For Better or Worse

My brother got married this past weekend, and in his speech my dad recounted the story of when Tom and his best friend, having time to kill on a Friday night, ended up soaking golf balls in gasoline, lighting them on fire, and whacking them across a field with a golf club. In the process, Tom somehow ended up lighting himself on fire as well.

Fortunately, since they weren’t total idiots, the boys had embarked on their project in the middle of winter, and Tom’s friend retained enough presence of mind to shove him into a snow bank. Tom didn’t have eyebrows for the next while.

My dad brought all of this up to emphasize how fortunate it is that Tom’s new wife, Rachel, is planning to become a nurse. He will always have someone around the next time he decides to mix chemicals for a random experiment, light something on fire to see how big the flame gets, or get his ear torn off in a dirty soccer game.

God has a sense of humor, because only a few hours later, as I returned to the reception after a bathroom break, I came face to face with my brother, covered in blood, staring blankly into space, as his new wife tried to staunch the flow of blood issuing from his forehead and nose.

Tom’s groomsmen, in a fit of high spirits, had decided to throw him in the pool. In the process of fighting back, Tom had prevented his friends from throwing him far enough into the pool so that he didn’t clear the edge of it.

He had whacked his face on concrete, chipping a tooth and gashing his forehead so deeply that we could see his skull.

Tom’s wedding night was spent in emergency, getting a massive number of stitches. So much for that fancy hotel, champagne, and rose petals.

I couldn’t help comparing Tom and Rachel’s whole situation to an episode of one of my guilty pleasures, Keeping up the Kardashians. (I can’t believe I just admitted that out loud.)

In one particular episode, Kim is talking to her mother about her recent marriage. She is complaining that she just doesn’t feel happy. That there is no magic. That she doesn’t feel special anymore. It’s only been two months, shouldn’t their fairytale still exist? It’s so hard—she didn’t expect it to be hard.

Kim’s mother looks at her solemnly and tells her that she deserves happiness and magic and to live the fairytale, and that if she doesn’t have it, she needs to go find it. And so, Kim Kardashian separated from Kris Humphries after 72 days of marriage.

Tom and his wife certainly did not expect to be blood soaked and waiting in emergency the night of their wedding.

What impressed me so much, though, was how seamlessly the two of them dealt with the craziness of their situation. Tom, in his typical stoic fashion, insisted that he was all right and let the videographer and photographer capture the whole thing. Rachel, in her immensely capable way, cleaned him up, stopped the bleeding, took care of him, and swallowed the disappointment I know she felt at her ruined night.

They didn’t yell at anyone or complain or throw fits. After seeing the severity of Tom’s head wound, they admitted that there was nothing for it but the hospital, and off they went. It was what it was, and they absorbed the situation and then marched on.

They could accept what so many people don’t seem to want to acknowledge: that life isn’t perfect, and that it rarely turns out the way you expect it to. In having realized that, and in living that truth, they are really happy; they work so well together.

Life is so much easier when you don’t expect perfection; you aren’t surprised when you don’t get it, and when odd moments of bliss do happen you fall on your knees on gratitude.

We live in an entitled, perfection-orientated world. It sets us up for disappointment and disillusionment and for, as an example, divorce after 72 days.

It was beautiful to see Tom and Rachel living out their vows from earlier in the day. The “for worse” part was experienced much, much earlier than they expected it, and they accepted that with maturity and even a little humor.

To willingly accept the dirtiness of life, the unpredictability of it, to embrace the mess, is quite possibly the struggle of a lifetime. But if done with humor and grace, it makes for such a great story.