I'd rather be forced to read a dozen New York Times columns by Bill Kristol than go to a wedding alone. When the slow-dance music starts I usually head straight for the ladies room, or the door. And as for funerals, well, they're obviously difficult for anybody.
But the two weddings and a funeral I attended this past year may have changed my perception about the celebration of love.
My niece married her very first boyfriend (take heart singles!) a blond, strapping laddie she met in grad school across the pond. As she tells it, the American students were celebrating Halloween and this pumpkin with a Scottish burr sidled next to her and they conversed for hours. He had her before she saw his face or body, and he should have been costumed as a frog, because he turned out to be her Prince Charming.
Wedding guests on a cold and sunny May day four years later included a quirky mix of New York neurotics, Ivy grads, sheep farmers and even a few upper-class British twits. Many of the women wore outrageous hats, and most of the men were kilted. I truly expected Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell to be flirting in a corner.
We were bussed from our Edinburgh hotel, past rolling countryside and the Firth of Forth (or is it Forth of Fifth?). The ceremony, in an adorable stone church in a vale, blended atheism, Christianity, and Judaism. The kilted minister, who (sigh) looked and sounded like Sean Connery, never mentioned God, as requested. He carefully explained the Jewish customs -- my late husband's prayer shawl hung over the couple's heads, under a cross -- and when the groom stepped on the glass, the Scots shouted what sounded like, "Mistletoe."
The wedding buffet featured whole pig and whole lamb, roasted and splayed. I closed my eyes as I passed, grabbed some meat from a leg, I think, picturing innocent animals gamboling on the pastures around us. But I confess, I did eat seconds.
The Highland Fling and the hora vied for dance of choice, hopped, swung and stumbled through by members of the different cultures, kilts flying, hats askew. A sheep dog roamed under my table. He was a more interesting companion than most, but alas, he was a terrible dancer, except when he grabbed my leg.
We partied hardy in the tent at the family sheep farm, which will be inherited by my new nephew, as long as he eventually resides there. Which means my niece, my sister's only child, will eventually live there too. Good luck, kids. I hope you'll become fine shepherds.
My next cross-cultural wedding experience occurred in November, in San Francisco, at the officers club at the Presidio, the former military base near the Golden Gate. The groom -- half Catholic, half Jewish, wed his fully Sikh bride in a warm, wacky ceremony.
From flower girl to mother of the bride, the women wore classic Indian garb, and walked like exotic orchids down the aisle to a chuppah, this one a swag of saffron-colored Indian cloth. A friend of the groom ministered an original service ("do you promise not to dent your husband's car"?), one way to merge cultural differences, I guess.
This wedding menu offered Indian food as an option, and after the pig and lamb at the Scottish wedding, I atoned with vegetarian. When the rhythmic music began, six nubile Indian dancers appeared, like in a Bollywood chorus line. By the end of the evening, led by the joyous bride and groom, everyone was moving, arms and legs askew -- solos and couples, babies and grandpas -- it didn't matter. Even I skipped the refuge of the ladies room, and danced!
Random things I learned:
Scottish men traditionally wear nothing under their kilts. At least that's what the guys kept telling me, and I was afraid to peek. I did note that when the groom's father was hoisted aloft in a chair for the traditional Jewish ritual, a thoughtful Scot kept his hand between the dad's legs to keep the family jewels covered.
I really do like meat.
And yes, I can enjoy marriage celebrations, especially if they offer surprising dances and spirited cultural melding, and if the couple seems truly in love.
Then there was the funeral, in December. The widow had been married to her beloved husband for 51 years. They had met in college and shared the same backgrounds, and they never moved from their original house. Their sons tearfully celebrated their father, a humble man who cherished his family. The story was old-fashioned boy-meets-girl-next-door, and they lived, it seems, pretty happily ever after.
The most important thing I realized from these three ceremonies came from that funeral, and it's this: Whether the love you share comes from next door, or halfway around the world, it ends too soon. Dance as fast, and as often as you can.
Lea Lane is editor of the lifestyle website www.sololady.com , and authored Solo Traveler: Tales and Tips for Great Trips (Fodor's)