75: Under the Chuppah

75: Under the Chuppah

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Here Comes the Bride

Under the Chuppah

When you sew, you have something that will last to show for your efforts.

~Elizabeth Travis Johnson

No one is quite sure how the family tradition began. No one will stand right up and say, “I remember exactly how and when we decided to do this!”

But, somehow, when our oldest daughter Jill was to be a bride, the family Chuppah Patch Project came to life.

In Judaism, a chuppah, the wedding canopy, a cloth stretched across four poles, is fraught with symbolism, all of it lovely. It is under the chuppah that the bride and groom have their sacred space, somewhat apart from all others, sometimes with loved ones under the chuppah, too, or at least nearby. The chuppah can also be interpreted as a first home, waiting to be “furnished” with the love that binds them.

So, of course, there would be a chuppah at Jill’s wedding. That symbolism was far too meaningful to ignore. But this one would not be constructed of vines or flowers or of fine silken fabric. This time, it would be constructed of individual patches with random thoughts, drawings, messages, notes or whatever struck the creative fancy of close family and friends who were invited to contribute.

The bride’s two sisters spearheaded the chuppah project, dutifully sending out pre-cut patches of a simple linen fabric with brief instructions as to what was hoped for in the final product: a “canopy” composed of these patches, sewn together as a whole, and mounted.

Soon, they came pouring in. Each patch stopped me in my tracks as I discovered new aspects of our daughter and her groom. The patches were alternately wrenchingly moving, hilarious, beautifully crafted, sentimental, and always original. No two were remotely alike, as dear ones used their own lovely intuitions and memories to create this singular artifact.

Of course, there were glitches. Some didn’t follow the instructions about leaving space for a hem; others used their own fabric; still others delayed and stalled and threatened to disturb the perfectly planned dimensions of the chuppah.

Certainly, there are easier ways to create this special ritual canopy. And there are surely many more handsome, perfect examples of wedding chuppahs to be found. But this wedding chuppah — this very special wedding chuppah — was crafted of memories and meaning.

There would be two more Chuppah Patch Projects in our family for the three Friedman brides. Suffice it to say that they never went smoothly or predictably, but they also meant more to these brides and grooms than any other “gift” they received.

The fact that all three weddings took place in our own garden added to both the personal feel and the emotional pull. Standing under those patchwork chuppahs was like no other experience in our lives as a family. The enormous focus on whether the bridal gown would be ivory or blush — tea-length or floor-length — faded into oblivion. The debates about menu, with intense concentration on the precise sauce for the salmon — forgotten.

On three June afternoons, there we stood, under those chuppahs. Past and present collided. All was real — and surreal. Under the chuppah, our own dreams and memories merged with this moment: a bride, a groom, a rabbi, a family. Above us, a soft breeze on all three days mercifully cooled us, and each time, somewhere off in the distance, birds chirped.

And try as I did to concentrate on the rabbi’s messages at those three daughters’ weddings, I was off in another place. I was remembering Jill, Amy and Nancy in sunsuits and snowsuits, not wedding gowns. I was remembering them shrieking with delight as they mastered the challenges of their two-wheelers. And a minute later — or so it seemed — they were walking down the front steps in their prom gowns. And I was, of course, remembering those last, lingering hugs that came on college campuses, ready or not.

Standing under the chuppah at those weddings, I was silently wishing for our daughters and their husbands what mattered beyond the lyricism/delirium of their new love. I was praying that they would have the sense of awe and gratitude that comes as marriage matures. The wonderful knowledge that there is someone — one constant someone — who truly cares that you’re terrified of airplane take-offs, or frantic about being good enough at your job, or depressed because you think you’re getting fat.

I knew, each of those afternoons under the wedding chuppah, that there may be things more mighty than that unqualified connection, but I couldn’t name any. And, best of all, thanks to those patchwork chuppahs, the memories of standing together under them still come flooding back years later.

My daughters are grown women and mothers, so yes, those chuppahs are history now. But they hang prominently in each of our daughters’ homes for all to see, space-stealers for sure, especially when space is tight. But then, there is probably no more important wall hanging in all the world.

~Sally Friedman

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