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Steered Back to Mary

"I probably shouldn't have stayed up so late," I thought as I paced back and forth in the little sacristy at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Ridgefield, Connecticut, nervously flipping the long tail of my morning coat. "Either that, or we should have made this a 3:00 p.m. wedding instead of 11:00 a.m."

My feet ached, and the thin fog in my head refused to clear -- the results of standing and drinking until 2:00 a.m. the night before. But as I thought about the bachelor party, I smiled. It was just what I'd always thought a bachelor party should be. No debauchery, just my friends, my brothers, and brothers-in-law enjoying each other's company, drinking some good beer, and singing Irish drinking songs late into the night. My friend Luke, whose little brother had died two weeks earlier in a swimming accident, had showed up unexpectedly. I was ecstatic to see him. Last I had heard, he wasn't going to come. He was afraid he'd be a drag on the festivities. "The Faith is the only thing that makes sense of these things," I told him. He nodded. He knew about my brother David, who had died two days before Luke, my bride Mary, and I had all graduated from the same small college a year earlier.

David. The thought of him made me very sad. I stopped pacing and dropped onto a carved oak bench tucked into a corner of the sacristy. I missed David so much that I could feel a knot in my stomach when I thought about him. He was ten years older than I and had been the childhood hero of his four little brothers. A pilot for an aerial mapping company, he'd been hit mid-air by a student pilot blinded by the low afternoon sun. David, the photographer in his plane, and the student all died. His death had made my graduation day a weird blur of happiness and sadness. I couldn't let that happen today. I jumped up off the bench and peered out the door of the sacristy. My six groomsmen -- three brothers and three friends -- were busy escorting the last of the guests to their seats in the pretty neo-Gothic church. In the loft at the back, a choir of my sisters, brothers, nephews, and nieces was singing Hans Leo Hassler's 16th-century motet "Dixit Maria." Normally, I would have been up there singing in the bass section with them. I sang along sotto voce as I surveyed the crowd: "Ecce ancilla Domini / Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum."

I reflected on the Latin lyrics, which I had sung at least a hundred times in my family choir, church, and college choirs. It was the Virgin Mary's response to the Angel Gabriel's annunciation that she would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to thy word."

"How fitting," I thought. Just as the Blessed Virgin had said yes to God's plan for her, today my own Mary and I would be saying yes to God's plan for us. And as I looked back over our nearly five-year romance, it was easy to see God's hand in it. There had been times when I thought Mary was pushing me away, times when I decided to put her out of my mind and move on. But God always steered me back to Mary.

And now here she was, standing at the back of the church, her arm hooked in her father's. The organist started to play the Schubert march Mary and I had chosen for the occasion. She'll be upset at me for not remembering what her dress looked like, but I wasn't looking at her dress as she walked up the aisle toward me. I was looking at her lovely face. Her blue eyes shone with the same beauty and strength that had captivated me in philosophy class five years earlier. She had pulled her dark, curly hair back and up, exposing her long, fair neck, which I loved to kiss.

Mary's father handed her off with a nod and a firm handshake for me, a quick peck on the lips for Mary. I had been very nervous at the rehearsal the night before. But now I was unexpectedly calm. "Are you nervous?" I asked my bride.

"No," she said, and she gave my hand a loving squeeze.

Mary's brothers Peter and Greg, both priests, said the Mass and administered the vows. My last name is Grimm. Mary's maiden name is Short. Greg couldn't resist the humorous possibilities offered by two such names. "This Short Grimm wedding," he opened his homily, "is about to become a Grimm Short story."

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