Mark and Julia are both very funny people. Specifically, they are the kind of funny people who have a lot of control over the social cues they send, who can be completely deadpan or entirely genuine, or inhabit a different character for the sake of a joke regardless of the social situation they are actually in. They give little away, and they know the rules well enough to break them. They laugh often and easily, but not just because they are nervous.
They are also compassionate, curious folks. They see potential all around them. Both of them are building careers that serve the public. Both of them are intense listeners, and try new things. Being able to break social convention and look objectively at their own motivations means that their world is just a bit larger than it might otherwise be, and filled with more possibilities.
When they decided to get married, it was because they wanted to. When they planned a wedding, it was on their own terms.
I say all this with the benefit of hindsight. I had never shot a wedding exactly like this one. We were all going to meet at Federal Hill Park 15 minutes before the ceremony and find a spot that wasn't too crowded. The ceremony would be another 15 minutes and then everyone would find their own way to Druid Hill and have a picnic. It was casual, it was small, and I didn't know what to expect.
Mark called me a couple days before the wedding to tell me that the venue had changed. Their wedding was the day of the Battle of Baltimore bicentennial, and Fed Hill would be packed with people looking at the tall ships. The wedding was now at St Paul and Lafayette in Station North.
A small crowd gathered at the park, all family and close friends. It was just about the nicest day ever. I walked over to the Bell Foundry and met Mark and Julia, who pulled up in a zipcar they had taken out for the day.
This was the first big reveal of the day. They looked flawless. Not in a bridal-magazine kinda way. They hadn't put on Bride and Groom costumes. They looked like themselves, just really, really good-looking versions of themselves.
I followed their grand entrance down the street and into the park. The crowd had grown to somewhere around thirty people, all thrilled to see the couple arrive.
Mark's godfather took the center as officiant, and the crowd formed an orderly line. Initial remarks were spoken, and it was instantly clear how many of these people had grown up together, and how much they had shared with each other already. Then he did something I didn't expect. He called the entire crowd to the front, and they got closer. He clarified what he had meant, and all thirty-odd people wrapped around the pair in a giant tangled hug, parents, peers, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews alike. "This feels like a scrum" said a voice in the back row.
The message was clear. Every single person in that ball was important. Every one of them loved Mark and Julia, whether they'd known each other five years or their whole lives. Every one of these people could be there to support them, even when it's tough.
Every friend and relative there would be a part of this couple's lives, but this was most likely one of the only times every one of these people would be in the same place together.
It wasn't just the bride and groom making a commitment to each other, everyone was making a commitment, some larger than others, to be a part of this group. This is something I have heard before about weddings, but it had never been this clearly put into practice. The folks in attendance weren't just an audience, they were part of the process.
And then, y'know, two people exchanged some rings and promised to build a life together.
Watching this go down, a lot of things made sense to me. First off, these people knew exactly what they were doing. The location, the ceremony, the crowd, all of it was perfect, and that was no accident. These two had the presence of mind to think about what they wanted, and not to second-guess themselves about it.
They chose a location they can go back to whenever they like, filled it with people they love, and got to spend the day celebrating. They didn't need to add anything else to make the day special because their life, the real one that they live every day, is already special.
That's the cool thing about really great weddings, whether they are small and intimate or huge and lavish. Weddings aren't supposed to change anything. If you're doing it right, the new life you start is probably a lot like the one you've been building for the last year or two. The beauty of a wedding is that everyone sets aside a day, one whole day, to focus only on these two people and the life they are putting together. That's the thing that's so precious and worthwhile: focus. One whole day of anybody's undivided attention is a hard thing to come by, let alone thirty people or a hundred. Whether you achieve that focus by throwing a huge party or just by naming a time and a place and letting it happen, the power of the whole thing comes from the people and the love that you bring together.
I think they nailed it.