Meghan Markle and Prince Harry invited me to sit in the nave for their wedding. I was stuck in Arizona that Saturday wearing grey shorts and a black T-shirt. I watched much of it on BBC, but had questions. What was up with that screen between the nave and the choir? What was it like to be filthy rich and crammed together on folding chairs?
I lucked out because, just last year, Elon Musk’s Elon-Navigator went commercial. His chrome-covered machine now transports a whole person anywhere they want into the past for a short time—sort of like a DVR, but real, not digital. The price for a twenty-four hour pass, believe it or not, was less than Concorde tickets in the 1970s.
I boarded the Elon-Navigator2.1 in Fremont, California. No waiting. Apparently most people are still afraid they’ll never be returned to the present. Half a dozen had been lost on 1.0.
I felt obligated to sit inside St. George’s Chapel because Lorraine Ali wrote in the LA times the day after the wedding that Meghan and Harry’s guests were caught with “stunned expressions, stifled smirks, and uncomfortable glances.” My reaction to the article was disappointment. Sure, I caught some ambiguously smirky smiles on TV, especially during Rev. Michael Curry’s sermon on love. Curry was moving around the pulpit in the oh-so-sober St. George’s Chapel as he could have at a church in Harlem.
I needed to join the guests to try to gauge their real feelings.
My assigned seat was still available when I got to Windsor, three seats to the left of the center aisle and a dozen rows back from the screen. Yes, that medieval screen really was built to separate the laity from the clergy centuries ago. At this royal wedding, it separated the simply rich of the nave from the rich-but-royal in the choir. I guess not all royals got to sit in the choir. The tuxedo next to me claimed to be the Earl of something or other.
I strained to see the Rev. Curry’s head at this live wedding. I used the opportunity to look around for faces near me that might be smirking. A dozen smiles looked joyful, not at all smirky. It was a big deal for an African-American bishop to deliver words and rhythms and effusive body language in a place like St. George’s. The grinners in my pew probably agreed that the stone that Martin Luther King Jr tossed into the Potomac River on Wednesday, August 28, 1963 with his “I Have a Dream” speech had finally released its rippling across the Atlantic pond onto the shores of Great Britain on Saturday, May 19, 2018.
Soon before Curry spoke, I felt I could touch Lady Jane Fellows, Princess Diana’s sister, who read the Song of Solomon from an archway in the screen. Curry followed up by riffing on Solomon’s ancient lyrics. “Set me as a seal upon your arm, for love is as strong as death, passion fierce as the grave.” I’ve never wanted a tattoo, but I’d consider inking those words somewhere on my body.
Solomon’s words linked this couple’s passion to the passions of pre-Christian-era Israelite kings and peoples. They positioned this wedding as a milestone in the Windsor chapel’s long history of witnessing major human events. Elizabeth II, the latest monarch in 1200 years of the English monarchy, was witnessing it.
I wondered if some of the elderly in folding chairs around me might have been “those” nobles who spent their lives trashing divorcees, commoners, and non-Christians. Could those witnesses now be supporting these latest outliers? In their hearts? Really?
The chairs turned out wider and softer than I figured, but I felt as claustrophobic as in a middle seat of economy class on the world’s most stripped-down airline. Ironic. The major leaguers around me were accustomed to private jets, seats behind home plate at Yankee Stadium, and the entire stage of the Kennedy Center in D.C. to voice their opinions, if they desired. The closest “first-class” seat in St George’s nave had to be an aisle chair.
Still looking for genuine smirks, I did sense comedy and absurdity. It is likely ninety percent of the congregation never went to church, never mind believed in a Christian creed, or prayed. Europe and America have moved secular, so moving one’s uvula, tongue, and lips in communal prayer probably felt silly or hypocritical to most.
Or did it? There must be a few people like me who show up at any funeral or wedding and realize that the secular world has distracted us from trying to link up with something, or somebody, higher than ourselves. Simple logic and pure science scream religious rites are illogical, unscientific – maybe stupid and insane. Yet… at Meghan and Harry’s wedding we intoned the Lord’s Prayer as did our parents, and their parents, and our ancestors back two thousand years or so. Our ancestors’ bodies have crumbled to nothing in space and time, but we get to move our tongues and lips exactly as they did, trying to connect to similar divine powers.
There were no detectable smiles in the rows near me during the Lord’s Prayer. Nearly all lips whispered the words.
On the TV broadcast a few days before, there was much ado about the song “Stand By Me.” To me, it was a musical softball. Sure, it made points about history, but the delivery nowhere reached the emotional and rhythmic high it could deliver at a Sunday service in a cool neighborhood.
In contrast, “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” song hardly got a mention by TV commentators. But live, it took my heart hostage. Correct trajectories of echoes danced around this Eden of perfect acoustics. I was a child again. I heard again what I knew to be otherworldly ancient music, that same mix of sounds that once introduced me to my own seven-year-old soul. It was Camelot. Similar harmonies had washed over me and my family from choir lofts at high masses.
