocktail" flavor, a long silver necklace and silver earrings. At the wedding, I felt comfortable and warm and true to myself. Despite the wasted money--which I accepted as a sunk cost--I felt good that I had learned anew that whenever possible we should wear clothes that reflect who we are. In the old days, back when I felt myself unworthy of looking attractive or fashionable or wasting even a small amount of money, I would have gone ahead and worn the shirt I disliked and felt self-conscious the whole time. When I showed Kana the second outfit, with the blouse and pastel cardigan, she smiled and said, "Now you look like you're going to church." I decided to take that as a compliment.
And although there was no minister at the wedding (the bride's brother officiated) and the ceremony was held outdoors, I think I felt even closer to God than if I had actually been in a church. It was a beautiful, crystalline day. The air was crisp, the sky deep blue, the snow-covered Rocky Mountains rising majestic and timeless across the valley. My nephew had to wipe the tears from his eyes when he saw his bride appear in the door of the building and make her way down the hill toward the rustic altar. That was when my cousin Ann, seated next to me, dressed in an elegant aqua-colored silk dress and deep pink cashmere sweater that she told me she had found at the thrift store in the small town nearby only hours before, not having organized her cocktail attire earlier--she is so laid back--leaned over to me and whispered, "Do you have any tissues?" So I dug in my bag and pulled out some pocket tissues, white ones with a cute pink Hello Kitty pattern, but she didn't notice the design and just started wiping her eyes. We sat there together under that big, big sky and shed tears of I-don't-know-what into our Hello Kitty tissues as the beautiful bride walked across the grass toward her groom.
Looking back on it, I think I was so deeply moved by that wedding because it jolted me awake and taught me something new. Up until the actual wedding, I had had flashes of bewilderment. Why the heck, I had thought, can't they just have an ordinary wedding in an ordinary church downtown with an ordinary minister? Why go to all the trouble of getting a hundred people to this remote mountaintop? Even the guests who lived in the US had to take time off from work (the wedding was on a Friday), travel many miles, rent cars, stay in hotels, to see these two get married. Why couldn't they just do what the generation before them did--have a simple ceremony in one of their hometowns? Wasn't all this just a little too...extravagant and excessive?
But the thing is, they did what they wanted to do, something they'd dreamed about for some time, having been together for seven years before the wedding. We invitees all had the choice of whether or not to accept their invitation to share in the joy and love they feel for each other and their surroundings. I admit that I spent a lot of money and got very tired on the journey over and back and even today am still suffering from jet lag. But I don't regret my choice at all, and I commend my nephew and his bride for creating such a meaningful moment in a place of almost other-worldly beauty. I'm grateful to have experienced goose bumps of mystical awe at the grandeur of the mountains, to have seen the inspiring love these two young people share, to have shown my older brother and my sister that I love and care about them (Hugh stayed home in Georgia, as expected, but that's okay), and to have grown and learned a few important things about myself, mainly that I don't need to worry or agonize nearly as much as I do.