Flower girl

Weddings are an act of faith, and you hope that for a brief period of time, the love and commitment of two people will bring everyone together.

By Anne Lamott
Published July 18, 2003 6:37PM (EDT)

These are such rich, ripe times for paranoia and despair that each celebration, each occasion of tribal love and music and overeating glows more brightly against the swampy backdrop of all things Bush. I have never been more paranoid in my life -- some days I'm like comedian Emo Phillips, who thought the man hammering on the roof next door was calling him a paranoid little weirdo, in Morse code. But I see people rising up, resisting, gearing up to fight the great good fight again, for decency, freedom, for the poor, for the earth. And beating back the right wing's fever dream is going to be one of the all time great fights. People are helping each other keep their spirits up; great movies are being made, brilliant columns continue to be written. The press is coming around, great art is being created, edgy comedy, and theater. So along with the paranoia, I feel a lot of hope again. It didn't hurt that I recently got to serve as a flower girl in a friend's wedding.

The friend and her parents are three of my closest friends. I adore the bride-to-be, and so of course I wanted to be the best flower girl, creating a path of breathy joy upon which the bride might walk; the evanescence of rose petals, the sweetness. But there were a couple of flies in the ointment: There were two other flower girls, one 8 years old, and one 3.

At first I could see no reason to have two young girls there to rain on my parade. Then I had a tiny moment of clarity: It was not my parade.

I'd wanted to be an Herbal Essence shampoo vision from the '60s, someone in a flowing dress with a garland in her hair. Someone who looked like she should be accompanied by a unicorn. Instead, side by side with two very young girls, I was going to look like Woody Allen in "Zelig."

There was only one other woman in the bridal party, besides the bride -- her sister, the maid of honor, who was also the mother of the 3-year-old. She had chosen a gauzy dress of heathery rose, flowing but deceptively tailored -- in other words, you had to be lean to wear it. I know this because the bride asked me to try it on in my size at the vintage-style bridal store where the maid of honor had found her dress. I did, and I could barely get it on. Even the next size up hurt, like tight pantyhose. I slunk away.

I called the bride and said the dress was hopeless. She said to try to find something from the same designer. She suggested I make an appointment with the store's manager, who is hip and helpful. I did.

The morning of my appointment, I tried to put it all in perspective. Building a wedding -- the bridal party, the families, the guests, the minister, writing the vows, selecting the food -- is like a sculpture by Andy Goldsworthy. You're trying to make something beautiful out of unruly and unpredictable elements -- the weather, the nuttier relatives, rivalries, disorders, dreams. Out of mostly old neurotic family and friends, you hope to create something of beauty, a whole. You create it as an act of faith, that for a brief period of time, the love and commitment of two people will bring everyone together, and it will sort of work. Even if the weather or personalities are worrisome, these breezes and water will flow through the structure of your wedding, will sanctify and change it, and it will hold.

I went to my appointment with the store manager. She was very nice. Perhaps a little too thin. Still, I thought of her as my caseworker. I told her the large size of the heathery rose dress had been too tight. "Oh," she exclaimed. "This line runs really small! You could try on the extra-large." I am not overweight; I used to be 5-foot-7, before I became a victim of what my son calls the old-age shrinking thing. Now I am 5-foot-6, and weigh around 140. So let's say medium. Or let's remember the bumper sticker with the picture of the cat that says, "I'm not fat -- I'm fluffy." I'm a little fluffy in the stomach now, and in the butt. So with the caseworker continuing to cry out that the line runs small, I tried on the extra-large, and it was hideous.

I felt despondent for caring. I am a feminist, and a progressive -- I'm sure I'm on John Ashcroft's enemies list. Or, at any rate, he's on mine. I prayed for sanity and militant self-love to return -- normally I'm just an ordinary American woman, still vulnerable enough after a lifetime of brainwashing to compare myself miserably to the 14-year-old models in magazines who are made up to look like 20-year-olds. But now I was comparing myself unfavorably to an 8-year-old, and a 3-year-old.

This was not a bridal issue anymore, or even a fashion issue. It was a psychiatric issue.

I announced to my caseworker that this dress would not work in any circumstance, in any situation, like Sam I Am in "Green Eggs and Ham": I would not wear it on a boat, with a goat, with a turtle, with a girdle. My caseworker understood, and said we would find another dress from the same line as the maid of honor's. I tried on everything, and finally found a two-piece outfit by the designer that you could buy in different sizes -- a medium blouse, say, hypothetically, and an extra-large skirt. I looked fine in the store, even pretty.

However, when I tried it on at home, I nearly fainted. I looked like Dame Edna. I called the bride to say I had to return the dress, and would drop out of the wedding party. But she'd seen my outfit, at the store, and loved it.

