A Best Day Ever, in 43,500 Words

Quick navigational note: This post makes extensive use of “galleries” (groups of pictures). These galleries seem to display differently depending on the viewing device and browser. If you see one large picture, there’s actually a group of pictures with it (a gallery). Midway down the picture look to the left and right for clickable arrows to scroll through the other pictures in the gallery. If you see a collage of small pictures, click/tap on any one of them and you should see that picture enlarged along with left and right arrows for scrolling through the other pictures in the gallery.

Heeling is Healing weighs in at about 87,000 words and I figure it would take about half of a Heeling is Healing to adequately explain everything about Rhett’s and my wedding day: from the misspelling of “Coate” on the dinner menu (discovered by me 30 minutes before guests started arriving and fixed 15 minutes later by the venue at the exaggerated indignant insistence of our day-of wedding coordinator), to the evoked memories of Colleen’s and my 1990 wedding and the paths that Rhett and I have travelled to get us to this point, to feeling her gentle touch on my shoulder at our “first look, turning and beholding her as if for the first time.

Writing those 43,500 words would achieve two things—neither of them good. First, it would put this post solidly in the TLDR category (too long didn’t read). Second, it would would take me forever to write. Regarding the second consequence, we’ve only got 5 weeks left in the US before we head back to Hazel James in Italy and I’ve still got a bunch of good stories to share from Northern Ireland, Scotland, England, and Wales—my goal is to get them “on paper” before we head to Italy (around May 1) so we can start our 2023 voyaging caught up and with a clean slate.

With all that said, let’s do the shortcut to get to our requisite 43,500 words. (In this case, the shortcut is also the “funcut.”) After going through all our professionally-taken wedding photos, we have 43 of them to share. At the universally accepted conversion rate of 1 picture = 1,000 words, magically we have 43,000 words, add another 500 words of commentary and everything works out nicely!

Wintertime weather in South Florida is almost always idyllic, and the week preceding our wedding was no exception. As a seasoned sailor I scoff at 14-day weather forecasts as being total crapshoots and only pay attention to 7-day and fewer forecasts. However, a fortnight before the wedding I noticed Rhett increasingly mesmerized by her phone. Was is Twitter, Instagram, or TikTok? No, whenever I’d surreptitiously steal a glance over her shoulder, she was on an app that we affectionally dubbed “The Bug” (that is, “Weather Bug,” we started using it while sailing in Maine in 2021 as we found it the best for predicting coastal fog). 14 days before the wedding The Bug was predicting doom and gloom (Rhett might as well have been on Twitter at that point). I reassured her she had nothing to worry about as the odds were in our favor.

As the wedding loomed I was not vindicated. Early the week of the wedding the forecasts for Saturday, February 4 degraded. Day by day it became clearer and clearer that statistics and odds were going to mean nothing in this instance. Oh well, it was kind of like our sail from Sardinia to Mainland Italy when the gale warnings were posted shortly after we embarked. In that case and in this case, we were committed and had no choice but to batten down the hatches and sail through it.

That week I lost count of the number of times I heard the phrase, “Actually, bad weather on your wedding day is good luck for the marriage.” Riiiiiiiiiiight…while I’m a big fan of an authentic reframe (when a professional or armchair therapist helps you to see something from a totally different perspective) I can also spot a pandering reframe a nautical mile away. (If the weather would have been perfect on our wedding day, I doubt those same Monday-morning therapists would have said, “Oh no…good weather? That’s bad luck for your marriage!”) But I digress.

A detail I omitted in our Mainland Europe blog post is that while we were in France, Rhett shopped for wedding gowns and found the perfect Parisian wedding dress. (When I say “perfect,” I was taking her word for it because I was absolutely, positively prohibited from seeing it.) If you’ve picked up from previously posts and this post that Rhett was a bit obsessed by a vision of the picture perfect, storybook, “…happily ever after” wedding, then you—my friend—have a keen sense for the obvious…and her finding a gown in Paris fit perfectly with that vision. (I have to admit that even the most logical of us, and I count myself in that group, can’t help being moved just a little bit by the romance of shopping in Paris for a wedding dress.) I’ve got to hand it to Rhett—through the process of acquiring the dress, getting it altered (which as I understand took a whole lot of hand waving and Google Translate between the thoroughly monolingual French tailor and the thoroughly monolingual Rhett), and getting it shipped to the US—I never saw a thread of it until our “first look.”

