Last Wednesday, I traveled from Chicago to the South of France to celebrate the wedding of a dear dear friend. This is the kind of friendship that even time and distance cannot separate. When she first told me that she was getting married she stated that “my attendance was not optional” at the wedding. Fair enough, she traveled to my wedding eight years ago, and even donned the giant purple bridesmaid dresses that was also “not optional” and all with grace and style. The requirement for her wedding was that a.) I be there and b.) I don a large hat or some other head accoutrement in true English wedding fashion.
So I made it there by planes, trains and automobiles (literally), hair accoutrement appropriately selected and packed, and what a trip it was! I was fortunate enough to travel with two other dear friends and then met two more upon arrival. There was a small contingent of Brits, Irish, French and a sprinkling of Americans present for the big event, more on that later…
Now, this friend is the kind of friend that didn’t need to tell me that my attendance wasn’t optional, I would have been there anyway. She and I are unlikely friends, her being from a good stiff upper lip English upbringing, she went to all the right schools and did all the right things and I, on the other hand, lived a bit of a gypsy upbringing. Working my way out of the council estates of Northern Ireland to the glamorous countryside that is Hamilton, Ontario and eventually on in to Colorado, Oregon, back to Northern Ireland, on to Chicago, with a stint in Champaign-Urbana for University which lead me to my friend….junior year study abroad at Nottingham University…
Like I said, we were an unlikely pair but we were friends from the first moment we met in the dinner queue, her in her lovely pair of denim dungarees and me fleeing from the overbearing mothering of another student. She was an oasis. She had the “go to room” where we ate sweeties from the residence hall shop until our jaws were aching (even declaring ‘achy sweetie jaw’ as a real condition). She made the best cup of tea, she bought me more drinks than I could ever repay her for, she took me home to meet her wonderful family and generally endeared herself to me from the moment I met her. When I left England she and the guy I was dating were so sad that they thought it appropriate to snog one another in their grief and when she told me, as a good friend would, I wasn’t even upset about it. She’s that kind of friend!!
But back to the wedding in Ville Franche. It couldn’t have been a more picturesque setting, the sweeping cliffs peering down on the deep blue Mediterranean sea, yachts in the harbor, cafes with bottles of rose glistening in the sun, people smoking freely and with out regard to the fellow diners, an appropriate smattering of cars I could never afford, medieval architecture, that certain “je ne sais quo” that the French generally have about them and the company of 6 of my most favorite people in the world. It was a weekend of pinching my self and thinking “could life actually get any better?”. Naturally, events like this lead to lots of introspective thought and chat, the general list of “what if’s”…what if I had never gone to U of I? what if I had never studied abroad? what if I hadn’t made the effort to keep in touch?…etc etc…but I am a true believer that everything happens for a reason…that life is what you make of it….and that in the end, everything is going to be all right. It’s a bit of a survivors attitude, I know..and a bit corny, but it generally works for me . As a result I have fabulous friends all over the world and I try not to let time or distance come between us.
Time and Distance can not come between us
Needless to say, the wedding was a story book affair from beginning to end…a gorgeous sunny day, guest dressed to the nines, the air heavy with that fantastic Irish and English wit and a general sense of merriment. There was a character of an official marrying my friends, even inviting all guests in hats and other head accouterments to the front of the room for a better viewing, vows in French, canapés and champagne on the lawn and a small parade through town to the reception venue which was right smack in the middle of the village square! The wine was flowing, the speeches were fabulous, the food mouthwatering and the rides on the speed boats like something out of a James Bond film. Wait…speedboats?? Did I say speed boats….yes, yes I did… the genius husband of our friend appropriately suggested sunset speed boat rental, with champagne…and no glasses…dressed to the nines. It was surreal, absolutely surreal and I am so glad that we did it. And, of course, was all accomplished while not missing any of the wedding action but returning to the kick off of the obligatory and fantastic wedding DJ who played ALL the right songs. Twelve straight hours of drinking and merriment, one speed boat ride, too much wine consumed to count, one fight averted and cheesy wedding songs stuck in my head for days to come. Absolute perfection!
Speed Boats!Worth the price of the boat rental
There are so many things I could document about this trip…the time spent with friends I don’t see enough of, the new friends who are all coming from Ireland to Chicago next year and staying with me and my friends, the pinch yourself moments, the aching cheeks from smiling and laughing, the tearful good bye to the bride when I knew I wouldn’t see her again and the time I took to stop and take it all in. The 24 hours in Paris with warm baguettes from ‘Le Boulangerie’ (why can’t we make bread like this in the US??) It was sobering to be there, to be so present in a moment that I don’t want to ever forget.
Even more sobering to return to Chicago and receive a text from another dear dear friend to tell me her grandmother had died the night before. Her grandmother was infectious, everyone loved her, everyone knew her, she lit up a room. She never judged anyone, she was a devout Catholic, she lived through and put up with a lot of crazy and she had more energy at age 85 than most people I know at 38. The best way to describe her was that she was a fire cracker! She was also very kind to me over the years, she danced her socks off at my wedding and she treated me like one of her own. Every time I saw her she greeted me like a long lost child. I knew that I had to get to the wake and for a few hours and it was looking like time, traffic, sick children, another airplane ride the next day and the fact that I had just been out of the country for six days were going to prevent me for making it. However, in my heart, attendance at this event was also “not optional” and these two every different events, the beginning of two lives together, and the end of another one are actually just the same. It’s all about what we do for one another to ensure that we know that we are loved, that we are supported, that we are not alone and that ultimately life is very very short. I hope for many more “pinch yourself” moments. Many more.