Wedding #2: Ben & Madelyn, September 7, 2013
What you need to know about Ben: Ben and I have known each other since 2003, when we met at IWU and sang in Co-choir together. He is a compilation of eccentricity, eclecticism, aesthetics, and a bunch of self-created games with intricate and changeable sets of rules. He writes music the way modernist poets wrote experimental literature, and he teems with energy in a way that suggests he’s about to transfer over to another plane of existence. When he asks you a question, you can pretty much guarantee that it’s going to be a perfectly odd one, and that the answer will help you create something wonderful. Also, his sense of humor is completely unstoppable, as is his loyalty to his friends.
What you need to know about Madelyn: Madelyn, I’m pretty sure, came from the plane of existence to which Ben occasionally transfers. She has this impressive calm about her that leads her to treat things like trapeze artistry, modern dance, fantasy literature, and the natural world, as part and parcel of the same exquisitely unique but entirely anticipated moment in time. She once told me that she enjoys massage therapy and professional organization–two of her occupations–because she finds it rewarding to help people re-order their lives and create the necessary space for personal progression. In other words, Madelyn is one of the most humbly fascinating people I’ve ever met. Her topics of conversation are often surprising, but never weird for the sake of weird–they’re always carefully chosen for the person she’s talking to, and seriously, graciously meant.
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Ben and Madelyn’s wedding was an absolute joy, then, because they somehow crafted a day that welcomed all their guests into their shared world. I’ve thought long and hard about this, and I think I have some sense of how they managed some of the magic. But it would be arrogant of me to say I’ve got it all figured out–I’ll just share below what I found particularly special and adventurous.
First of all, the wedding took place in the middle of Michigan woodlands. Try to think about the feeling of attending a wedding–dressing up in nice clothes, toting your card or gift, prepping yourself for a long, fun night of dancing and conversation. And now imagine that as you’re driving to the wedding, cities start to fall away. The roads you’re traveling turn to gravel, and the landscape turns to forest interspersed with tiny open fields and lacy green ponds. Your dress shoes start to feel a bit unnecessary, and conversation with your traveling companion falls away as you enter upon a mutually decided-upon silence, just sort of watching the sky move over you.
By the time we arrived at the wedding, everything felt a bit more surreal than it had just a few hours prior. I’d forgotten about the wrong turn on the way to the Indiana Skyway, the missed exit on I-80, the tolls I’d paid. It was all just background noise, and the wedding was this bright, spectacular thing waiting inside of a Quaker meetinghouse (transformed for the day from an old boyscout lodge) in the middle of a great big nowhere and everywhere.
It was an unseasonably warm day for September, and we (the IWU-Chicago contingent) were all sipping lemon water, glowing in the heat, and greeting some friends we hadn’t seen since undergrad. Then people began to seat themselves and read through the directions for participation in a Quaker wedding.
It turns out, Quaker marriages are quite lovely in their simplicity…but that simplicity is very meaningful in a “still waters run deep” sort of way. For instance, the couple give themselves to each other without any third party proclamation necessary. The Friends feel that unions come from God, and therefore it is unnecessary for an officiant to add any extra significance or act as an intermediary. So, we all sat in a careful silence waiting for Ben and Madelyn to enter the room on their own accord and take their seats at the front.
They appeared after about ten minutes or so. And after another ten minutes of shared silence, they stood and reverently offered their vows to each other, promising faithfulness and life-long respect. Together they signed their marriage certificate, and then we all fell back into silence.
The next part of the marriage ceremony was truly extraordinary.
It suddenly hit home that I was sitting there with twenty-odd of my closest friends in the world, listening to the hum of the overhead fan, breathing in the country air, and participating in a union built on things both ephemeral and earthy.
I was moved almost to tears at a few different points as I meditated on the friendships surrounding me, and I felt suddenly and incredibly thankful to Ben and Madelyn for the inclusivity of their marriage.
And as much as I felt welcome to partake in the vibrant, collective energy of the room for my own benefit, I also worked very hard to send up my most positive and heart-felt best wishes to Ben and Madelyn. I can only imagine how that must have felt for them–to know that the reverberating quiet of the room had everything to do with love and support for them as a couple. And to know that theirs is a partnership that people not only wish great joy to, but also take great joy from.
Following this shared silence, a few people felt moved to stand and share their hopes and prayers for the couple. And following the expression of those wishes, the marriage certificate was brought back out, and we all lined up and signed it as witnesses to the marriage. Again, I was bowled over by the loveliness of assisting the couple in making their commitment.
The celebration that followed the ceremony, then, felt earned. Like I would imagine a Planting Festival felt, back in the day. And the reception was just a further extension of Ben and Madelyn’s respective personalities.
We traveled not so far across the woodland to an Inn, and after the meal, the couple danced both together and with their parents…
Let me just say, watching Ben and his mom dance was like watching a Wes Anderson film, with an injection of pure vitality, come to life. Bra.vo.
Following the traditional dances and speeches, a live square dance band took the stage and directed us all through the steps for all sorts of dances–line dances, circle dances, stomp around and clap your hands dances. And when we needed a break from the sheer excitement of that, there was a front porch on the inn, littered with rocking chairs and corncob pipes.
I kid you not…corncob pipes.
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I ended up driving back into Chicago, rather than staying at the Inn…beginning of the semester duties and such called. But I carried with me the feeling of the evening, not only for the rest of the weekend, but really for the next month or so. And I can call up that meditative loveliness whenever I need it, which is such a beautiful gift for Ben and Madelyn to have given all their guests.
So, both gratitude and congratulations to Ben and Madelyn.
You are both powerhouses on your own–hilarious and soulful and serendipitous:
But I really can’t wait to see where you go together:
(black and white engagement photo courtesy of Stephanie Malmquist; all other photos, sans Ben and Madelyn’s individual portraits, courtesy of Cassie Schreiner)