At the risk of mansplaining and for readers who are not conversant in modern wedding-speak, allow me to define the “first look.” In the good old days of the church wedding followed a couple hours later by the reception at a nearby venue, the groom first sees the bride as she’s being walked down the aisle. The formal wedding photos are taken during the interstitial time between ceremony and reception. With modern weddings the ceremony is often at the venue and the reception immediately follows the ceremony leaving no time for posed photographs. Thus, introduce the “first look” where the groom sees the bride for the first time in her wedding dress shortly before the ceremony. The main point is that the photographer has a chance to capture the excitement of the groom’s initial reaction to the bride’s visage.

Our first look was outside, in front of the venue near the sea grass dunes at the edge of the beach. The weather made it a challenge with solid 20 knot winds buffeting us from the east (from the sea). Still, we and our photographer pulled it off. I was instructed to face northward and soon could hear Rhett over my shoulder and walking towards me. My mind flipping through images of our journey was soon interrupted by her hand gently squeezing my shoulder. Without turning I reached back and caught the smallest fold of her bustle between my thumb and forefinger. As my digits slid back and forth I felt the fabric of our lives together, our future, and our memories. Finally—following the strict instructions given to me—I turned and there she was. A resplendent Rhett, a beaming beacon of beauty amidst the chaos of the weather. How could I ever be so lucky to have found her?

As the first look concluded, the skies darkened and we decided to not tempt Poseidon further and moved inside the venue for wedding party and family pictures…

Next came the ceremony. The professionals at the venue clearly had dealt with other weather situations before and had backup plans in place. While the ceremony had been planned to be outside on a semi-exposed deck, they moved us to a totally covered area, further protected by wind screens that allowed good ventilation and a view of the ocean but mitigated the sea breeze.

With the churning ocean as our backdrop (and my stomach churning inside my rented tuxedo), Lisa McWhorter, CEO of Wayside House and a longtime colleague of Rhett’s and friend to us both, began the ceremony. Throughout, she brought her charm and spirituality to the ceremony with personalized touches. (Yes, this is also a shameless plug for Wayside. If you would like to present Rhett and me with a wedding gift, please consider a donation to this nonprofit women’s addiction treatment center.)

If you missed the livestream on our wedding day you can see the recording here. Although we had asked the professional streamers to start the video 10-15 minutes early to capture the scene with live steel drum music and in-person guests milling about (and make our virtual guests feel like they were there), somehow our request was lost in translation and the stream begins with 12 minutes of a static screen and looped electronic music. Oh well…use the video’s slider bar to fast forward through the initial 12 minutes and 30 seconds. At that point you’ll hear the audio start (the video begins about 20 seconds later). Also, the chat stream is a fun scroll, with guests chiming in from Europe, to Dubai, to sailing vessel Slowpoke anchored in Ft. Pierce, Florida. While it seemed that most virtual guests joined from “home,” my cousin actually joined from Home (Home, Pennsylvania that is). Scanning through the chats, there’s a good chance you’ll see a note from someone you know.

My favorite comment about the ceremony was from a dear friend and colleague who joined via the livestream. I talked to him a week or so after the wedding and he said, “You clean up pretty good, but man…Rhett was so excited when her nephew walked her down the aisle I thought she was going to jump out of her shoes!”

The wedding venue and staff was fantastic. Between them, our wedding planner, and Rhett’s sense of style and attention to detail, the place looked like it was lifted out of the pages of a wedding magazine. (And trust me, I know, as I spend a lot of time pouring over wedding magazines.)

