Like many girls, I had often dreamed of my wedding day. I conjured thousands of fantasies of the gown, the church, the reception, the guests, the guy who would be waiting for me down the aisle–every possible detail that could go into a fairytale wedding. Like many girls, I wanted to be a modern-day princess, with a big, beautiful gown and a handsome prince, and hundreds of eyes looking on in admiration. Blame it on the way Filipino weddings are usually done, but in all those years leading up to my own wedding I thought that there was no other possible way to do it.
Enter a man unlike any other, who swept me off my feet in the most unusual of ways and circumstances. He was an old friend from school, someone I had admired from a distance–but never in my wildest dreams had I imagined that I would be anywhere close to him in a romantic way. We shared similar ideas and the same passion for social causes, and we got along well enough to exchange stories–but I didn’t realize that there would be more to it than that. Our affections lay elsewhere, and we seemed to be as different from each other as night and day. He was the “Dark Knight”, I was the “Sunshine Girl.” After we both left school we never saw nor heard from each other again.
Until that night when he re-entered my life, five years after we had last seen each other, at a time when everything was changing. I found myself very restless and asking so many questions, and nothing at that time seemed permanent or real. He gave me a look that I found both unusual and meaningful, and when he asked me for “dinner and drinks,” I could only say yes. He was an old friend–why not? I reasoned.
But something inside me told me to be ready for big surprises to unfold. I remember telling a friend two weeks before that fateful night, “Something big is going to happen. I just know it. My stomach’s all in knots, my heart is beating fast, and it just won’t stop. Things are about to change.”
That night, when he gave me that look–as he was heading out the door and then looked back just in time for me to catch his eye–something between how he looked at me and the nervous flutter in my stomach told me that he was going to be a part of my story from that point onward.
And what a story it turned out to be! I was a tiny bud, waiting for my chance to bloom and show the world what I had, and he was this whirlwind of an artist–larger than life and exuding passion and intensity everywhere he went. He unnerved me, but he also shook me to life. He unshackled me from a dead-end nine-to-five life and showed me what it meant to embrace art and to create. It was by no means a smooth road–anyone who’s ever been with an artist will tell you that–but, to me, it felt real and right.
I soon realized that there was much more to learn from this man whom I once considered to be one of my college “idols”. And there was even more to love. He cared for me in ways that nobody else had, and as different as we at first had seemed to be, it soon became apparent that we were one in mindset and passion. There were so many things that we did not need to explain to each other, so many sentences that we could finish, so many things that we just both understood, and in ways that went beyond intellect and cognition. It was as if our lives were running in parallel from the time that we had parted ways because both lives knew that they would reunite once again. Was this what it meant to have a soul mate?, I often asked myself. I had never felt that way about anyone else before.
But our love was not just founded on those nerve-wracking cosmic highs. We also experienced heartbreaking lows that were enough for anyone else to say, “Enough of this madness!” We both hurt each other in ways that we didn’t realize were possible, and we both saw the worst in each other. Yet, through it all, we both had an unshakable faith in “us”, in the fact that we were meant to be together. The moment we really made the commitment to spend the rest of our lives with each other, everything truly, honestly fell into place.
Our wedding was almost doomed to be one of those big, ostentatious events–with four hundred guests and principal sponsors whom we had never even met. The date and the venue were set, the gowns, on their way to being done. But something didn’t feel right. Try as we might, Paul and I couldn’t bring ourselves to finalize many of the other requisite details. Cake, flowers, invitations, sponsors, and so on. The ceremony started to feel less and less like “us”, and more and more like the cookie-cutter events that had bored us on so many occasions. We were creative souls–why on earth should we have a wedding just like everybody else?
Enter Bill and Debbi Shaw, the husband-and-wife team who founded Urban Opportunities for Change Foundation here in the Philippines and also set up Jeepney Magazine and Homeless World Cup – Team Philippines. We met Bill and Debbi at a concert in the Union Church, where Paul had performed and the Shaws had attended. From the beginning it became apparent that our meeting was divinely intended, and our common road soon found us bound for Milan for the 2009 Homeless World Cup, just at the same time that Paul and I had planned on getting married here in Manila.
In short, I wasn’t going to have my big fairytale wedding–but I was going to get married in the midst of our shared advocacy, in effin’ Milan. The white vintage gown (which was supposed to have a long maroon detail on the train) was swapped for a short off-white cocktail dress that, as I had told my designer, “should be pack and wear.” Instead of wearing glitz stilettos, I packed the most comfortable ballet flats I could find. Instead of a designer bouquet, Paul picked up a lovely summer bouquet somewhere on the way. And instead of having four hundred guests on our list, we had four at the ceremony: Bill and Debbi, who served as our sponsors, and Ate Analiza Marfori and Kuya Omil Pagtakhan of APO Milano, the organization that took HWC Team Philippines under their wing.
Instead of a big buffet reception with a Mongolian grill reception, we had a lovely picnic at Parco Sempione, just outside the Arena Civica and near Castello Sforzesco in Milan. Our friends from the Filipino community in Milan brought all sorts of food, and we had cake, wine, gelato, pasta, kare-kare, so much more food that I now forget, and lots of great company. We even made new friends as we invited some park picnickers to join us. It was by no means a wedding that anyone could have planned for, but it was a big gift from the Universe. Love, laughter, and abundance were overflowing–just as it should be.
When I look back on the events that led up to that day, I feel even more grateful that I did away with the fairytale. Paul’s and my wedding–our entire relationship, and our marriage ahead of us–is a real love story built on real love and real miracles. Things didn’t start out as planned, but they happen just as they should, with things happening at the right time, for the right reasons. And when I look under the ring on my finger, I now understand why we chose to inscribe the word “Maktub” on it.
It is written.