I’m not the best with surprises.
Almost six years ago to this day, on a deserted beach on Oahu’s north shore, my now husband Marc asked me to marry him.
Believe me when I say that I didn’t have the faintest clue that he was going to propose.
I mean, we had been together for four years, so it was inevitable that the topic would come up in conversation from time to time, and I knew that there was no one else in the world that I wanted to be with – I was just never one to think about it.
Growing up, I never day dreamed about weddings, sketched dresses, or play acted happily ever after.
I just hoped to heck that one day I would actually have a boyfriend, and all that practice kissing the back of my hand in the shower would amount to something.
So when this beautiful, kind, brilliant man, kneeled in front of me, and told me “I want to spend the rest of my life with you,” I briefly stood there shocked.
My mouth opening and closing like that of a stunned trout.
And then I burst into tears.
I cried so hard and for so long that Marc actually had to ask me (quite nervously at that) if my tears were a good or bad thing.
“Good…thing…” I managed to croak, before the next wave of sobs took over.
It was a very good surprise.
Marc began to laugh, and eventually I did too (although it was through my tears), and then he took my hand and placed a ring on my finger.
My engagement band has three stones – one larger, framed by two smaller ones. He explained that he choose this ring because the two stones on the outside are meant to signify us, and the middle stone is our life that we will build together.
You can imagine how quickly my tears dried up after hearing that. I’m pretty sure that I severely dehydrated myself standing there on the beach that night.
But it was magical.
The sun slowly setting, melting into the rich greens and blues of the sea; giant turtles watching us as they sunned themselves in the warmth of the white sand.
I told him that I would love him until the end of the world.
When we arrived back at the house where we were staying, we surprised all of our friends by revealing the good news.
Then we phoned family back in Canada, before doing the thing that every good 21st century couple does – updating our profiles on facebook.
Arriving back in Canada, I remember Marc turning to me and saying, “So when shall we do this thing?”
I was still in such shock over the actual engagement, I hadn’t yet wrapped by head around the fact that that the end result of this whole thing would be, well, an actual wedding.
But as the days ticked by, I eventually came to grips – happy grips of course – with the idea that with engagement eventually comes a marriage, and I threw myself whole hog (for lack of a better expression) into the planning of our wedding.
We agreed that we didn’t want too long of an engagement so after a somewhat surprisingly stressful consultation period with both of our families, we locked down June 28th, 2008 as the day we would official tie the knot.
We would have the ceremony and reception at Minter Gardens, just outside of Harrison Hot Springs.
As a certified type A personality, who likes things to be just so, I found that once I engaged myself in planning mode – no pun intended – it was terrifically hard to think of anything else.
Everywhere I went, I was thinking about food, and invitations, about bouquets and buffets. I became slightly obsessed with getting the absolute nicest possible things, for the fairest price possible.
I remember standing in Ikea in front of an entire shelfing unit of glass bowls, agonizing over whether or not they were too expensive for our center pieces. I then did the exact same thing at Superstore, before driving back to Ikea, and then back to Superstore, where I eventually purchased the bowls.
But more importantly, I wanted our wedding to be an absolutely joyous, fun, and exciting day – for not only Marc and I, but for everyone involved.
I wanted all of our guests to feel like those sea turtles on that beach in Hawaii – witnessing, but also taking part in something wonderful, kind, and magical. (And most likely watching me cry my eyes out the entire time.)
By the time the big day rolled around, I had planned every little thing, down to the minutest of details.
Everything was under control. Everything was going to be perfect. There were going to be no surprises.
The day before, Marc drove out to Langley, where he would stay over with his best friend Matt, while I drove out to Harrison that afternoon, with my my two sisters, long-time best friend, my sister’s partner, and my mother.
In our hotel suite, we ate sushi and drank diet coke. My sisters gave themselves pedicures in the bathroom, and I practiced putting in my contact lenses.
That night I slept, but the butterflies in my stomach and the persistent buzz of a malfunctioning air conditioner ensured that I slept little.
The morning of the wedding broke absolutely beautiful. It was to be a hot, sundrenched day, perfect for a garden ceremony and dinner.
The first person to arrive was our photographer, my soon to be sister in-law Vanessa.
“Getting here was crazy!” She exclaimed. “There’s this crazy burnt-out semi-truck taking up space on the number 1! Traffic was moving so slow, I didn’t think I was going to make it on time!”
A burnt out semi-truck?
I immediately phoned the woman who was coming to do my hair and makeup. My sisters twittered in the background, telling me that I had nothing to worry about.
“Don’t worry Vanessa,” said the voice on the other end of the line. “We’re on our way. We’ll be a little late, but we’re almost there.”
For some reason I truly believed that as long as my hair and make-up got done, everything was going to be okay.
And everything was okay, until around twelve o’clock, when I began to get more phone calls.
First, from my friend Jake, who was supposed to be one of our ushers.
“Yeah…I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but the highway is completely backed up. We’re stuck just outside of Langley and we haven’t moved in a long while so…”
I told him not to worry. Guests would be able to find a way to get to their seats. I just hoped that he would be one of those people sitting in a seat.
He told me he hoped that too.
Next, Kristy, my bridesmaid’s parents phoned. Same message.
Then Marc’s sister and brother in-law.
“I don’t know what’s happening but…”
Phone call after phone call. From friends, relatives.
I still get a sharp pang of guilt when I remember that phone call because a tiny voice inside my head immediately shouted out: “BUT HE’S THE ONE WHO HAS OUR CAKE!”
We tried to push back the ceremony as far as we could, but in the end we had to start. Our justice of the peace had another wedding, and there was another ceremony happening after ours.
Out of 140 guests, we were missing 40.
This was not in the original plan. This was a HUGE surprise to me.
As I walked through the gardens, up to our beautiful ceremony site, I tried to hold back my tears.
Was this actually going to happen? We were actually going to let this happen?
As we convened at the start of the pathway that would lead us to our ceremony site, and right as a fresh wave of tears was about to crash over me, my older sister Kate took my hand, looked straight in my eyes and said: “How much do you love Marc?”
“With…with all of my heart,” I answered.
“Then that is all you need to know” she said. “Today will be perfect.”
Right at that moment, the bagpiper began to play, and she and Marc’s groomsmen locked arms and began to walk together. I watched as the next pairing did the same, and then the next.
And then it was time for me. Little old me, walking as I had actually mean to walk, alone, approaching the man I was meant to marry.
After making it to the front of the aisle, I caught out of the corner of my eye, our bagpiper absolutely hoofing it out of the gardens, eager as he was to make it to his next gig. I’ve never seen a man move so fast in a kilt.
Which made me laugh, albeit through my tears. Just like on that beach in Hawaii.
In the end, we redid our vows at the beginning of our reception for all of those who couldn’t make it to the ceremony. And the most amazing thing was, no one complained, or remained sad about missing out on the start of the day.
The only thing anyone said to us was how much they loved the day, how much they loved us, and how much fun they had celebrating our marriage with us.
Which in the end, was the best surprise I could hope for.