To my earlier comment about my stomach churning, you may wonder what the heck a transatlantic solo sailor could be so worried about on his wedding day as to make his stomach churn? No, I wasn’t nervous about a lifetime of commitment, or about remembering my vows (we kept them to simple “repeat after mes”)…I was nervous about our first dance.

Until early-January I had never given our first dance a second thought. It’s easy right? A sappy song is cued, the guests hush, we take the floor, I drape myself on Rhett in the classic “prom hang,” we shuffle in circles for an uncomfortably long period of time and the (bored) guests clap politely—done and done. However, if you were to pit “simple and easy” against “Rhett’s vision of the perfect wedding” in a fight to the death, cage match—which one would you bet on?

The next thing I know, it’s early-January and Rhett shanghais me into the car and we’re on our way to the local Fred Astaire dance studio for a 20-minute “consultation.” On the drive, I was pissed off. (I know…that’s not polite language, but in this instance I’m striving for accuracy.) Dance lessons, even just a consultation, was the last thing I wanted to do. However, after just a couple minutes with a vivacious Cuban dance instructor my feelings softened. She dissected rhythm for Rhett and me, gave us a few tips on the box-step, and—overall—made it fun. As Rhett and I concluded the consultation by tentatively prancing around the studio with marginal grace but showing some promise, my therapist’s words echoed in my head. A few days earlier, I had been to see her and when I finished talking about my feelings that the wedding was becoming a production and growing out of control, my therapist had suggested reframing the experience as an opportunity to be flexible and to meet Rhett where she wants to be met. Ah, life is so full of lessons and my teachers come to me in all different forms and at unexpected times. After the consultation, we signed up for a series of three, 90-minute lessons plus. Our instructor Mar assured us that with that investment she could get us to a stunning first dance.

Our raven-haired instructor and her Tennessean husband Clifton run the dance studio and the pair is straight out of central casting. Picture a petite, energetic Cuban dancer and a former collegiate cheerleader turned dancer in love and running a studio you’ll have a good image of the two of them.

If I learned anything in my years as a consultant it was first, that clients don’t really care how much you know until they know how much you care, and—second—that our birth-ratio of two ears to one mouth is intentional: you gotta listen before you talk, and listen at least twice as much as you talk.

While I don’t know exactly how our instructor Mar made her way from Havana to Delray Beach, I do know that she had learned those lessons along the way. She could have given us some canned dance routine and eventually it probably would have looked OK to our wedding guests, but she didn’t. Mar started by asking us questions…about our story…about how we met and how we’re living our life now. Whenever Rhett and I are asked about “our story” I have a hard time with the question—just thinking about the answer inevitably brings tears to my eyes so I generally defer to Rhett to do the talking and I add some commentary.

As Rhett told our story, her eyes—the brown eyes that can smile on their own (without a mouth) and that I’m in love with—sparkled. Soon Mar’s eyes were sparkling too, proving that the word “infectious” can be used in a positive light. As Rhett wound the story to its conclusion of my proposal to her in Lisbon, Mar’s excitement blossomed…it was clear that we, the three of us, had a lot of choreographic content to work with. One might call it a field day for dancing. We chose Stevie Wonder’s “Ribbon in the Sky” as the song and Mar focused on three aspects of our story. First, that our meeting was a result of a tragedy. Second, we met when both of us weren’t looking for anybody. And third, that my proposal of marriage to Rhett was a surprise. Mar also took into account the groom’s lack of formal dance experience and physical condition. (As she choreographed my marriage proposal to Rhett, Mar asked, “Is either knee especially good or bad?”)

Fast forward through several lessons and lots of practice at home, and the time of the dance had arrived. Time for the stomach to stop churning and just get it done…and also try to focus on having fun along the way. Not too dissimilar from being in the middle of the Atlantic, downloading weather and seeing the storm system approaching. At some point the preparations are over and you just need to sail through it and remember how lucky and blessed you are to have the opportunity to do things that very few people can do (or ever want to do!). Cocktail hour was over and prior to being seated for dinner the guests were asked to arrange themselves along the perimeter walls of the venue. Complicating the situation was that we had practiced in the dance studio and at home expecting the dance to be on the venue’s outdoor patio overlooking the beach. I was to enter from the north walking south (keeping the ocean on my left). Rhett would mirror image me, entering from the south walking north (with the ocean on her right). With the reconfiguration of the venue due to the weather, our space was tighter and I was now entering from the west (and walking toward the ocean) and Rhett from the east (and walking away from the ocean)…surprisingly disorienting when you’re contemplating spins and turns.

