The bride was lovely. The bridesmaids, all nine of them, were lovely. Even the groomsmen attempted to be lovely themselves. All went smoothly until… (You knew that was coming, didn’t you. Why does every wedding include the word “until..?”)
An elderly gentleman stood up from his seat in the second row. Just stood up, in the middle of everyone and everything. After a moment, he turned to his left and began making his way into the center aisle. The minister had stopped speaking by now. The gentleman turned, not toward the back of the sanctuary, but toward the bride and groom. We checked our programs and understood: it’s the grandfather of the groom; he’s going to say a few words.
Which he did, after climbing the two steps to the chancel and taking his place before the couple. He spoke eloquently of marriage, with the wisdom of an 89-year-old who had been a groom himself sixty-some years before. I know this man. He is a giant among intellects—former college president, former head of the doctoral program of a prestigious seminary. He is a men among men, teaching winter wilderness survival to National Park Rangers. Now he is old.
He spoke, among other things, of what he termed “erotica.” This made the bride briefly cringe, not because she was opposed to the matter but because she did not want to envision an 89-year-old aware of such things, much less considering them important. Wisely, the old man lingered here for only a couple of sentences. “It’s a wonderful source of pleasure and I recommend you try it sometime, if you’re so inclined.”
Having finished speaking, he began to retrace the route to his seat. The steps now fell as a sheer precipice before him. He hesitated. Being a mountain man, he knew that far more lives are lost during a descent than while reaching the peak. The congregation held its breath. He cautiously, slowly, deliberately swung his right foot forward. When it landed tentatively on the middle riser, it was joined in matrimonial harmony by the sturdy cane in his left hand. After successfully reaching this small precipice, there was no pause. Instead, a chaotic, hell-bent-for-leather race to the bottom.
Once safely arrived, he looked up at the guests and smiled triumphantly, “I can still hold an audience breathless,” he observed for all to hear.
For a few moments, the old man had given the gift of the elders. He had slowed us down, at least enough to become aware of the holiness of holy matrimony. The groom, without uttering a sound, had proclaimed for all to know: “I still want to hear what my grandfather has to say. If it takes a while, you folks can wait.” The old man, beyond his words, had made his own vow as well: “I can, and will, climb mountains for you, my young man, if you but ask.”
Hurrah for erotica. But there are other forms of love that shape us deeply. This unspoken exchange between a young groom and his elderly grandfather was that day the most treasured wedding gift of all.