The Rodawla-Lalvenhimi wedding weekend was an affair to behold. Family and friends had been busily preparing for the event all week, and on Friday evening almost fifty of them gathered at the church for the 7:00 pm rehearsal, fully half of those were children. Much laughter and several different languages filled the air, while the groom, clad in a black, overstuffed down coat because the heat in the church was not working, shot to and fro on various errands of obvious importance, but never without a smile on his face. The pianist practiced his parts competing with the sound system tests and all manner of strange electronic noises as sound systems are wont to do when mic chords are plugged into various inputs to see which ones work. One budding five-year old instrumentalist entertained all with his arhythmic drum solos, while another banged away on the electronic keyboard. Various objects were placed and re-placed and placed in other places by the decorator and his assistant to plan the floral balance needed for the following day.
In the Fellowship Hall the bride was sitting on a table swinging her legs gently and talking quietly with her sisters. Blessing (that is her name), the wedding director, was in charge, but had her hands full with joyous children all moving in different directions at the same time. After a brief conversation with the pastors to establish the protocol for the evening, Blessing had the wedding party gather in the sanctuary. The others continued their piano practicing, sound checking, drum solos and general mayhem. A much needed prayer was offered by the Rev. C. Walt McCanless and the wedding party was placed in the proper formation as if all had processed in for the ceremony. This was not as easy as it sounds, since instructions spoken in English had to be translated into Mizo and several other languages, and not always accurately, before anyone moved; a modern version of the Tower of Babel. But eventually everyone found their place and Blessing was pleased with the arrangement, though the decorator was not and had some different ideas about where the unity candle should go causing both pastors not a little anxiety about the possibility of their robes catching fire. A run through the service to practice movements and parts left the participants more confused than ever, but after she found two ladies to help manage the army of child attendants, Blessing came to the rescue and offered helpful suggestions to the wedding party in a language they could understand, “Southern” not being one of the six or eight languages which each of them spoke. A quick and flawless recessional was followed by a less than quick and chaotic processional leading to a final run-through of the service and then instructions for the wedding party and others: The church would be open at 1:00 pm for the florist decorator and sound system engineers. The wedding party were to come dressed and needed to be at the church by 1:30 pm for pictures. The wedding would start at 3:00 pm, which translated means “3-ish,” as the Rev. Joanna Hipp concluded from the fervent warnings that many guests, Burmese and Indian alike, were far too culturally ingrained to actually be at the church by the time noted on the invitations. “More like a suggestion,” was how it was put, and Western punctuality was escorted to a seat on the back row.
Another prayer, because God knew, as did everyone there, that it was sorely needed, and the crowds adjourned to the Fellowship Hall for coffee and some delicious Indian turnovers with a marvelous sweet-hot dipping sauce. Conversations abounded and the room sounded like Pentecost all over again. Blessing went over everything again and then the pastors were dismissed for the evening so the families and wedding party and children could all practice without being nervous, as pastors tend to make folks nervous, especially when they speak a non-native language with too thick an accent. So off they went, and the rehearsal went on.
The day of the wedding started off cool, but clear and beautiful right up to just about 1:00 pm when some clouds rolled in. But at 1:30 when the pastors arrived at the church, the clouds had parted and the most glorious day imaginable beamed its approval. God had managed to bring forth the perfect day, but God evidently was powerless to bring forth the wedding party to the church by 1:30 pm as instructed. The parking lot was empty. The well intentioned pastors had arrived especially early to help attend to what was sure to be chaos and confusion bordering on catastrophe only to be taught yet another lesson about “Burmese Time.” It wasn’t too long before the participants began to trickle in. Lal, his father and mother, and his brother Air Force, one of the groomsmen, finally arrived. Lal was bedecked in a form fitting, flat-black tux, stunning in its simplicity. Air Force and Jacob also wore tuxes, while Lal’s mother, Daw Sarawni, wore a joyously multi-colored, wrap dress with a satin top and black vest. Ever so beautiful, and obviously proud that her last unmarried child finally would be married so someone else now could look after him. The trickle of family continued, the men dressed in suits; one gentleman in an electric suit that positively glittered and changed from dark red to reddish blue with a pinkish hue with every motion he made. Already cameras were snapping away. No one went un-photographed. Three video camera’s had been set up on tripods each meant to capture the event from a different angle. The photographer and his assistant each carried multiple cameras with assorted lenses with yet another set in frame sort of like a Go-Pro. Surely this was not intended for one of the pastors to wear while performing the ceremony, but stranger things have happened.
The florist-decorator was putting the final touches on several round, basketball size arrangements of beautiful white flowers of unknown origin, two of which were on either side of the stage area where the wedding party would stand. With the unity candles in the middle and the precariously balanced flower arrangements on either side, movement on that platform would be severely limited. Someone, namely one of the two pastors, could easily catch fire, or when getting out of Lal and Alin’s way as they lit the unity candle, a mere brush of the robe across the needle thin flower stand would send the flower ball bouncing off the stage and rolling down the isle.