Another exacerbating factor was Rhett’s wedding gown. Although the French bustle was beautiful, it hid her feet from me. She’s a lot better dancer than I am (and has had gymnastics and formal dance training) and in our practice sessions I’d unconsciously relied on seeing her feet when I got lost (which was frequently). Now, in front of all those people, I was like a mariner without a compass. The best I could do was feel her feet (when I stepped on them) and gauge my distance from her based on how much she winced.

The music was cued and we began. (Mar had edited “Ribbon in the Sky” down to 2 minutes for us. In her Cuban accent, “Nobody wants to see the bride and groom—even Clifton and me at our wedding—dance for longer than 2 minutes!” (Again, sage advice that took me years as a consultant to learn.) After some opening jitters and a few rough patches we pulled it off and finished with a tornado and a dip. Not our best dance, but not bad considering our first time doing it in front of an audience and all the other complications.

If after all that explanation and background, you want to check out a video of our dance, it’s here. In the beginning you’ll see Lori our aforementioned wedding coordinator keeping everyone organized. Next you’ll see the choreography of the two of us living our separate lives and unexpectedly falling for each other. The surprise proposal is obvious.

As a final exclamation point to the fairy tale, the food and drink, and cake were amazing…

As I look back on our wedding day, the intense month before it, and the six months between engagement and wedding, I’m stunned by how much I’ve learned about myself and how the two of us have grown as a couple forging a life together. Shortly after our engagement when we were in Spain, we had thought about just eloping in Europe and the wedding being the two of us and a Justicia de la Paz (Spanish Justice of the Peace), but something just didn’t feel right about that approach. I pictured us walking in a courthouse somewhere as single individuals and 30 minutes later we’d walk out as a married couple—but we wouldn’t have been transformed by the experience (and would have understood much of what was said in Spanish either!).

When I said my vows to Rhett and hers to me, surrounded by those we love the most, I finally began to understand the power of witness—of your family and closest friends, regardless of in-person or hundreds or thousands of miles away, being there to witness our words of commitment, and those loved ones also committing to support us through the oceans of our lives. Before the wedding I had railed at the cost, the overhead, the hassles and how it was getting in the way of my “real life.” Now, as I finish this post in tears (happy tears), thinking back to the gathering of souls who are closest to us, and savor the memories and wonder if such a nexus could ever happen again, I don’t think about the money, or the time, or the headaches…I’m just glad and grateful.

Here’s to fair winds, following seas, and sailing happily ever after.

Hazel James over and out.

8 thoughts on “A Best Day Ever, in 43,500 Words

  1. Ohhh Dan! There you go again bringing tears to my eyes with a heartfelt beautiful story! I hope life continues to bring you the pure joy and happiness you felt on your wedding day! I’m so grateful to have your blog posts to feel connected to you. I’m blessed by the opportunity to continue to learn from you. Thank you for sharing and continuing to be a mentor from a far.

    Love and blessings to you and your beautiful family!

    Amy Lauer (formerly Amy Lorentz). It’s a long story but I also am recently re-married and happy as can be! ❤️

    1. Amy so good to hear from you. Funny, halfway through your comment I thought, “Who is Amy Lauer?” Thanks so much for the clarification in your comment. I’m so happy that you are finding happiness.

  2. Your wedding was so beautiful and elegant. We had a wonderful time and feel grateful to have been there to share this special occasion with you. The photos are so pretty! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Just beautiful 🥰 The photos captured tge day perfectly and the 1st dance was so special! You two are perfect together and I’m so happy you found each other💞

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