I had a stern talk with myself, about getting out of myself to be a person there for others, for the bride, and her family. But it was all downhill from there. There was the matter of the shoes, the unhappy details of which I will spare you, except to say that it was a total fucking nightmare. I went to six different stores on three different days before I found wine-colored baby-doll Mary Janes with sexy, slutty crossover straps. They were the sort of shoes Courtney Love would have worn to a wedding in her Hole days, and would go with the dress, if I tore it, and wore lots of smeary red lipstick.

Everyone was more joyful and excited and mentally ill as the wedding day approached. That's what's so touching about weddings: Two people fall in love, and decide to see if their love might stand up over time, if there might be enough grace and forgiveness and memory lapses to help the whole shebang hang together. And the ceremony adds so much hope to it all, but also so much more discomfort, and expense, and your only hope is that on the big day, all that energy will run through the lightest elements and the heaviest, the brightest, the dullest, the funniest, the most annoying, and the whole range will converge within a ring of celebration.

At the wedding rehearsal the night before, we all met at the chapel, in mufti, the bride and groom, the father of the bride, the minister, the maid of honor, and her daughter, the 3-year-old flower girl. The 8-year-old could not be there, but did not really need to be, because there is no one more capable and helpful than an 8-year-old girl. And the rehearsal went without a hitch, as long as the maid of honor was holding her little daughter. But when the mother put her down, the flower girl just sort of lost her mind. So for the entire rehearsal, the mother held her, and we got through it, and it was actually a lot of fun.

But on the ride home that night, alone with the minister, I bleated out the question that had been on all of our minds: What would we do if the little flower girl melted down during the actual wedding?

"Is it so wrong to sedate children before they perform in a ceremony?" I asked. "To give them the merest hint of sacramental wine? Or Klonopin?"

The priest laughed. We drove along. I imagined the girl having a tantrum. I saw myself make threatening gestures at her with my fist.

Here's what the priest said finally: "I promise you it will all work out in its own perfectly imperfect way. Weddings are about families, and families can be a bit of a mess under stress. But the love that will gather tomorrow night is much more important than anything else on earth, and bigger than anything else on earth, too. Because finally, that love is sovereign."

I got my fingernails painted. The backs of my hands have had dark brown spots for years. The first time I showed them to my dermatologist, I secretly thought they were melanomas. "They're probably what we used to call liver spots when I was younger," I said jocularly. He peered at them. "We still call them liver spots," he said. But for the wedding, I wanted pretty pink nail polish to distract from them. I had my toenails painted, too. Not to brag, but I happen to have really nice feet. They weren't even going to show, but I would know that my pink toenails inside my pretty red shoes were leading the way. They were like my inside 3-year-old. You celebrate what works -- it's a miracle that so much still does -- and you take tender care of what doesn't. Lotion, polish, kindness.

On the day of the wedding, I smoothed on lots of lotion, a little makeup, my petit four dress, my red shoes. I tucked a bag of peanut M&M's into my little purse, and left for the church with my boyfriend.

The flower girls looked angelic, and miraculously, the 8-year-old had complete dominion over the 3-year-old. The women hung out together in a little room near the back entrance to the chapel -- the bride, her sister, her two best friends and the flower girls. The 3-year-old clutched the 8-year-old, would not let her go, stared at her adoringly. I handed out M&M's, and told everyone they were tranquilizers. I didn't feel any age at all, just giddy with surprise at the paradox that I may have looked sort of old on the outside, but felt so young on the inside. It's almost everyone's secret -- that we look in the mirror, saying, "Who is that old person?" But inside there's pretty much the same person you always were. A lot of stuff falls off -- your vision, your youth, your memory -- but there's better stuff left behind.

When the processional was to begin, the 3-year-old panicked, just as expected, and my heart sank as she looked around desperately for her mother. She cried out her name, once. "Shhh, shhh," I said. "Let's go, darlings," and the 8-year-old took her hand. There was a moment's pause. Then they began to march along together, and I fell into step beside them, and we tossed those translucent petals into the air.

Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott is the New York Times bestselling author of "Help, Thanks, Wow"; "Small Victories"; "Stitches"; "Some Assembly Required"; "Grace (Eventually)"; "Plan B"; "Traveling Mercies"; "Bird by Bird"; "Operating Instructions" and "Hallelujah Anyway," out April 4. She is also the author of several novels, including "Imperfect Birds" and "Rosie." A past recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and an inductee to the California Hall of Fame, she lives in Northern California.

MORE FROM Anne Lamott

Related Topics ------------------------------------------