Weddings in the Middle East tend to be quite different from their Western European counterparts. Today’s wedding was even more so.
Still, my friend did wear a dazzling white dress. And there was dancing and food and a photographer to capture it all.
So far, so familiar.
The location, however, was a refugee’s home: a few small concrete rooms covered with shabby carpets. Although better than most of the tent-homes I usually visit, it was not quite the ballroom future spouses dream of.
The place’s dance floor was its two by five meter outside entrance, smaller than my old bathroom. Thankfully, the traditional dance performed on such occasions requires shoulder-to-shoulder shuffling. The place was still tightly packed, though, and a drummer was beating his huge instrument in the crowd’s midst to destroy what was left of their eardrums from previous weddings.
Food was served in a back-room to those lucky enough to be invited in; first some of the men, later some of the ladies. Rice, chicken and bean soup starred on the one-course menu that we ate seated on the floor using supple flat bread as cutlery. Meanwhile, a couple of babies wrapped in blankets slept soundly on a lone sofa or a spongy mattress by the sound of dishes washed.
I did not cry because my friend’s wedding somehow fell short of my Western European standard for weddings.
Perhaps I cried because of the sadness that at times etched itself on the bride’s face. Her sadness evoked something no longer familiar to most Western weddings: today was the day the bride would cease to be an integral member of her parents’ household. She would leave her mother, father and siblings to integrate into her husband’s wider family, probably under the tutelage of her brand new mother-in-law.
Perhaps I cried because my friend is not her husband’s first wife. Not that he is divorced, or a widower. Rather, she’s joining his first wife to share him as a husband. Unfortunately, this is a situation that is unlikely to bring her much joy long-term, however much she loves him today.
Or perhaps my tears responded to the cries of a lost homeland that haunted this wedding. All Kurds from the same region in Syria, the attendants were performing dances and rituals bloodily torn from their native soil. As the mother-of-the-bride and their neighbour-of-old stood crying with the bride, I sensed their deep loss of home and brusquely interrupted history.
However, the deepest well from which sprung my tears was the sense that I had a loss of my own. As I saw the joy in this poor, scarred and exiled community, celebrating a wedding in the most unlikely of places, simultaneously laughing and crying and grieving, I saw that their tight-knit communal life had deep meaning.
I cried because I, and we collectively in the West, have lost this sense of community. I cried because, even though growing up I was more blessed than most to have a wider family to celebrate life with, also this community seemed irretrievably lost to the past. I cried because I examined myself and found I’m unwilling to give up all the individual freedoms I have in order to live such a deeply meaningful but demanding communal life.
I cried, because meaning was so close to me, yet wholly out of reach.