That's why I was completely and utterly shocked when I found myself in the midst of wedding planning, trying to follow all sorts of rules as closely as possible.
For example, I was desperately trying to figure out how to follow the "Thou shalt walk down the aisle" rule. Every wedding I had ever been to, ever watched on television, ever seen featured in a magazine, or ever dreamed about involved an aisle. And the formal music was supposed to play while everyone else stood up and I smiled blithely and walked toward my husband-to-be.
Unfortunately, I couldn't figure out how to manifest the vision. We got married outside, by a lake, while our guests were supposed to sit at picnic tables. There was no aisle through the picnic tables. Period.
I fretted about what I was supposed to do. I tried desperately to rent one of the cabins near the ceremony spot so I could hide in there until the big reveal. I thought about hiding behind a car. I thought about making everyone sit sideways on the benches so I could walk between them.
In other words, I spent an inordinate amount of time worried about how to conform to the way-a-wedding-is-supposed-to-be.
When I finally reached a proverbial wall, I realized, "Wait a second. I don't even want to walk down an aisle!"
Of course lots of people want to walk down the aisle for various reasons, but I truly did not. I didn't want to be the sole center of attention. I didn't want to feel like everyone was attuned to every detail of my hair, dress, makeup. That's just me.
I finally came to my senses and realized, "I don't have to follow anyone else's rules. This is our wedding. Our celebration. Our commitment. We can do it our way (even if people get a little freaked out)."
So, we did the only thing that made sense for us as couple: We pulled up to the ceremony site in my Toyota Scion xA (I was driving) and got out. We walked toward the crowd that had started to gather and simply started talking to people. Easy peasy.
I immediately saw one of my long-time friends who had not been able to arrive in time for the Welcome Picnic the day before. When I saw him, I was ecstatic. That hug felt so good. I also chatted more with my family members, explained my dress to folks who asked, and even engaged in a heartfelt conversation with one of my grandfathers about the importance of the jewelry he had donated to the creation of our rings.
If I had been inside, waiting for everyone to arrive and settle in, I probably would have been a ball of nerves. I would have been dreading that walk down the aisle. Instead, I was just hanging out with my friends, laughing, talking, hugging.
When it was time to start, we pressed play on our iPod, and everyone in the wedding party made their way to the front. When we were there, someone stopped the music and the ceremony started.
Don't get me wrong: I'm not criticizing those of you who are going to walk down the aisle (or have already done so). I imagine there are all sorts of reasons why it's a desirable option. I imagine that it can provide an intense moment of quiet intention. It can be reflective. It can be incredibly meaningful for you and your family members.
It just wasn't what I wanted, and yet I was so concerned with what others thought I ought to have at my wedding that it took me a while to realize it. In fact, I may never have let myself realize it if our venue had had a veritable aisle.
My reason for writing this post is to challenge all of us to examine the rules that subtly govern every aspect of our lives. There are rules about how to talk and dress and show emotion and plan our weddings and raise children and the list keeps going.
Sometimes we choose to embrace the rules (I wanted a white dress, for example) and sometimes we have to intentionally step away from the rules to realize they don't make sense for us. And when we choose to step away, we should feel proud and courageous rather than insecure.
So here's to a proud and courageous life! (Whatever that looks like for you...)