A Wedding Like No Other
It was a beautiful day in August and we’d all gathered under a huge canopy, set up with rows of collapsible wooden-slatted chairs. Underfoot was a grass floor. There was no dais to delineate “special”…no chairs raised higher than others for revered dignitaries. Huge floral displays were absent, as was music—of any kind.
For this was a Quaker wedding—my first. It would prove remarkable on several counts.
The afternoon before, we’d taken US 1 out of Portland, a mistake, since we incurred bumper-to-bumper traffic on that Friday. Maine’s “Vacationland” status prompts roads to swell on the beginning of weekends; as such, our travel along this scenic drive was a snail-crawl. The bustle getting there would serve as contrast for the experience we were about to enjoy.
We booked a motel room for two nights (night before and night of the wedding), on the outskirts of Bar Harbor. We were perfectly of the mind to share Maine’s famous logo displayed on the interstate sign: “The way life should be.”
The morning of the wedding bloomed lovely, and after browsing shops in Bar Harbor, we headed over to Surry, the sleepy little hamlet which is home to the bride. Along the way, we passed Arcadia State Park and coastal vistas, finally arriving at the mile-long roadway into the parents’ lodge-like home. At each fork in the road (there were many), hand-fashioned signs directed us.
We came to a clearing in the woods, parked, and joined other guests on the grassy knoll aside the house where friends of the family offered drinks and hors d’oeuvres. Other friends worked inside the parents’ home, a Paul Bunyan, rough-hewn affair, with a sizable deck on back, looking out over woodlands and lake. Those friends prepared the dishes that would ultimately grace the outdoor groaning table of sorts that stretched along the entire front of the home.
But that is where all similarity ends, regarding this wedding, and any I’d ever attended.
After a period of socializing, we were called to the gathering spot, under the canopy for the exchange of vows. The bride wore a simple dress, devoid of beadwork and train, while the groom similarly opted for a plain but dignified shirt and pants. She’d not walked in, accompanied by her father (Quakers give themselves away) and had no maids in attendance. The groom never stood front and center, awaiting his bride. A Best Man was conspicuously absent.
Instead, they came in together and sat, side by side, facing us. After some considerable quiet time for reflection, they stood and recited their vows to each other. No one officiated. The reason? Quakers marry each other, in the presence of God; they need no human intermediary. However, a representative from the Portland Meeting of the “Society of Friends” (the formal name for Quakers) bore witness, in his official capacity. The couple sought permission to marry from that group.
Following the couple’s exchange, guests were invited to speak.
This spontaneous speaking went on for an hour, punctuated by times of complete silence, when no one spoke and the only sounds were birds in the woodlands or the wind, in the trees. It was then I noted the peacefulness that washed over. I was one of those who spoke because I felt moved to do so: I had never been to such a wedding, and I was impressed by its honesty.
At the conclusion, we guests were asked to sign the wedding certificate (with pen provided, as the large document was held aslant), a document that will hang in a prominent spot in the couple’s home. I was pleased at the thought our signatures will forever attest to our witness.
After signing the marriage certificate, we guests were invited to the buffet table to partake of food offerings. We sat at tables of our choosing (no seat assignment), and because of that, I got a chance to to talk to a relative I hadn’t seen in 35 years.
Now, I’ve been to many weddings that were impressive for their beauty and the fact no expense was spared. But this wedding was spectacular in its wonderful simplicity, a harkening back to values of the past…good intentions…good friends…in an atmosphere of shared conviviality.
Biddy thanks the family for inviting her; it was a day she’ll never forget.
(Maine’s Famed Arcadia National Park)