It’s said that a picture is worth a thousand words. As gorgeous as our wedding photos turned out, a thousand of them will never touch the way it felt to sit up at the wedding altar and look out on a sea of familiar faces when the background music began to fade. What’s crazy is that I already knew the day’s script by heart – every song selection, every step of the bridal parties, every word of the ceremony had been planned weeks in advance. But as the first few bars of the processional began to play, all the stressing and planning melted away and the gravity of the moment hit me square in the chest. It was finally happening.
Prepping a Massive Shindig
We’d been warned by countless friends and family that weddings can quickly become juggernauts where it’s easy to get buried in an avalanche of minutia. We were also told that months of meticulous preparation would fly by in the blink of an eye on the actual day. With that in mind, we wanted it to be more than just a party with a bunch of friends and family. As the first act of our marriage, we wanted it to be a deliberate representation of the foundation of our relationship and a jumping off point for our new life together. To achieve that goal, we sought out the help of our good friend and spiritual mentor, Gordy Birse, to officiate and help set the tone. Over a handful of dinner and coffee dates he reminded us that weddings aren’t just lavishly expensive setups for a handful of Instagram-worthy pics, but modern takes on an ancient tradition; a gathering of tribes to celebrate two spiritual being’s decision to merge their worlds and their lives into one.
Whittling down the guest list to fit within our venue’s 400-seat maximum capacity was by far our most difficult task. The running joke became that Claire’s family is huge (her dad is one of 13 siblings!), and I have way too many friends (also true). Talk about your all-time first world problems; being loved by too many people is something no one should ever complain about. At the same time, we were still torn, because there are countless people who have played important roles in our lives, and we could have easily filled a small arena. Add the fact that even if we skipped the vows, the meal, and all the speeches and dancing, our six-hour ceremony and reception would only leave us with 54 seconds (of course I did the math!) of paper-thin conversation with each of our nearest and dearest was troubling to us both, but we ultimately had to let it go.
After that, we dove into the minutia. The wedding industry is a big business these days. You’ve got to choose colors, themes, coordinators, officiants, and wedding parties; check out photographers, caterers, videographers, and DJs; create save-the-dates, invitations, party favors and clever hashtags. It’s enough to test the strongest of relationships, and Claire and I managed to weather them rather well for a pair who notoriously struggle with the decision-making process. Probably the easiest choice was for our hashtag, which we lifted from a certain heart-shaped stone down in the desert, four words that have always carried a lot of weight in my heart because of the example set by a couple of perennial lovebirds, my Grandpa Ed & Grandma Betty.
5.18.18 – The Big Day
When it came time to put together Claire’s simple but elegant vision of her dream wedding, our tribes showed up in full force. Led by my Italian Drama Mama’s unique skill set as a professional cat herder an event coordinator; the morning of the event was an image of controlled chaos. We had family members on ladders hanging dozens of strings of white lights, Claire’s mom and aunts pushing grocery carts full of Costco flowers across the parking lot to the venue where a handful of my family were waiting in an impromptu assembly line to create centerpieces and other arrangements. By late afternoon, the two barns looked incredible, and it was time to kick off the ceremony.
Maybe it was the fact that my emotions were on full tilt, but each of our musical choices seemed to hold even more weight than we originally planned. When the first few bars of piano from Five for Fighting’s “100 Years” began to play and 92-year-old Grandma Betty rounded the corner of the aisle flanked by my parents, it felt like we’d all been swept into our own tailor-made movie montage. Right behind them were Claire’s grandparents, Helen and Ted, who almost didn’t make it when Helen had to have emergency gall bladder surgery two days prior, but she didn’t let that stop her. She was such a trooper. The piano faded to Jason Mraz’s “Love Someone” as Claire’s bridesmaids made their way down the aisle, and his words captured the feeling of the moment perfectly.
Love is a funny thing
Whenever I give it, it comes back to me
And it’s wonderful to be
Giving with my whole heart
As my heart receives
Oh, ain’t it nice tonight we’ve got each other
And I am right beside you
More than just a partner or a lover
I’m your friend
When you love someone
Your heartbeat beats so loud
When you love someone
Your feet can’t feel the ground
– Jason Mraz, Love Someone
As if by Jason’s command, my heartbeat was in my ears when the music transitioned one final time to the bride’s processional song – an acoustic cover of Vance Joy’s “Georgia” prepared by the absurdly talented duo of Claire’s cousin Fiona and her boyfriend Will – and it felt like even the crowd disappeared. With perfect timing, Claire and her father stepped around the corner to the lead guitar picking out the lyrics “She is something to behold / Elegant and bold / She is electricity / Running to my soul,” and something deep inside me clicked, like a new door was opened. I can’t fully explain it, but something shifted.
