September was a whirlwind. It started off on a very high note—my cousin M got married in a lovely affair on the water in Rhode Island. The whole event was beyond idyllic. She and her husband wrote their own vows, which made nearly everyone cry. Friends and family traveled from near and far, and, at the reception, I remembered that humor is definitely genetic. (One of my cousin’s wives said, “I don’t remember being this in love when we got married,” to which my cousin cracked, “Well, what about now? Are you this in love with me now?”) For the reception, my sister and I, who were M’s bridesmaids, had planned on giving a joint speech, but at the last minute, we decided it was better to give separate toasts.
In 2011, when my sister got married, I was standing with M and her now-husband, when I said offhandedly, “If I ever get married, will you sing at my wedding?” (She has a deep, gorgeous voice.) She said, “Only if you sing at mine!” Since I do not have her deep and gorgeous voice, I hesitated. “Or, if you want, you can liturgical dance,” she added, kidding. When I reluctantly agreed, her now-husband said, “OK, ladies, shake on it!”
So, four years later, a half-hour before their ceremony started, I hid behind a rock with her friend D, as he tried to learn the song I wanted to sing, on a guitar recently delivered by my brother. Our seaside rehearsal was not very encouraging. I love the song I’d chosen, but it doesn’t suit my voice. Her friend didn’t know it at all. “Let’s keep this one short—one verse and one chorus,” he suggested. At the reception, I barely ate my dinner—what was I thinking? One of my cousins, who should be a motivational coach, reassured me. “You’re with people you love and who love you. Easy audience,” she said.
The best part, for me, was seeing M’s face when I started to tell the story about our handshake deal. She looked happy when she realized (before everyone else) that I was going to sing. And that relieved me greatly, so much that I forgot what I was saying. (Can you imagine just hijacking the microphone when someone didn’t invite you to sing and seeing horror? Given my karaoke history, it was a distinct possibility.) Her friend, the accompanist, grabbed the microphone and said, among other things, “We might ruin your night.” And with that, when he started to play the guitar, the opening lyrics had been wiped from my memory. The delivery was short and maybe not sweet, but definitely heartfelt. Before anyone thinks I can actually sing, here are a few reactions: “That was brave,” “Some parts were nice,” and, my favorite, “We’re still waiting for you to liturgical dance.”
The celebration lasted all night, as it should. Our sprawling family tore up the dance floor. Back in the hotel, the party continued. My cousin and her husband were glowing, even as they ate late night pizza in the hotel bar. The next day, after a morning at the pool, we gathered at their new house and the fun continued.
I returned to New York on feel-good fumes, living Hemingway’s description of spring in Paris: “There were few problems, except where to be the happiest.” A few days later, though, stress hit—a lot of it. Personally and professionally, I was suddenly under water. I’d lost my head completely. Circumstances were reminding me how little control we have over outside forces, as much as we tell ourselves otherwise. Then my bathroom ceiling caved in, which, after considering wearing my bike helmet to shower, actually made me laugh. Can the universe be this obvious?
The beauty of extreme stress is that it reminds you—out of necessity—that there’s so much to be grateful for. I knew this, felt this, even as I had a hard time sleeping. The recent memory of M’s wedding felt like a cushion, softening sober reality. Life can be harrowing and hopeful, all at once.
In a relatively short period of time, things settled down. Repairmen fixed the ceiling so I didn’t have to move within the week. Promising news arrived out of what had, at first, been shock. Things with work ramped up, in a good way. The connection of friends and family—every which way—proved especially heartening. I know it sounds trite, but what else truly matters?
On one Saturday, I raced to another lovely family event and then to a friend’s barbeque in Brooklyn. I didn’t really have time to go to the barbeque—I was traveling an hour to stay there an hour—but I had offered to drop off keys and, also, a bunch of friends I hadn’t seen in a while would be there. When I showed up, one of my friends, knowing I’d had a stressful week, pulled out the hammock they sometimes hang in their back yard. “This has your name on it,” she said.
Five minutes later, I was relaxing in the hammock, when my friend S walked in with her daughter, one of the most mesmerizing babies I’ve ever seen, and plopped her in my lap. We laughed, we ate, we caught up (in that order). By the time I left, I felt so grateful, not just for this group of dear friends, but for everyone who inspires this level of affection. When I think about how long that list is, I can’t help but feel lucky.
Thank you, thank you, and thank you again.