The invitation arrived with no time to spare. “Hi friends and family, We are trying to set a speed record for wedding planning.” Just two days later, I’m clicking the link to attend a Zoom wedding.
The app opens a kaleidoscope of faces and voices. Two sets of proud parents peer into the screen from opposite ends of the earth. It’s night-time for the bride’s people, morning for the groom’s. An elegant young woman haloed by bright bay windows calls congratulations from London. Another shows off an extravagant black feathered hat. A toddler interrupts with a shriek and makes a grab for the camera; the Zoom congregation shares a laugh as the dad hoists her onto his lap.
The chat lights up. 'I didn’t know it was possible to get goosebumps over Zoom!'
Four New Zealanders are arranged on a couch. “Thanks for staying up until 1 am!” someone calls. “I think I need a Drambuie,” comes the wry reply. The best man, serving as master of ceremonies from his kitchen, presides over the happy chaos in a microphone headset.
The stream comes live from Copenhagen City Hall. It’s an arched room frescoed with ancient Danish legends: a knight on horseback, women in long gowns, a lovestruck hero clutching his breast under the spreading branches of a tree.
Into this cast of painted characters step our bride and groom. He’s dapper in a dark suit and tie. She’s romantic in a flowing empire line dress and a bouquet of tumbling white orchids. “Doesn’t she look beautiful?” “You scrub up well, Roger!” Offscreen, a registrar begins to lead the vows.
My mind goes back to the last time I saw my friend Roger. We both lived in London then. We met in a cafe on some grey day before my night shift. Roger is a start-up guy, someone who turns ideas into real things. We spoke about how media could change; he was two steps ahead, appraising revenue streams, figuring out which innovation could meet a need.
I see on the list of guests on the Zoom wedding the names of people who, like me, must have first met Roger in Italy. The chat is alive with greetings from afar. Hi from Auckland. Congratulations from Berlin! Mazel tov from Los Angeles!!! Hello from Florence, from Oregon, from Barcelona, from Turkey, from Quebec.
A carousel of easy travel brought us together, and took us apart. Five jobs in five countries in 10 years, and family on most continents. Weddings were the alchemy that, once in a lifetime, made this far-flung crowd a community, gathered for one night only in one room. Cousins, co-workers, college friends. We used to say things like – see you in Amsterdam?
Last year the carousel stopped, and halted us where we were, strewn around Europe and around the world. Lately people have been asking: is it coming back? We ask each other, though no one knows. Are you making it home this summer? We’ll be on for Christmas, right?
On the phone my granddad, an old pilot, asked me outright. “Do you think it’s coming back?”
“The travel?” “Mmm.” “I don’t know. They say some things have changed for good. Some people think the travel won’t come back the way it was before.” Unspoken is the thought: should it?
Roger and Anthe are exchanging their rings. The chat lights up. “I didn’t know it was possible to get goosebumps over Zoom!” “She said YES, he said YES!” The two sign the registry book and come to wave to the Zoom crowd, which erupts. “Congratulations!” come the calls, and “chukahamnida!” from the Korean diaspora in Toronto and New York.
Anthe and Roger leave us to walk out into Copenhagen and start their new lives. They have done this on their own; tramped across the city in the heat the day before for flowers; scrambled to get rings. When the photographer turned up at the wrong door of city hall, it was Roger who rushed out with minutes to go. The kindly witness, a stranger, kept Anthe calm.
It’s two years now since either has seen parents or siblings. They’re expecting a baby soon; when he will meet his grandparents, no one can say.
The best man is organising the family photos – well, screenshots – on Zoom. “Smile everybody!”
“Do you know so-and-so? She’s in New York as well.” “One of my nieces lives in New Zealand. ” “This is Anthe’s sister.” “Say ‘hi’!”
It’s time to go. “See you at the reception!” someone quips. “Goodnight! I have to get up for work in the morning.” “We didn’t get a song!”
“Time for that Drambuie I think, might need it to go to sleep.”
“Bye”, “bye”,“bye”, “bye”.
“Love you all.”