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It's a fine line between living for the moment and being a sociopath.

Patricia B McConnell: For The Love Of A Dog.

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Friday, May 03, 2002

Shang High Life, #13

Shang High Life, #13
May 3, 2002

I laughed. I cried. She became a part of me.

Geri and I got married on the top of a wooded hill, at the entrance of Sydney Harbour, on March 30, 2002. To one side, the Pacific, to the other, across the Harbour, the Sydney skyline.

What you are about to read---should you choose to---is mostly about the wedding. For those among you who find, say, photographs of frolicking puppies nauseating, or Andrea Bocelli’s recording of Con Te Partiro unbearable, I recommend you stop, now, and delete this e-mail.

The most frequent question we’ve been asked since we returned to the wilds of mega-politan China has been “How was the honeymoon?”

Well, I mean, like, you know, um, the honeymoon was great. It was two indulgent weeks on a remote Fijian beach with a sexy redhead. We did the things that honeymooners do. (You want a list?) How bad could it be?

Never having done this marriage thing before, it seems strange to me that people ask about the honeymoon, not the wedding. Maybe it’s because wedding stories, for most people, are right up there on the excitement scale with cleaning the fridge. But focusing on the honeymoon does sort of short-change the main event. So, I’ve developed an annoying response to the honeymoon question:

It was a great vacation I took right after the most extraordinary day of my life: the day I married my true love.

It’s sickeningly smarmy, and it’s absolutely true. It also refocuses the flow of the conversation a mite. I know some folks just ask about the honeymoon to be nice. They don’t really want the romance novel. So, if eyes glaze over, I leave it at that. I will not forcibly foist passion into the lives of the bored and emotionally rigor-mortised. If eyes do not glaze, however, if the asker is foolish enough to press on in the face of obvious zealotry, I proceed to tell him or her this:

On our wedding day, that moment of looking into Geri’s eyes, promising my life to her, was a singularity in my lifetime: the most pure, most focused, most indescribable moment I have ever known. And it changed me forever.

People talk about it being the best day of their lives. I didn’t think it actually would be. I thought it would be lovely and memorable, I just didn’t think it would set the new record for how great a day could be.

All day, there was a furious wind, and clouds like curtains. But the wind quieted, and the clouds parted to a startling sun moments before the gospel choir began to sing. We got a sun gift of an hour and a half. Geri’s beloved choir sang us in, and kept us all going, cradling over a hundred of us with sound. The love emanating from that choir is a powerful strong thing---and on that day, powerful plus one, with an old friend of mine who flew in from the US to add his voice to the gift.

The bride arrived on a bow wave of beautiful little girls dressed in gold and crowned in ivy, escorting her. And every wonderful thing that happened after that was simply a harmony line to how I felt getting to be the one standing beside her.

The whole day was simple and perfect. (The clouds returned, and the rain came, only as we went in for dinner.)

I could give you the play by play, but I won’t. I have had a hard time thinking through how I might best write about it for you. I can describe every detail. (It didn’t go by in a blur, as it apparently does for many couples. . . .which is not to say that it didn’t go by too quickly, but that it is all vivid to me.) Yet, I know I will fail, regardless of how vivid my description, to bridge the distance between recounting the events that took place, and conveying what happened to us---apparently many of us---on that hill.

I fear the events I would describe to you would read as an unremarkable wedding narrative. The bride arrived and was beautiful. Songs were sung. Poems were read. Vows were exchanged. Bride was kissed. Champagne was drunk. Food was eaten. Fathers said tender, gentlemanly, loving things. Speeches were made. People danced. Honeymooners skidaddled to Fiji.

The way the day touched us, however, was anything but unremarkable. That’s no big deal, I guess. We were the bride and groom. It would have been a worry if we hadn’t been touched. But here’s the thing that continues to blow our minds: It didn’t touch just us. The giddy drug was in the water glasses, or something, and love apparently was, in fact, in the air.

So many people keep telling us that our wedding was the most beautiful, the most memorable they’ve ever attended. . . .that it was the most extraordinary environment of love to be in. . . .that it restored their faith in the possibility of finding passion in life. And that just stuns us.

It’s possible people are just flattering us by saying those things. Perhaps it’s a bit like talking about how wonderful the bride looks. Maybe people say superlative things about every wedding, in the same obligatory way they talk about the bride being the most beautiful ever (except for the grossly obese brides, of course, about whom people merely say, “She’s never looked more beautiful”).

There’s also the wild chance that our wedding really did move others as unexpectedly as it moved us. We walked around gob-smacked most of the time, hardly believing the extraordinary feeling running thick through it all, the energy coursing through everyone. We were a little high from it for days afterwards. But of course we were, we rationalized: it was *our* wedding.

And then we returned from our honeymoon. Phone calls, e-mails, cards exclaiming---in ways so touching we cried a lot and had to blame it on jet lag---that something magic happened on that hill. Some people claim the choir did it; others say things about the way Geri and I looked at each other. But the consensus seems to be that we all got just a little touched by angels (or UFOs or something), or, at least, brought into the presence of some of the things we all fervently hope are true.

