I went to Madison, WI this weekend to be a bridesmaid for one of my best friends. Honestly, I was not looking forward to it as much as I felt I should be. I did not want to stand in front of people. I did not want to be photographed. I did not want to wear cowboy boots or a flowered dress. But as the weekend approached, I felt more and more vaguely excited, because at the very least, I was about see my dear Anna and a few other people who I was looking forward to spending a little time with. And I started walking around the house thinking of what I would say if I had to make a toast, finding myself teary-eyed.
All of it became real during the rehearsal, on the afternoon that I got to Madison. The wedding was to take place in a big barn sort of structure on the top of a hill – the windows were open, and the lake was right outside – I could’ve rolled right down into it. We got in our arrangements, and went through the choreography for the next afternoon. I was positioned in the bridal party in such a way that allowed me to see Anna’s face as she looked at Andrew, as they practiced their vows. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my friend look the way she did — that open, that ready, that much in love. How did my friend learn so well to let herself be loved by her now-husband? How did she relax that much, how was she so willing, how did she close her eyes and fall and know she would be caught?
I thought a lot this weekend about friendship, and about how we learn to love ourselves and others. For years, my friend has been using this particular term–lady-friends–to talk about the women she’s closest to. She’s cultivated this small group of women who she depends on, who depend upon her – I’m part of that group. But I’ve never really felt part of a group in that way – and, all living in different cities, not being friends really amongst ourselves, the lady-friends never truly felt like a group until this weekend. A woman who I’ve heard about dozens of times, who has heard of me dozens of times, said to me on the dance floor, “Thank you for being such a good friend to Anna.” I tear up just thinking about it. I replied that I felt the same way about her and we hugged for what felt like a long time. I think that Anna has loved me through the most awful times in my twenties, and put up with all sorts of ridiculousness and difficulty, and listened to me, really listened, no matter what. She has become a model to me, for what it means to love someone, how to let people in, how to only stick with people who love you as well as you deserve to be loved, how to let things be simple when they’re simple, how to work at relationships and be willing and patient with those you care about, how to be a real friend, a real partner. I don’t I’ve been able to do any of that perfectly or even very well, but now I feel certain that I have someone to look towards as a real example of how possible it is to have a life full of people you unabashedly love, who love you back.
The groom’s mother read this excerpt from The Velveteen Rabbit during the ceremony:
“What is REAL?” asked the Velveteen Rabbit one day… “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When [someone] loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand… once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
may you be happy together for the rest of your days.