“It something saith for earthly pain,/But more for heavenly promise free,/That I who was, would shrink to be/That happy child again.” ~ Elizabeth Barrett Browning
The best moments fleet, they cannot stay, for if they lingered we would burn away with the grandeur, the pain of joy, raw.
The best moments are so often surprises, unplanned, gifts that arrive on the gentle notes of a song or the scent of memory wafting.
The best moments come more often then we think, so we should be looking, listening, paying attention. Fully here, eyes open wide.
The best moments are not without struggle.
I stood apart, against the far wall at the back of the room. There would only be one quiet minute, quick, it would not last. The line of guests greeting had briefly waned but would come back. Retreating, I stood alone by the cake, just to watch them dance. This was the moment, the best one, and somehow I knew it and didn’t want to miss it. The cake and I had a great view.
Her wedding ~ planned and worked for, months of thought and preparation and sweetness. Tastings and tablecloths, flowers and flurry. A summer-full of back porch peace listening to music, finding just the right songs for the service (yes, twelve songs is too many), singing them together over and over, the three of us, just days before it became the four of us and got even better. The best of times. Finally come together in an evening of magical, fleeting moments. It was here, now, and I wanted to savor it and taste it, look at it and hold it tight.
I’m going to miss this when it’s over. But for now it is here. I am here.
A wedding for an only daughter only comes once.
Perhaps the very best things happen only once, too perfect for repetition.
The cake and I peer around the happy room and I think this must be a glimmer, a shimmer of what Heaven is like ~ people dancing and laughing and feasting, together for these moments, no strife, no anger, not tonight. This is an evening for gladness, celebrating. Groom united with his bride, finally.
Joy, too deep for words.
The cake agrees. Yet, whispering, she gently reminds me that the path to this kind of joy is not a simple one, nor is it for the faint of heart. The path of greatest meaning is wedded with stumbling blocks of pain, travail, loss, sometimes weeping.
“There’s a bit of a problem.”
Wedding-coordinator Sarah met me at the back of the church, recessional music still full, and I am nothing but smiles. The wedding had gone off without a hitch, perfect music, lovely friends, happiest of brides, grinning groom.
“It was just wonderful, wasn’t it?” I declared, setting down the small bouquet to slip my feet out of my achy, too-tall mother-of-the-bride shoes, just for a minute. “It’s going so well, I just can’t believe it!” I marveled.
“Yes, yes.” Odd pause. “But I need to tell you something before you get to the reception,” Sarah begins, clipboard twitchy in her usually stable hand.
“Sarah, what is it?” It takes her a long minute to say the words.
The wedding cake has fallen. Down. It is on the floor. Smashed. Lost.
A moment of silence. For the fallen cake.
Good women got to work. Caterer Sabine had just called Sarah, who sent Kristen to the reception venue to triage the situation, she finally texting militarily from the venue, “It’s down. It’s really down.” Sarah called the baker who, tools in tow, U-turned her car in the middle of Poplar Avenue and returned to the scene of the accident, to cry a bit and then get busy with reparations, new strokes of icing-love and concern for the fallen.
Why do these things happen? Who is responsible?
It must have been the maintenance crew, last minute vacuuming, bumping the table.
It must have been the band, moving their instruments, slightly clumsy around the wedding cake.
It must have been the August heat, Delta-swelter, simply too much for the cream cheese icing and heavy cake, too much heat, too little AC, like my own mother’s cake that also fell in its August, to be refashioned by quick hands filled with great love and Tinker Toys.
We always want to know why, the reasons why things happen the way they do. Sometimes, most times, we simply cannot know.
“Things fall apart, the center cannot hold” ~ this is how the poet Yeats sees it. Sometimes things crumble, fall down, get lost. The holiday planned so perfectly was “ruined” by the rain or the snow or the person who will not show up on time. That relationship worked so hard on, years and years, but it takes two and only one is willing. Forgiveness that is not sought, or worse, asked for but not given.
Poet Elizabeth Bishop speaks of loss, losing, “The art of losing isn’t hard to master; / So many things seem filled with the intent / To be lost that their loss is no disaster.” Ever ironic, she blames loss on the things lost. I do that, too, far too often.
Sometimes loss is not a disaster. Sometimes it is.
Loss has many faces. There are degrees of things, perspective. Sometimes kids fall down and sometimes buildings do. Flat tires and flat lines are not the same. Friendships sometimes break, families and churches, which really are supposed to be the same thing, often so fragile, weak, unable to support the weight of life and trouble, fall apart, their centers not holding.
Weight too great, every once in a while we all find ourselves on the floor, smashed, broken, lost.