I don’t know. Geri and I are a little taken aback that it had any impact on anybody other than us. On the day, we felt like the recipients of the gift, humbled by it all, by everyone’s love. We never expected anyone to thank us for the gift that the day became for them. We never considered that. We were pretty selfish and myopic about the whole thing, actually. All we did was strip down the standard wedding shtick to the bits we liked, focused on each other and filled a room with people we love.

But something unexpected did happen on that day---to me, anyway. I was transformed. I expected to make a lifelong promise to the woman I loved, but I didn’t expect to be changed, to become something new. I didn’t expect to actually feel something happen to me, inside me, beyond me.

So, maybe it’s not so nuts to think that something unexpected happened to a bunch of other people on that hill, too.

* * *

The DVD guy in the skirt…

There is one person who needs to be singled out. We really did fill the room with people we loved. We seemed to be sitting under a waterfall of love that whole day. It seems almost wrong to single one man out for love beyond the love of so many who couldn’t possibly have shown us more love than they did, and almost certainly more love than any two people could deserve. No one loves us more than our moms, and our friends were selfless in their joy, but I *am* going to point a finger at someone who loved us a kind of big-so-big that I’ll never be able to express how deeply humbled we felt by the generosity of his heart.

And, given that he’s a quiet, private guy, I’m going to do it in a way he’ll probably hate, by holding him up in front of everyone I know, here on this page. And, he’ll be frustrated by the big-noting, because he claims, sincerely, that he was just doing what was fun for him.

I already felt in Ronnie’s debt. He gives to both Geri and me continually. It’s little things, he claims, requiring no effort at all. The dozens of cases of wine I keep in his Sydney basement occupy space he’s not using, anyway. Right. The bed of his that I sleep in when I’m in Sydney is one that would otherwise be empty---regardless of the fact that the week I stayed with him before the wedding was the only week he might have gotten his house to himself between two months of family visits. He cut an extra set of keys for Geri.

But he’s right. That’s nothing. . . .compared to the rest. When we asked him to be our MC for the wedding, he demurred, uncomfortable with a big speaking part. So, we said, look, we just want you close by, Ronnie. We want you to hand us the rings, and we want you there when we’re signing the bits of paper that say we’re married, and we want your name on them, too. And we want you at the dinner table with us, so we can smile all giddy at you. Okay, he said, so long as the only talking he had to do was to introduce others. He’d be much more comfortable just doing some organizing, you know, any way to make the day go more smoothly. To appease him, we said, yeah, okay, whatever. If there’s stuff that needs doing, we’ll send it your way. Of course, there won’t be much, because everything’s been pretty much taken care of, already. Yeah, right.

Well, Ronnie’s Scottish, and he tends to turn out at dress-up events in his kilt. Cuts a damn striking figure in it, too. So, on the day, as is the norm at such times, a hundred little details popped up needing to be taken care of. The caterer had questions; the DJ couldn’t find the disc; family members needed rounding-up for pictures. Whenever anyone approached either Geri or me with a questioning look, we just said, “Go see the guy in the skirt.” And they did. Any detail we remembered at the last minute, he had remembered already, right down to organizing taxis for our parents. At one point I even sent my sister to Ronnie with her malfunctioning digital camera. He laughed, put his hands on the camera, and it started working again.

And then. . .

And then it was all over. Geri and I, blissful and buzzing, walked into our hotel room after midnight and, there, smack at the foot of the bed was a large, flat screen: beside it, a portable DVD player, and a card with a message of love from some of our closest friends. Geri and I just looked at each other and simultaneously said, “Ronnie.”

We pressed play, and alternated between tears and giggles for the next two hours. I guess a number of you already know the story. Ronnie makes DVDs for a living, and he, along with a small crew of very good secret-keepers, recruited dozens of our family and friends to create this gift. Thanks to them, and especially to Ronnie, that’s how we spent our wedding night: in each other’s arms, getting embraced, regaled, embarrassed, and loved from all over the world, courtesy of the guy in the skirt. We went from feeling like the two luckiest people in the world to feeling like the two most given-to people in the world.

The speeches…

Speeches are not a great feature of American weddings. In Australia, however, they are de rigueur. Usually, they are also groaners. Among the generous and unexpected things people have said about our wedding, however, was that it was the first time they had ever been sad that the wedding speeches ended.

If you’d like to see what got said---albeit without the extraordinary performances---you’ll find the speeches on the same website as the pictures:
If you want to see the speeches, click on “documents” on the left side of the screen.

* * *

For those who have been kind enough to wonder about the temporary disappearance of Shang Hai Life since January, I appreciate your obvious sycophancy, and the hole it must have left in your life. I haven’t written for a while for three reasons. First, I experienced a crisis of confidence after misspelling the word “expatriate” through an entire screed. Second, the last one I wrote was embarrassing: heartfelt but terribly written, muddled thought. And, third, with Geri’s arrival in Shanghai, I started getting laid regular. “Hmmm… It’s a cold Saturday afternoon and I can either sit at my computer for an hour or I can snuggle naked under the doona with my fiancée. Is this a test?”