My dress was too long, so much so that two times I stepped on the hem and privately, to myself, thought I was gonna go down, but by God’s miraculous mercy I didn’t. After everything was over—the table cloths rolled up, the ice turned to water in the coolers dumped, the dirty plates stacked in bins—I stood on our patio and looked at the yard and thought that God’s mercy wasn’t only displayed in the fact that I hadn’t done a face plant, but that our son was married. Our sweet boy who used to put his GI Joes in the freezer and engineer rockets and boats from duct tape was married.
I know there’s no reason marriage should be a priority for a Christian, that the ideal life of faith isn’t for you to have Christian kiddos and read Bible stories to them every night, but still, that evening in our backyard marked a symbolic apogee, a bear hug from a merciful God, because without God our son wouldn’t be married. In fact he wouldn’t even be alive.
Married, single, child, or adult, we hand off our children to God every day. Since the first day they’re born we pray that their colic will go away, we pray that that girl in 5th grade will stop teasing them, that their grades will improve, that the world won’t pull them away with it’s sex and hate and drugs and lies. However, our sweet son did get pulled away—yanked is probably a better word—but after a little junket into a coma from a heroin overdose, he’s back now, and the celebration in our backyard emblemized the fact that bad stuff can march right into the butt of good stuff and disappear forever.
I remember once—when he was deep into drugs and I was praying for him non-stop—flying low into Philadelphia and looking out the window and seeing a meandering river in a field of green. It looked like a silver cord that had been dropped from miles above; it had such tight turns and curves that at times it almost looked like it was going to meet itself again like a lasso. I rested my forehead on the window, and as the plane’s flaps rose and fell and the engines gunned and the wings steadied us, I understood that the river was like our sweet boy’s life and that God wanted me to remember it forever. Water always flows in the same direction and dead ends aren’t really dead ends. Rivers invariably get to the ocean.
My dress with the muddy hem is in the laundry and a garbage can full of empty bottles is still in the backyard. I’m happy I didn’t do a face plant and join what must be thousands of wedding mishaps on YouTube, but in truth it wouldn’t have mattered much next to the way my soul was almost making itself visible as I witnessed redemption in so many ways that night.
I can’t sing that mesmeric soul song every night—weddings, as sparkly as they are, drop down in front of you to tousle your emotions but then recede once more as the prosaic half-assed connected world takes over again. But I think they are reminders in the best possible way and they’re meant to be reminders in the best possible way, that weddings are beautiful. God lays them in front of us so that we understand that beauty, so that we’ll get a whiff of the hyssop and cedarwood oil our perfect groom is anointed with; Christ, the groom who will never leave the cap off the toothpaste and opens doors for us and holds traffic so we can cross highways because he would suffer the worst kind of road rash to protect us.
Right now the grass is worn down in our backyard where the chairs were. There are plenty of sounds: birds, dogs, and someone has a chainsaw a few yards over, but I hear nothing because I’m looking at silence—that type of silence that can only come after a triumphal blowout. I’m sure I’ll hear the sounds again soon, and I’ll have to go inside and sequester myself in my office to write, but I’ll have to drink some tea and pray or something because sometimes it’s hard not to be antsy for the next wedding.
Katherine James holds an MFA from Columbia University, where she received the Felipe P. De Alba merit fellowship and taught undergraduate fiction. Her novel Can You See Anything Now? was a semi-finalist for the Doris Bakwin prize and won Christianity Today’s award for best fiction of 2018. She has studied at Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference and taught fiction at the Festival of Faith and Writing as well as other venues. Her work has appeared in many journals and anthologies and a recent short story was a finalist for a spring Narrative Prize. Her memoir about her son’s heroin overdose is forthcoming in 2019.
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Kate I have followed your work from afar via your blog back in the day and I remember the tales of your son’s journey. Oh my what a weep-worthy ending. It gives me such hope….the river image is perfect. Perfect and full of truth.
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February 27, 2019
Thank you Jody – and yes, what would we ever do without hope?