Risky business: Get married, tempt fate

It was wicked dark. My hand clutched the splintery railing, and I lowered one foot warily, searching for the next step in the long staircase down to the beach. I looked up. Not so much as a fingernail moon to guide us.

When we'd made it down to the sand, my husband slipped his arm around my shoulders, and we headed toward the roar of relentless breakers. The foam sizzling around our feet slowly came into view, like a photograph developing in a darkroom.

For months, I'd been obsessing about this very beach, obsessing about our son's impending wedding. Waldo and Amber had decided they wanted to be married outdoors. Outdoors, on a beach, in Corolla, on North Carolina's Outer Banks– that fragile sandbar that hovers near the mainland like a closing parenthesis. Plus, they wanted to get married on September 4, in prime hurricane season.

Planning an outdoor wedding is asking for it. You're saying: Go ahead, God, smite me! I can take it! You make yourself vulnerable to wind, rain, cold, hail, snow, thunder, and lightning.

Why would Waldo and Amber choose such an iffy venue for their wedding? As August came and went, all I could think was why are they doing this?

 But as August slipped into September, it was obvious that my worries had been misplaced. The disaster was happening, all right, but it was happening to someone else.

I spent that week, as we all did, going through the motions of other duties, but worrying about those poor souls in New Orleans, people praying for rescue from rooftops.

The forecast for Corolla that weekend­ the weekend of the wedding– was stellar, as though all the bad weather had been used up over the Gulf Coast, and what remained for us was something beyond perfect.

When we arrived at our hotel the day of the rehearsal, the seaside sky– normally a hazy, milky white at best– was crystal blue. This was the sky that had, just days before, unleashed hell upon New Orleans.

Late that night, after the rehearsal party, my husband and I went back to our hotel, and felt our way down the dark stairway to the moonless beach. We stood at the edge of the wild surf and, minute by minute, more and more stars popped out, until our eyes were opened fully to the starry dome arching above us. The Milky Way mimicked a long, broad cloud that swooped over our heads and plunged below the dark horizon.

As we stood there, arms wrapped around each other, I understood how lucky we were that our son had coaxed us away from the shelter of our home, away from the sort of church that's hidden under a roof.

He and his fiancée were taking a chance, holding their wedding outside, on a beach, in hurricane season. What a perfect metaphor for marriage: taking a chance, when you don't have to, exposing yourself to disappointment and disaster. There's so much that can go wrong.

But if you're patient enough to wait until your eyes are fully open and receptive to taking it all in, you might get lucky and find you can suddenly see the entire universe, see your place in it, see that you are not alone in this gorgeous emptiness.

When the gifts are used up or lost or broken, and the sky unleashes the worst, you aren't alone; you have the comfort of each other's arms. And that can be shelter enough.