Meghan and Harry’s choice of John Rutter’s 1981 arrangement felt early-Christian basic. It juxtaposed simple tones against delicate pairings of parts, then emotional mixes of all four choir parts. The lyrics felt like a warm cloak in mid-winter. They were the “priestly blessing” lifted word-for-word from the Book of Numbers. God in that early scroll spent gobs of time punishing and reeking vengeance over the Israelites. God was not all that empathetic. Mercifully the verses of “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” unveiled a glimpse of divine caring. The repeated words in 2018 showed empathy once again – for two and a half minutes. They held promise of an eternal covenant of devotion and trust. They staved off mass depression from today’s global turmoil.
So you are asking me, “Jack, why did you go to the wedding? Are you some kind of school girl waiting for your prince to come?”
Here’s my answer. For this wedding, the tabloids were genuinely affirming a universal need for witnessing a positive win in world history. Personally, I crave positive historic anchors to celebrate life. And I don’t think I’m alone. Without anchors, we are doomed to live in endless chaotic fluidity – seldom connecting to history, perhaps never finding meaning. We learn from experience that weddings and funerals of our own families validate us and establish anchors. So when our leaders wed or die, it’s a chance to secure our tribe’s rightful presence in history books.
Meghan and Harry’s wedding may have set a record for connecting tribal dots in history.
St. George’s Chapel itself was already jewel-like in the 14th century when craftsmen began to build it. In 2018, we have established our own place as witnesses in that chapel, along with a who’s who of historic figures that include the infamous Henry VIII and third wife Jane Seymour, who both happen to be buried there.
The columns that we see ascend almost to the sky are surprisingly upstaged by acres of glass that can illuminate the interior on the foggiest day in Windsor.
Churches are gifts to everyone because their grandeur belongs to beggars as well as kings. The doors may be open for centuries to everyone. They were open to me the few times I have been lonely and out of money. Grand chapels like St. George’s provided physical and mental shelter when all other buildings for miles around were strictly commercial enterprises. Empty pockets triggered cold receptions there.
The Church of England service was no less theatrical than the building itself. Churches can be depended on for that. Whether we believe in a religious institution or not, we can be grateful for the pageantry when our hearts swell with joy or break down in sobs from losing loved ones. A wedding promise made in a church—especially in a gothic wonder of the world—gets to be a solemn vow. An anointed priest is said to represent God Himself. Paperwork demands royal seals and other signatures behind a screen. Witnesses see and hear it all through the full length of the choir and nave. As you and I witness the vows thousands of miles away, we want them to be real. We want our highest ideals to be realized and to last forever.
And we dress up for a wedding.
I realized one day in the late ‘70s that our world culture was on a slippery slope because I had not bought a pair of leather shoes for my sons until they graduated from grade school. My mother had given me leather shoes well before my first birthday. Are you laughing? Okay, unless you are a funeral director, FBI agent, Mormon missionary, or attorney, when is the last time you wore a suit?
They dressed up for Meghan and Harry, as our historic counterparts did for long lines of royals in baptism, marriage, or death over 700 years.
An Ascot Landau bore the bride and groom through the streets of Windsor. Yes, I was impressed with the regal carriage, the four horses, and the carriage men festooned in red and gold. The royal horses had descended from their own set of ancestors with the just the right genes to learn perfect prancing.
It’s just as impressive to realize that our own ancestors—nowhere near royal in their station, but only one or two generations back—rode in similar landaus and buggies that were taxicabs in cities like New York or common vehicles to get around in. Once upon a not-very-long-time-ago, nearly all people rode horses or were pulled by them.
Queen Victoria’s funeral procession to St. George’s Chapel in 1901 may have been Windsor’s biggest. The horses numbered in the thousands. They led and followed a single gun carriage with the queen’s coffin atop it. But on that freezing February day, the weather was nasty and the roads slippery. The horses pulling the queen’s cortege were spooked and had to be replaced with dozens of sailors who saved the day. The few people who ranked high enough to enter the Chapel had to be grateful for the shelter and the light from the acres of glass.
Some events stand out as worthy of processions and parades. Rome’s two hundred years of peace. The Renaissance. Women’s suffrage in 1920. My personal favorite is the establishment of the U.N. in 1945. The Marshall Plan in 1947. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech in 1963. The Civil rights Act of 1964. The moon landing in 1969. The release of Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990. I would nominate the founding of Facebook in 2004, then the unveiling of the iPhone in 2007. President Barack Obama’s inaugural parade marked the beginning of the end of a long, sad era for the United States.
Are you remarking I mentioned not a single war, or even celebrations for the ends of wars? You are correct.
Meghan Markle’s marriage to Prince Harry definitely earned a procession that broke restrictive traditions and sought out a new era of love and a call for peace.
Some bystanders interviewed on the news remarked they were grateful for a break from international unrest. For half a day, we got to observe our better selves in grand circumstances.
Still in Windsor, I was toasting the day with a cousin from Canada in an Irish Pub with Guinness in our hands. The Elon-Navigator thrust me back to Fremont with suds from the River Liffey still half way down my throat.