Lifecycle: Holding Fast Then Letting Go
by Steven Schnur

 
Elizabeth as a toddler
and as a bride.
Photos by Steven Schnur

And then, finally, it was our turn, as the two white-gloved attendants pulled open the French doors, letting in the warm May breeze and the first measures of Elizabeth’s processional music—the same melody that had accompanied my wife and her parents down the aisle thirty-three years ago.

“This is it,” I whispered, my eyes still following David, our imminent son-in-law, as he and his parents made their way across the lawn toward our waiting guests, the bridal canopy, and our rabbi.

“Don’t let me fall,” Elizabeth responded, glancing over her shoulder at the long train of her wedding gown.

“Have we ever let you fall?” I replied, clutching her forearm reassuringly as we stepped out into the luxurious late-day light and walked slowly toward her waiting groom. How many times had we cradled her in our arms, held her hand, offered her physical and emotional support? How often during her first months of life had I walked her out into this same radiance, her infant eyes wide with wonder, her restless spirit gradually subdued by the chromatic vastness of the sunset sky?

This was the child we had eagerly anticipated for five barren years, the arresting beauty who had turned heads even in the maternity ward, gracing our lives with her animating energy, teaching us how to parent, when to be protective, and when to let go.

Had we ever let her fall? Well, yes. We’d marveled at her first efforts to walk, how she pushed herself bravely to her feet, arms spread wide, stepping slap-footed from side to side before collapsing in a heap in the grass, only to try again and again, determined to succeed. And those first tentative spins of her bicycle pedals as I ran alongside, holding the back of her seat, shouting, “Keep pedaling,” finally launching her toward the grass fringe of the playground, her lurching progress at first coming to ground in the softness of the soil…and then veering back around, finding stability, passing me confidently, legs pumping, a huge grin on her face—triumph!

Now my wife and I were walking our firstborn down the aisle, holding her fast one final time before she joined her life to another. We guided her slowly across the lawn and down the garden steps, passing between rows of smiling faces, coming to rest before the wedding canopy, where her mother and I kissed her.

“I love you, Mom and Dad,” she whispered before turning to face her approaching groom. We had not let her fall. For 26 years we had done whatever we could to protect her, helping her to her feet when she stumbled, watching at first anxiously and then with increasing gratitude and delight as she strode confidently into the world, settled into her chosen career, and won the heart of this young man determined to help her realize her dreams as a teacher, wife, and, one day, God-willing, as a mother.

We hugged David, then moved forward under the chupah, while he assumed my place at Elizabeth’s side.

Every wedding begins in a state of grace, family and friends deeply invested in the happiness of the bride and groom, believing in the possibility of a perfect union. Of course, no marriage is without its moments of discord, but where love and the courage of its commitment abide, harmony ultimately prevails. Would our daughter be one of the lucky ones, her young love maturing and growing more abundant with time? Would her husband’s love prove sufficiently malleable and inventive to embrace the changes that married life brings? Would fate treat them kindly?

We could only pray that it would. And after their rings had been exchanged and the ancient vows spoken, we witnessed a moment of quiet grace that suggested it might, fulfilling our fondest hopes.

Before pronouncing them husband and wife, Rabbi Rick Jacobs asked Elizabeth and David to draw close to each other. Wrapping them in David’s tallit, he whispered over them the priestly benediction: “May God bless you and keep you; May God cause his light to shine upon you and be gracious unto you; may God lift his countenance upon you and grant you peace.” As he did so, Elizabeth entwined her fingers in David’s, nestled up under his chin, lay her cheek against his chest, and closed her eyes. In the same moment, David drew his shoulders forward, enveloping and protecting her, his head upon hers, his eyes also closed.

In that embrace we glimpsed their perfect union of heart and hand and hope, and thanked God that our firstborn child had found a safe haven for all her days to come.


Steven Schnur is a member of Westchester Reform Temple, Scarsdale, New York.

Union for Reform Judaism.