Friday, 3 January 2014

Seismic Ceremony

Philip and Raheela (and her dad)

It was a big house in a subdivision, with big yards and three-car garages. We found Raheela´s house by all the cars parked outside, and the guy carrying steaming food trays up the driveway. He wore a big green turban.

Philip´s family numbered nine. Raheela´s family, well... they are legion. 

We -- me, my sister Beth, her son Joey (himself in comfy Pakistani formalwear, a gift from Raheela´s family), my daughter Libby, and my mom Cora Lee -- had never met Raheela´s people  before, so we were guests of honor. We were treated to the best seats, sent up first to the vast buffet of curried kid and chicken Karahi and eggplant jalfareezi and all kinds of lovely stuff I never tasted before, all of it the finest south Asian food of my life.

We shook hands and kissed the cheeks (after we finished lunch) of grannies, aunties, uncles, nephews, and nieces -- all of them soon to be OUR grannies, uncles, nephews, aunties, and nieces, or so we were informed. The women wore spectacular shalwar khameezes, flowing ethnic robes of Pakistan. The elderly ladies occupied chairs against the wall, and held one anothers´ hands. A couple of them stared balefully across the room at us, but they quit when Libby staled balefully back. (Libby does baleful pretty well.) Everyone was very polite.
Philip sat in a leather loveseat, appropriately enough. The rooms were decked with netting, strung with paper flowers he and Raheela made the day before. Their seat was covered in a red and gold rug, celebration colors. A corps of comely teenage cousins, dressed like the graces, flitted over the rooms fluffing cushions, serving chai to the grannies, thundering up the stairs to the bridal chamber above.
The imam arrived, the children were brought in and seated on the floor, and in every hand in the room suddenly appeared a camera or Iphone. I was bumped from my seat next to Philip. The imam pulled from a pocket a paper, which he unfolded and smoothed over his notes. Across the top it said "Marriage License." In the seat next to me I felt Libby draw in her breath.

Philip was nervous. I signed for him to sit up straight, hard as that was in those man-eater sofas.

There was no music. The noise died down as Raheela descended the stairs, her graces fluttering around her, her mother holding her hand. I looked at Philip as he watched this vision float into the room. It was not a smile, it was not joy I saw there. It was awe. Tears ran down both his cheeks.

I stood, and Raheela stopped where I was. She trembled under her jeweled veil, we looked each other in the eye. I took her hand and stepped her over to my son.

The imam said the words, almost all in English. He was careful to include Abraham and Moses and Jesus, too -- the big mosque in Toledo is famously inclusive and community-minded. It was much more informal than I´d expected. Raheela´s father interjected lighthearted comments, and her uncles laughed out loud. One of the cousins held up a camera that streamed the rites live to relations watching in Karachi.

They signed the papers, and the bride and groom fed one another sweets -- my best bud Kathy FedExed lavender shortbread from San Francisco the day before, which Philip preferred to the über-sweet Pakistani nut paste -- and a great exchange of gifts broke out.
We rose and hugged and posed for photos, we ate more, and shmoozed with my former in-laws and Michael, my former husband, and his jolly mate Rob. No one said anything harsh or offensive, everyone was kind and decent, and seeing my former mother-in-law made me remember I must be always kind and thoughtful to Raheela, who now is my daughter-in-law.

She is a woman now in new territory, feeling her way, eager to please. I must be kind and loving, even as I walk into this new territory myself. I suffered when I was a daughter-in-law. I will not see Raheela suffer like I did.

I felt sympathy, though, for the in-laws who once made me suffer so. Now I know what they felt back then -- what, thirty years ago!

Nobody told me that seeing my son marry was going to be so painful.

Thankfully, I was numb at first, long enough to make all the right noises, taste enough of the food and shake sufficient hands, long enough to see my family off to the hotel for a rest before the evening reception.

By the time I got away I was ready for a stiff drink. Rob and Michael said they were heading in that direction, but they didn´t ask me along. I drove away alone in my fancy rental car, wishing I had Paddy along. I did not feel ready to deal with what one encounters in a bar in Toledo on a Saturday afternoon while wearing a killer dress.

I headed back to the hotel. I got lost. (I lived in Toledo for eight years, but that was ten years ago.)  I did not mind much. I had not been alone for days, and I enjoyed the radio -- an old Marian McPartland Piano Jazz program. It was all in English!
I found my way back down an old two-lane. In the big, plush hotel hall another wedding was going on, the white-lace and tuxes type. I parked out on the edge of the lot.

I breathed deep and thought about Philip. I thought about the silver tray someone gave them, the Patek watch, things engraved: Raheela and Fahdel. A nickname, in a family where everyone has a nickname. But somehow that just struck me to the heart. My son´s name is PHILIP.

And then I began to cry a most magnificent cry. After a minute or two it morphed into a monumental nosebleed, that gave me an excuse for having a face so swollen up and puffy for the rest of the day, and the rest of the photos.

