I went to two weddings in 2006 , at opposite ends of the earth, in cultures that know little of each other, all the while professing to know and be better than the other. Each wedding expressed much of the people, their culture, their belief, and one made me weep. Tears not of joy or loss, but rather like a blind person being given sight.
The first wedding took place in a small farming/fishing community in the province of Aceh, the northwest province of Indonesia devastated by the Tsunami. I had arrived in the community only two days before the wedding to take up a new post as the manager of an office of an INGO who was assisting communities trying to rebuild their lives after much destruction, loss, and grief. The whole office was invited to this wedding as it was of two people working together in that office. I was given an invite as a guest of honour as I was the new manager, even though I didn’t even know the names of those getting married, let alone their faces.
The wedding was Saturday morning and as the guest of honour, it was all about firsts. I was to ride in the front of the car wherever I went, at the groom’s house we gathered first to have pictures done, first with me than with others, drinks and food was offered, first to me, then to others. And when I had been given the royal tour of the small house and property, pictures had been taken, food eaten, and guests had arrived, it was determined the time was right to go. All piled in any car, motorcycle, becak, or bicycle that was available and with much noise and hooting, off we went for the five minute drive to the bride’s house.
Our arrival saw me walk with the groom, his mother, and all female relatives to the threshold of bride’s house, where we were greeted by the women in the bride’s family, but not the bride who was tucked away in the house. After an exchange of gifts, well really it was more like us giving and them excepting, we were allowed to enter the property. This ritual completed, we were promptly whisked away into the house where the bride awaited. I must say that my part in the above was limited to trying not to get in the way and being pushed and pointed into the direction in which to go, I floated with the crowd into the house dazed as I noticed everyone else who was invited seem to fade away in the background as extras in a play. The house was decked out in gold cloth, coloured ribbons, and an altar-like thing at one end of the room, where the bride sat, adorned in beauty. I noticed there were no men in sight, besides the groom, and myself as I was muscled through the crowd of colourfully dressed women to be placed at the right hand of the groom, who now was sitting by the bride. Food of all shapes, sizes, and smells, was brought in and covered the floor in front of us – the women all sat causing this room of 20×10 room to be bursting with women, food, and excitement. The ceremonial feast was to begin.
Abruptly, just as everyone has settled and almost all the food is out in hundreds of dishes amongst us all, the bride and groom stand, speak words I do not understand, and rush out – well rush not be an appropriate word as it is difficult to move in a room full of people and bowls of food and drinks. Most people, as I looked around the room, seemed confused and concerned. I could only watch them go, listen to the chatter, and wait.
Not long after, they came back, but no longer a twosome, but a party of three. The third person was covered in mud and having difficulty walking – later I was to learn he was a street beggar, whom the groom had seen as we were walking to the bride’s house. A path through the food and people was quickly made, water was brought to wash the man’s hands, feet, and face, and new clothes were found as well. I watched in awe as the bride and groom together tend to the needs of one who needed help. Tears welled in my eyes.
The second wedding took place in my hometown, it was lovely, a thing of movies, stories, magazines. There was no expense spared, the bride was ravishing, the sun shining – picture perfect. The ceremony was held in a church, complete with a string quartet, and everyone dressed as if the queen was in the party. Agreements had been made with the church, which housed a shelter for homeless people and addicts, that on the day of the wedding all of the so called “clients” would be taken on a outing for the day – all arranged by the bride’s father as a way of ensuring that there would be no mingling of wedding guests and shelter addicts. And so when the guests arrived the church grounds were empty and in fact transformed from the day before – men in tuxedos were valets, flowers were everywhere, signs had been removed or disguised, an elegance had taken over like had never been seen previously.
The ceremony was short and orchestrated seamlessly; love was almost tangible – not just between the couple, but between the couple and the audience as well, an experience that I had never had before. After the ceremony was over, I mingled in the crowd, enjoying people and the sun. I found myself sitting on a bench outside, half engaged in an ensuing conversation and half allowing my mind to wander where it will.
Muffled angry voices that seemed out of place in the day, startled me back to reality. Around the corner from where I sat, was the pastor and the bride’s father engaged in animated whispering. Beyond them, I saw what was the focus of their discussions. Two homeless people, whom I recognized from the shelter, were walking towards the shelter entrance from the road. The father of the bride, with his voice as loud as he dared and poking the pastor in the chest was saying, “You can’t that filth off this property immediately, and get it done discreetly, I want no one to see or know about this. I paid a lot of money to have a perfect wedding for my daughter, paid to clean this place up, paid to get rid of those people, and give them a trip out, and I won’t have all of it ruined!”
Each time he poked the pastor, a bracelet flew forward, which I recognized immediately. WWFJ – What Would Jesus Do. I never heard the pastor’s reply, as my mind raced back to Aceh, to that wedding, to that bride and groom, and I wept. Indeed what would Jesus would do.