A loud commotion on the steps leading up to the church and the mad rush to the doors to greet the new arrivals meant that the bridal party was (finally) here. With one sister carrying her train, another holding the lovely, full length lace veil that would cover her hair and drape elegantly down her back, and her mother helping her up the stairs, the bride-to-be, moved with grace and dignity as she made it to the church (almost) on time. Keeping bride and groom separate prior to the actual wedding is not a part of Burmese or Indian culture, so upon Alin’s arrival into the sanctuary she was swept up into the photographic frenzy. For the next 45 minutes or so, photos were made of every possible arrangement of bride and groom with assorted family members, relatives and friends. Extra lights were brought in, make up artists brushed and dabbed and corrected errant hairs, and flashes went off like strobe lights. Every time Alin attempted to step down thinking that it was all over, yet another cousin was found and back up on to the risers she went. But she was so poised and generous with her beauty that half the crowd had pulled out their cell phones and were taking pictures right along with the photographer.
The sound system was checked yet again. The pastors were fitted with their wireless microphones. The pianist began playing. The children were rounded up, and since each one wanted to carry in something, because after all, only one could be the ring bearer, the girls were given flowers to carry, while all that could be found for the boys to carry were pew bibles, which they did, heads held high as if a ring were resting on top of each.
Guests were still arriving, but Blessing said it was OK to start the service, they’d be coming in all through it anyway. And so the processional began, not too long after the appointed hour, though long enough to have caused great worry and consternation on the part of the guests at any “Western” wedding. Robed in black with colorful stoles the two pastors walked in with Lal. Then the Best Man, Lal Zoliana, walked in and met up with the Maid of Honor, Annie, and escorted her to the front. Finally, Air Force walked in and met Anis at the center isle and escorted her to the front of the church and on to the platform. A little commotion turned the heads of most toward the back of the sanctuary and the children, must have been 25 of them, processed in and down the isle, rings, flowers and Bibles in hands. They came to the front then veered off and looped into rows two three and four. They were beautiful, perfect and so adorable. No one knows what Blessing did or how she pulled it off, but she brought those kids from Chaos to Order in less than 24 hours. That’s five days sooner than it took God to create order from chaos!
Finally, the moment all were waiting for. The music changed, and yes, here came the bride, accompanied by her mother in another of those long, vivacious, brightly colored dress-wraps. Alin wore a barely off white, satin wedding dress, with a white lace veil covering her hair and flowing down over her shoulders and back extending almost to the end of the train of her dress, which wasn’t too long, but long enough to give a sense that she was floating on air as she moved toward the front of the sanctuary. Angela Lalhmingziaka, her mom, gave her a little kiss, and then found her seat. The stage was set, all had arrived; no runaway bride, no drunken groom, no unruly children, just a gorgeous gathering of family and friends pervaded by such joy that even when the wrong music for the first solo started and had to be stopped and re-started only to be the same wrong song, it didn’t matter. The right song was found and sung, the vows were made, and the unity candle lit. Jacob, Lal’s father prayed with his hands on the heads of the bride and groom who knelt on the largest, most colorful pillow ever to appear in a wedding. More songs were sung, hymns too, in languages Charlotteans could only hum. Blessings were pronounced over bride and groom, then thank you’s and invitations to the reception were given in numerous languages so all knew they were included. One last solo was performed during which the tape on the rolled out runner got stuck on the singer’s shoes and as he walked and moved, the runner went with him threatening to trip him up at worst, or end up as a balled up mass the bride would have to hurdle as she recessed. But several guests jumped from their seats to remedy the situation. Through it all the singer didn’t miss a note. It was all glorious; and fun, and joyful and playful; and God was in it all, seemingly having a ball. The couple was introduced and the children, on cue, marched out with their arms loaded as if carrying off booty from the temple. The groom and bride, after the dress was straightened, the train and veil fanned out, almost floated out, arm in arm, to the cheers and applause of all. The two sisters, one by one, were escorted out by the groomsmen and after the families were allowed to leave, all rose and and their ensuing chatter immediately drowned out the music.
It was time for the reception and some serious fun, and since the pictures had been made ahead of time, there was little reason to hold things up. A white, high end Mercedes ‘low-rider’ awaited the bride and groom in the parking lot. A large black SUV, Secret Service style, was there for the bridesmaids and groomsmen.
The guests and cousins were already at the hotel where the reception was taking place and the parking lot was almost empty and. What took hours to set up: flowers, back-drop, photography gear, sound system and such, took a matter of minutes to disassemble and pack up. Now at last the couple emerged, buoyant, gleeful, dancing toward the car, and the groom exercised the first of his new responsibilities as he helped the bride into the car, taking extra care with her train, making sure it wouldn’t wrinkle or get caught in the door. He’s off to a good start.
And to help them have a good start on this journey called marriage, not to mention celebrate a bit with them, all are invited to a “Wedding Reception” for Lal and Alin on Saturday, January 6, 2018 at the church. More details will be forthcoming.
—Written by Walt McCanless