David Carlson: A magnetic mystery


I attended a wedding recently, one where, because my wife officiated, I was able to observe the ceremony close up.

Because my wife and I were both college professors for four decades, we have attended numerous weddings of students over those years, and we have both now officiated at several.

Weddings are wonderful when everything goes smoothly and when the service reflects the personalities of the couple. That was the case with this recent wedding, and that lack of drama gave me the chance to ponder two aspects of weddings more deeply.

It is a rare wedding where someone — it could be the officiant, the bridesmaid, the best man, or maybe the couple themselves — isn’t asked to share how the couple met. That is the one great story told at nearly every wedding, and what makes that story so great is that it is full of mystery.

Two individuals, whether from the same small town or from separate continents, are taking their own journeys, not knowing that the other person is waiting for them down the road. Perhaps a mutual friend will introduce them. Perhaps they will bump into each other — literally bump into each other, like with a fender-bender — and that will begin the relationship.

Perhaps, as in the case of my wife and me, the two will meet as young children, completely forget about one another, and then meet again seemingly by accident years later. Perhaps the two will sense a spark, a special chemistry from the first meeting, or, perhaps, the two will be friends for years before they realize that they love one another.

Whatever the story, whenever the story is told at a wedding, and no matter how many are listening, the room becomes silent, as if everyone knows that they are in the presence of a great mystery. When we hear that a mutual friend introduced the two, we can’t help but wonder what would have happened if that mutual friend had been sick that day. When we hear that the two bumped into each other, we can’t help but wonder what would have happened if that chance encounter hadn’t happened. When we hear that the two met at college, we can’t help but wonder what would have happened if one of the two had gone to another college. What makes the meeting of the two such a powerful mystery is that, with just a minor tweaking of the story, the two might never have met.

And that leads to realizing that a wedding is not just the celebration of a mystery, but also a magnetic event. At the center of every wedding is the couple — two people whose connection is so strong that it seems they must sit next to one another at the center of a long table or alone together at their own table. It’s like the two are magnetized to one another.

But the magnetic connection doesn’t stop there. The families of the two — again, they could be from the same town or from separate continents — are brought together because of the love of the two. Unrelated people and unrelated families, through the wedding, become related and family to one another.

And the magnetism continues. The two getting married invite the friends who have supported them on their journeys to share the joy of their special day. Friends of the one meet the friends of the other, and often, in the process, they become friends of one another. How often when someone asks, “Do you remember how we first met?” the answer is “Don’t you remember? We met at X and Y’s wedding.”

Whether we are family or friends of the couple, it is little wonder that we often feel better after attending a wedding. Life is richer whenever we are in the presence of a great mystery, especially when that great mystery brings us closer to one another.

David Carlson is a professor emeritus of philosophy and religion. Send comments to [email protected].

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