As expected, Gordy’s wedding sermon was a poignant balance of the high hopes that come with relatively young love and the realities of what it takes to make a lifelong relationship dynamic, steadfast, and meaningful. He reminded us that Life has a way of blowing away the pixie dust of early courtships, and that the roots of our marriage would need constant attention and care to withstand the inevitable winds of occasional hard times. He said love is not fragile, that it is a choice we make every day, and to remember to have fun and laugh together.
Next came the sand ceremony. We had filled two separate jars with scoops of sand from the waterfront homes of our upbringings as well as our happiest places – Lake Tapps & Twentynine Palms for me, Whidbey Island & Three Tree Point for Claire – added a few other special ingredients and had a perfect symbol of everything our friends and family had poured into us over the years. Every grain of sand represented a moment we had shared, a lesson someone had helped us learn, or a memory of good times that we then mixed (with my oldest niece, Ali, serving as my hands) to symbolize everything we were bringing into this life together. After exchanging rings (again with Ali’s help) and our short-but-sweet-by-design vows, there was nothing left except to be pronounced husband and wife!
With the formalities out of the way, it was time to party. From the Soul Train introductions of the wedding parties surrounded by all our loved ones to the Photo Booth full of props that seemed constantly full, there was ample evidence that our mission to blend all our individual tribes was a definite success. Hopefully the food was good, we’d crammed a few bites before heading out in the crowd to thank as many of them for coming as we could before it was time for the toasts. Arguably the biggest hit of all, however, was my Aunt Mary’s cupcakes, which were 10 times as tasty as they were gorgeously arranged. After being sufficiently toasted (and roasted) by Claire’s sister and all four of my groomsmen, I finally got a chance to address the crowd.
I started off with my favorite Ralph Waldo Emerson quote that says, “What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” I’ve always taken it a step further that what lies within us is a mix of everything our tribes have graciously poured into us throughout our lives. Because as much as the day was supposed to be about us, we designed the party for everyone in attendance; to thank them from the bottom of our hearts for getting us this far, and for the continued support they are sure to give us going forward. It’s not often you get to have so many of the most important people in your life under one roof, which was a great opportunity to highlight a few of the key people who helped us get to that very moment.
First up were my mom and dad, who, for the last 45 years, have shown that love is more than just a word or even an emotion. At its base, it’s always an action. It’s about suiting up and showing up when and where people need you the most, which is exactly what they did 14 years ago that night, bringing me home from the hospital even though the doctors said it may not be a good idea. They fought for me until I could fight for myself, and now I get to follow their example as I fight for others with the Here and Now Project.
I also got to thank Claire’s parents for raising an incredibly strong and passionate woman with a similar heart for service, and for welcoming me into their family from the start. Over the years I’ve spent around them and their extended families – The Fosbergs on her mom’s side and The Trepaniers on her dad’s – I’ve come to see how they managed to distill the best of those worlds into a couple of amazing daughters. They are strong legacies I hope our kids can carry on.
Which brought me to the mother of those future kids, my new wife, Claire, for whom I struggled to find words. We’d come a long way since she wandered into my life during some dark days, and she’s helped me find a version of myself I’d always wanted to become, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for us both. I then asked her to join me on the dance floor for an epic first dance that brought the house down and probably deserves a blog of its own to properly do it justice.
By the end of the night, we’d hit every note we had hoped to from the outset with incredibly few hiccups. The Universe, in all its chaotic glory, waited to show up until the honeymoon, thankfully (more on that later as well). It was a profoundly spiritual experience I hadn’t anticipated going in and will easily rank at the top of my favorite days ever. It was a fantastic start to this chapter of what is sure to be an imperfect life together, the exact embodiment of what I hope it will mean for The Salvinis to Love Here, There, and Everywhere we go.
Photos by https://www.caitlynnikula.com/
Video by https://www.knotcinema.com/