I am not sad that Philip is married. I like Raheela, and I know the two of them are smitten with one another. Aside from the whole intercultural wedding business, the religion and socioeconomic changes, the jet-lag and culture-shock of coming back to America, the uncertainty of the two of them starting their law careers, seeing old in-laws and husbands and neighborhoods and spending large amounts of money... beneath all that stress, something else happened. Something shifted down deep, something irrevocable slid into place.

It was so profound and unspeakable it bloodied my nose.

I never did get my drink, even though by the time I went inside the hotel I was well into shot-and-beer territory. What the hell kind of hotel bar is closed at 5 p.m. on Saturday, I ask you?

I did get a small nap, however, which was probably much more healthy. 

We returned to Raheela´s uncle´s mansion later on for a dohlki, a celebration of the bride and groom presided-over by a zillion fabulously-clad women drumming a special women-only drum. We ate more staggeringly good food. We listened later to the son of a cousin from Chicago warbling Pakistani pop music with backing tracks. (Whilst climbing the stairs I stepped on a toddler, whose response was not dissimilar to the cousin´s son´s efforts.) We slipped away before we got to dance, but that is OK. I was very tired when I went to bed, and I slept all the night through.

No more tears.

This was only the start. 
We go back in May for the big three-day party, complete with horses, henna tattoos, dancing, feasting,  and full fairy godmother dresses for all of us.

And maybe outside, far from the fiesta, a nip of bourbon for the faint-of-heart.

I am trying to load photos and even a video, but Blogger is not cooperating. I will do so soon as I can make it happen. If I take this blog to a more user-friendly platform, will you readers go with me?


Deirdre said...

Of course we'll go with you. Digesting.

Ingrid said...

Pied Piper, play your flute, we all will follow.

It all feels like a roller coaster, I wonder how I will day. Somewhere, I haveread "when life becomes a rollercoaster, sit in the front seat, throw your arms in the air and enjoy the ride!"

I very much enjoyed your front seat ride.


Anonymous said...

I'll follow you anywhere, my friend, and even bring shortbread...

ps, it sounds like a marvelous wedding: tears, food, music, emotional roller coaster and then more again of the same, topped by lots of love....sigh...

love, k

Aled Davies said...

Absolutely not - never - no way - nohow could that description not make a Pulitzer. I hope Raheela's Dad/Mum/Uncle will manage to post the inverted perspective somewhere accessible - google will give us a 'streetmap' I suspect - whose got the film rights? but.... glad to B back R U?

Sylvie Hanes said...

Of course, even though I am quite new to your readership...

Sil said...

Oh Reb - your wedding came to life for me from across the seas! In my home town (Durban, in the province of Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa) we have the largest population of Indians outside of India. They arrived here in 1860, some as indentured labourers to work in the sugar cane fields and others as merchants). We have been to many weddings both Muslim and Hindu and a combination of Christian-Hindu. Enjoy being back home. Life goes on. xxx

Anonymous said...

Follow you? To the ends of the earth! The wedding celebration sounds wonderful and overwhelming and everything in between. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Sheri G. in MN

Anonymous said...

Lovely to read this Rebekah. It brings back lots of memories of my own inter-cultural and inter-religious one. Lets talk about this soon.

I've never had any frustrations blogging with wordpress.

Looking forward to February!


K Samulis said...

It's a shock realizing YOU are the mother-in-law. And my heart goes out to you as you begin this new journey. I find myself frequently trying to remind myself to put on their shoes when making "family" decisions. Sometimes it ain't easy, but it's always interesting!

Rachael said...

Follow you? I'm hoping to walk right on by (and stop in) later this year!

Heda said...

You've done absolutely great! Your lovely son and his new wife are lucky to have you. Well done you. And what fun to have such an exotic and beautiful daughter-in-law. Your grandchildren will be stunners!

Heather Knight said...

Awesome post Reb. Sounds like you enjoyed yourself...and I would strongly suggest a hosted site with's much easier to use. I am certain your domain is probably available. I use LaughingSquid for $6/mo for one of my websites. They did the install of WP for me. Super easy. Just let your readers know when you move...I follow your blog, along with many others, using Feedly, an RSS feed.

Laura said...

Wow, what an event. I could feel your alone-ness and your loss. It is a strange thing to hand our sons over to another woman and to realize that she knows them far better than we ever have or ever will. Heartbreaking in a way, but what a joy to have another woman love them totally.

As for following you - I'm hard to shake.

Warren said...

A boy grows up and seek to find the joy and gift of love he intuited but never quite 'got' in his relationship with his mother. While he may succeed superficially and briefly, the coupled relationship bears none of the depth, volume and timelessness of the mother-son dance. It's like comparing a backyard stream running high to the Gulf Stream - timeless, perpetual and mysterious. Wonderful wedding honesty. i've failed twice at marriage and long only for my mother. God bless you and all your new family.