As I walk each afternoon, unplugged for just a moment from the news ticker and the marching, the masks and the hand sanitizer, I see the peonies spill over the edge of sidewalks in my neighborhood.
I can’t help but stop to take them in: their smell and explosive petals. Peonies remind me that lovely things will not subjugate themselves to our timelines. Even in trauma, peonies come undeterred, to be held with gentle gratitude and savored for a few, short weeks.
It’s strange; grief is like that too: ripping through our world, like a rock splintering stained glass. Senseless, destructive, disorienting.
I was supposed to get married in June; my bouquet brimming over with peonies. When my fiancé cancelled our wedding, there were so many dreams to gather and grieve; so much hope to tuck away with tears. Now, five years later, I still think of shattered glass and peonies together. More and more I realize how often we are asked to hold them both. New life and death all at once.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I curled up near the man I love, the very same man I was supposed to marry 5 years ago.
That night, we reflected on each of our loved ones who have reimagined their weddings this summer. In light of the pandemic, we’ve watched each couple mark their love differently—some with a private ceremony, others with postponement till a later date. Some with their family together. Others gathering remotely.
None are committing themselves in the way they originally imagined when they began planning their ceremonies. For each, it’s peonies and shattered glass. It’s love and loss. It’s “yes, forever” and “oh no, why?” all messy and mixed together.
Holding their stories, memories and desires flared and collided within me. Next to Aaron, my throat fought a spasm and I clenched and unclenched my fists, aching to find some way to express what swirled beneath the surface. And then, tucking myself under Aaron’s arm, I felt my hot tears and worries begin to spill out everywhere.
Aaron and I have been tentative to talk about our wedding.
Marriage? Kids? A house? A dog? We talk about those things.
Family vacations? Growing old? Holiday traditions? We talk about those things too.
But The Wedding continues to feel hard for us. Like a stillborn dream we each survived and feel anxious returning to.
I have no idea how to articulate everything I’m wanting and everything that has changed in how I imagine a wedding.
I’m still searching for ways to embody my commitment to do things differently this time and to also stay myself.
I’m afraid The Wedding will only highlight the differences between us, that at every turn one of us will be giving up a longing for the other. The way it started to feel with the last wedding.
How do you reengage hope for a part of yourself that you gave to something never born?
How do you remember something beautiful you wanted to make together that still hurts to miss?
I have a “wedding” packed away in my memory, all dusty and laden with broken glass. When I open up that box, I feel ache for everything we lost that day in June.
But more and more, I feel longing blooming too. It comes lovely and undeterred, stirring hope for a day that is different, a day made whole in its season, a day still coming.
Loving Aaron again doesn’t make life simple. And opening up myself to plan another wedding doesn’t mean I’ll ever get closure for the wedding that didn’t happen.
Perhaps that’s why, as we sit and talk of weddings that night, I feel fragile. Perhaps that’s why I am so tender toward every pair of lovers now looking for the kindest way to tend to their love in a season of protests and pandemics.
Mixing love and loss is the human condition, but that doesn’t make it any less valiant.
Mary Oliver writes:
“We shake with joy, we shake with grief.
What a time they have, these two
housed as they are in the same body.”
What a time, indeed.
Katy Johnson lives, dreams, writes, and edits in a messy, watercolored world. She’s a 31 year old, discovering her hope, her longings, and the wild spaces in her own heart. Her favorite creative project right now is called Will I Break?, and someday, that manuscript may see the light of day. For now, she shares her thoughts here.