treeRebecca

Levi was asked to sing at the last wedding we went to. He sang a lovely aria from Handel’s opera Serse. The opera itself was a commercial failure, but the aria, Ombra mai fu, lived on to become one of Handel’s most enduring pieces. Listening to Levi sing it at a wedding, you would never guess that it’s not technically a love song; the song is sung in praise of a tree’s shade.

Never has there been a shadow

of a plant

more dear and lovely,

or more gentle.

When I first heard the translation of the song I started to laugh. Thank goodness, I thought, no one who is going to be at the wedding speaks Italian. And then, perhaps cynically, I thought about how appropriate the song was for an event such as this. Only a man truly desperate to get out of the sun could feel so passionately about the shade. Less cynically, I smiled because this was a song about relief: perfect for a wedding.

While he was practicing the song one night at home, I was chatting with a girlfriend who told me that she and her husband had been talking about their funerals and wondered if Levi would sing, “Give me Jesus” at his.

I told her he couldn’t because we were dying first.

She said, “Poor Adelaide.”

She had a point, and I consented. So Levi has been signed up for a gig forty-five years in advance. He’s that good.

Still, the timing of her request was just another instance where I was reminded about the striking similarities between weddings and funerals; the two big parties (or small intimate gatherings, as the case may be) we throw for ourselves. Churches, flowers, tears, family and friends gathered around monumental change and food.

We plan them for years in advance, to no avail.  For all of our advance planning, there’s one big piece of information we’re missing: when it’s going to happen. You can’t use those flowers in that season; can’t wear that kind of a dress at that age. If only you’d known.

We can’t stop thinking about when it’s going to happen. “If only,” we say, “I just knew when it was going to happen, then I could stop worrying about it and just enjoy life in the meantime.” Of course, knowing when wouldn’t satisfy our curiosity. Then we’d just want to know how it was all going to go down.

We get really anxious when it starts happening to our friends. When is it going to be your turn? It’s like every time you turn around, another one of your friends gets snatched up.

Part I, Part II, Part III. A thing that distinguishes these parties from the others in your life (anniversaries, birthdays, showers, etc.) is that there isn’t just one event. We span it out over the entire weekend. The night before, the ceremony, the big meal later that day.

Our family and closest friends get together and hang out with themselves.  This is your day. Everyone is gathering to talk about you, to remember things about you, to wish the best for you. But even though everyone keeps looking at you, you’re only sort of there.

Everyone says nice and comforting things. Your guests talk about how it worked out the way it was supposed to work out. They talk about how things are going to be even better now. (They say this even if they think you’re going to hell.)

It takes a long time to get you dressed. You wear a lot of makeup, and it’s so hard to get you into your dress that the women closest to you are called in to help. In my case, you’re just a touch saddened by the fact that your Church has pretty strict guidelines on these things and no, your dress can’t be sleeveless.

What I don’t know about are the potential similarities after each event. As in, when the last of the funeral guests have cleared are you exhausted, but happy? Do you wish you could do it all again? Does it take a good month or two before you believe it’s actually happened?

Before we got married—it was one of my conditions—Levi promised me that I could die first.  This is partly because I can’t imagine, and have no desire, to live without him. But it’s also because I want him to sing Ombra mai fu—a song about relief—at my funeral.

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