"Life is on hold because we are all holding each other's lives". A bride-to-be finds love and hope in a postponed celebration.
When I was little and couldn't sleep, I counted wedding guests.
Under the darkness of my duvet I ticked them off like animals entering the ark. Mum and Dad. Grandma and Grandpa. Aunty and Uncle. I have no idea why. Marriage was an archaic subscription to the patriarchy and I had no intention of becoming a member. I didn't dream of grooms or dresses, I just lay there making guest lists that lulled me to sleep.
I realise now that I was making a community. Counting the people who loved me.
We're all doing that this week. Thinking about priorities and hoping everyone will be okay; that we will be okay. Today, I'm supposed to be writing the weekly Canvas restaurant review but, for the next while, there are no restaurants to go to. On Tuesday, before New Zealand's level 4lockdown, I tried to think of things we might need that supermarkets wouldn't sell. I wished our fridge-freezer wasn't 20 years old and that our television screen was bigger. Mostly I wished I wasn't so scared that in the coming weeks I might be making wishes about scenarios I hadn't yet dreamed would happen.
That list of wedding guests was real.
For the Christmas of 2018, we went to Japan. In a moss garden a little way past the Arashiyama bamboo forest outside Kyoto, James asked me to marry him. My phone died immediately afterwards and what I felt in the three-day bubble of love that followed was profound calm. Peace. A sense that, finally, I had ended up in the right place at the right time.
The gingko dropped the last of their leaves, we ate okonomiyaki, drank hot canned coffee and I swear that all around us the light was golden. We opened a savings account because the things we considered important to a wedding did not come cheap: Good wine. Great food. A wild and unencumbered party. We chose a date so far into the future that, for most of last year, it did not seem real. People asked us why we were getting married. It was the first question on the form our beautiful Italian celebrant had us fill out. I'm not sure I managed to adequately answer anybody.
The idea that you are going to throw your lot in with one person, for the rest of your life, is not confined to married couples. They do not have the monopoly on monogamy and their relationships are no more (and sometimes less) than those who have never bothered to sign on the dotted line. Perhaps that is why I was doing this. It made no sense, it defied all logic, and it was still exactly what I wanted.
We sent an email with a date: May 9, 2020.
A fortnight ago, when the travel and mass gathering restrictions hit, we sent an email with heavy hearts: "We want a wedding where we can hug and kiss and share goat's meatballs (honestly, if you didn't RSVP with your dietaries, you only have yourselves to blame). We want a wedding where the choir can literally sing and you can dance really close. We want you all to be safe."
My grandma, aged 91, replied: "A very sensible decision. The two fruit cakes will improve on keeping."
I posted her message to Twitter and it clocked up 2500 likes. The world needs more grandmothers.
She had already made those cakes. I phoned her this week as we prepared for this unprecedented disruption to our daily lives. She said she was well underway with the icing daisies and gingko leaves that will adorn her baking. She was in good spirits, though a bit annoyed she might not have enough oranges to see her through to her next grocery shop. A neighbour had ducked over to check on her. She had doubled her silverbeet intake, added parsley to her diet, referred to the virus as "the bot" and said, generally: "I'll beat this thing. But if I don't, at least it will contribute to relieving the housing shortage."
On a Facebook group for weddings, I have been amazed to see would-be brides selling milk bottles wrapped in butcher's string and asking questions about what flowers might match a purple colour scheme. I was, I think, a bit jealous of those who had not snowballed into the future like me. Our vendors were amazing, our friends understanding - even, perhaps, a little relieved. I'm glad we made a decision before it was not ours to make.
More recently, I've read reality checks from couples who are going to open a bottle of champagne and dress up nicely for dinner-for-two on what would have been their wedding day. I feel sad. Then I read about people who cannot go to the funerals of people they love and women who are wondering if they may have to give birth without their partners present. I feel perspective. We have postponed, not cancelled. Everybody's life is on hold because we are all holding each other's lives.
Replies to our email continue to roll in. From friends who live in international cities that have now been named as virus epicentres. Immediate family members who are safe, but so far away. This, from Gisborne: "We look forward to the time when Corona is again something served ice-cold with a slice of lime and droplets are associated with sun showers. And we look forward to celebrating you two when the time is right."
And this from a few suburbs over: "Try to take a mental break from it if you can, put the planning to one side and enjoy the here and now for a while."
Like everybody, we are reading until we are exhausted. Knowledge - real, truthful knowledge - is power and my news reporting colleagues are breaking their backs to give us all the tools to make personal decisions that are hard and right.
Sometimes, when the statistics overwhelm, you find words that speak to the sheer, united humanity of this. On the day after we postponed our wedding indefinitely, I read that boxes of medical equipment were being sent from China to Italy with lines of poetry printed on the outside: "We are waves of the same sea."
On the week before we postponed, our handmade wedding rings had been delivered. Plain silver bands, stamped with hundreds of tiny waves.