What do we do when things have fallen apart? What happens after the cake falls?
The bride has the answer. What the cake already knows.
I catch her in the Sunday School-class-turned-bride’s room, just seconds before she runs off into a confetti shower. Beaming, glad-hearted, as happy as I have ever seen her.
Sarah said she would do it, but I know I have to tell her about her cake. “I need you to know something before you get to the reception,” I said.
“Mother, is this not the most wonderful day ever?!” she cries, giddy, unhearing. “The wedding was perfect!”
What is perfect anyway?
I tell her that her wedding cake has fallen down.
Is it bad, ruined?
I think so.
Another moment of silence for the fallen cake. Eye to eye, heart to heart, thoughtful quiet ~ then the answer.
“Well,” she says philosophically. “It’s just cake, isn’t it? Let’s get there and see what’s next.”
That’s right. Let’s get there and see what’s next.
This time, it is just cake.
What does a wedding cake look like after half of it has been ruined, smashed, broken? What does a person look like after the same?
Different. Changed, completely. This cake looked nothing like its picture in the cake book. It had an entirely new aspect, a peculiar, eccentric beauty in its brokenness, a Tower of Pisa quality. Half of it gone, hard-fallen on the worn carpet and whisked away. Sadly, some things can indeed be lost forever, here in imperfection. The original scrollwork pattern replaced by quick, sweeping strokes of icing and extra flowers, the florist’s quiet contribution.
She was simply a very different cake than before her fall. The baker and caterer had whisked her to the back of the ballroom where she and I stood together, quiet, watching.
Then, to my surprise, she spoke.
I am broken but I am not dead, the cake said loud in her moment of great existential wonder, I am here!, and I could hear her shouts above the celebratory din. She had survived her breaking, she was not finished, even though she had been moved from her place, hurried scurried to the back of the room.
Here’s the secret to brokenness, she whispered and I leaned in, ears open wide, The grace is in the getting back up, the restoration. One can stand again. Accept the help of good folk who come alongside, God’s own hands, to fill in the cracks and breaks and make us into something new, better, stronger, more beautiful than before. Those who help instead of hurt, heal instead of destroy, that’s where grace is, that’s where healing lives. Standing up again after utter despair, courageously believing that you still matter, that God did not kill you but rather broke you in the crucible of His grace to use you in newness, in completely original ways, even if others have moved you to the back of the room.
The grace is in the breaking, in the changing, in the repair.
One can stand again.
This cake had slid to its angle of lopsided repose, and now she was content, at peace. Like Jacob of old, walking with the limp of brokenness after his wrestling match with God, limps ever-reminding us that there is strength after destruction, if we can endure and not faint.
Make no mistake, everyone is broken, everyone limps, and those who don’t seem to are either pretending or hardheartedly will not allow the brokenness. Either way, they are missing the grace.
Run from the brokenness, you run from the grace.
I’m sure there were many guests that evening who wondered about this cake, talked about her behind her broken back. This is kind of a short cake and I wonder if there will be enough for everyone to have a bite and Did I overhear that this cake fell down? Is it leaning? There are always those who talk, who add insult to injury, who judge through their own dim lenses.
Oddly, after such complete collapse, the cake doesn’t seem to care much what they think. I like that.
Imperfect beauty, eccentric, broken hard and then loved back to newness.
I love this cake.
We stand together in this moment, one of the best of my life, and watch the tiny glimpse of Heaven unfold before us, as in a mirror dimly, a fuller understanding now of why God chose a wedding feast as His metaphor for Heaven. All the people we love, many traveling sacrificially, coming together for this one moment. Feasting at the wedding banquet, laughter and song, a man and his new bride, together forever, of course there should be a party!
My friends, look hard and deep, for moments of perfection do exist in the broken mists of earth. We see the exquisite beauty not in spite of the brokenness but because of it.
The cake reminds me of what I always seem to forget. God came to restore, to seek and save that which was lost, to rebuild the broken. He sends bakers and caterers and caregivers to the kitchens and emergency rooms of our lives, and ever in their tool bags lay the gentle reminder that restoration’s bedfellow is almost always pain.
Pain is a cobblestone on the path to peace and grace, the crucible that burns us to perfection. The path to Heaven is paved with joys and woes.
I hear the cake’s lesson ~ pick up your pieces, save what you can, accept patching and bandaging, and walk forward. Everyone limps a little.
I’m now quite sure that life’s sweetest moments come after the storm, after the destruction, after the fall.
So let’s dance.
Let us eat cake.
For my “safe folk” ~ you know who you are.