Marriage in the Time of Coronavirus
When I was growing up in Australia, I would cut out pictures from magazines and paste together a vision of what my wedding would look like one day.
I imagined a day filled with family, friends, fairy lights, flowers, music and dancing. More than 20 years later, I was planning it for real with my fiancé, Jacob.
Since he is from Denmark and we were preparing to move to Japan, we set about organizing a June wedding in the Danish countryside that would combine our respective traditions and bring together our nearest and dearest.
At the same time, we planned an engagement party in Australia in February for the family and friends who wouldn’t be able to make it to Europe. But as bushfires raged across Australia, we became concerned that the outdoor venue in a national park in Sydney would be shut down.
We needn’t have worried. As dawn broke on the morning of the party, Sydney experienced its heaviest rainfall in 30 years. With floodwaters visible from the venue, I introduced my fiancé to my friends and family. Despite the surreal situation, everyone was in high spirits. After all, the rain was helping to douse the fires that had devastated so much of the country.
By the following month, the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic had become apparent. Just before the borders closed, I moved to Tokyo. Our June wedding was beginning to look unrealistic. The thought of putting the health of our loved ones at risk because of a party felt strange. With a deposit already paid, we decided to postpone the wedding for a year.
But what to do in the meantime? Should we wait until 2021 or just get married anyway? Pondering these questions forced us to contemplate the difference between a wedding and marriage. A wedding is a ceremony. A marriage is a commitment to a shared life. A wedding is one day. A marriage is for life. A wedding is a modern invention shaped by a multibillion-dollar industry. A marriage is a centuries-old ritual.
On June 12, we walked into our local ward office in Shibuya with the relevant paperwork. Instead of an aisle, we walked up an escalator. Fluorescent office lighting replaced the fairy lights. I wore a mask in lieu of a veil. And our celebrants were a kind staff member and a volunteer interpreter.
We took a number from the ticket machine and waited our turn. No vows. No “I do’s.” Just a couple of signatures. We raced out the door a married couple. After we had some photos taken, we went for afternoon tea while we waited to pick up our marriage certificate.
Many friends and relatives expected me to be sad to have missed out on the usual celebrations, but I could not have been more grateful for our day. We are healthy, we are happy, we are living in an incredible country and we are together.
Of course, we look forward to celebrating with our family and friends one day, but these past few months have brought us perspective and balance. They have distilled marriage down to its essence: love. And that makes up for everything.
Ursula Williams is a Club Member.
Words: Ursula Williams
Illustration: Tania Vicedo