Before the vows, before the hymns, before the majestic organ blasts, before the children carrying the bride’s veil up the steps, before the 92 year-old queen stepping out of her vehicle (“There’s the queen, is she in green?” gushed a CNN commentator) before Prince Harry took a seat beside his brother, William, in their Blues and Royals military frock coats, before the parade of celebrities arrived at the chapel, before George Clooney and David Beckham and Elton John and Idris Elba, before the crowds gathered on the roads to Windsor Castle to wait hours in the sun for the merest glimpse of passing royalty, who would roll by with no more than a wave, before all that, I asked a British friend of mine who drives a cab in London every day what the average folks in England thought about the marriage of Meghan Markle to Prince Harry.
“We think she’s crazy,” he said, laughing. “She’s a free woman, she can do anything she wants, and she’s giving all that up.”
That’s just one question that hung in the enthusiastic air for the Royal Wedding Saturday. There were others. Is all this fuss necessary? Is it hypocritical? Worth the expense? Is the selling of everything from coffee mugs to towels really appropriate to any wedding, much less a regal one?
But as I watched the ceremony, with its incredible pomp, beauty and wealth, I wondered something else. Why, with all we know, did so many Americans still get excited by it?
For one thing, it seems odd that a country forged by revolting against the British monarchy still gets giddy when the royal bloodline is furthered.
And then there’s the backdrop of this family, which does not suggest happy matrimony. Anyone who has watched the Netflix series “The Crown” cringes at the tense, often joyless depiction of the marriage of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, their loyalty far greater to their traditions than each other.
Elizabeth’s younger sister, Princess Margaret, was forced to denounce the man she loved (he’d been divorced, a no-no back then) or be stripped of her royal privileges if they wed and later had a disastrous marriage to a photographer, which itself ended in divorce. The same fate awaited Elizabeth’s second son, Prince Andrew, who divorced Sarah Ferguson after a decade.
And of course, the most celebrated royal wedding of our time, Prince Charles and Lady Diana, felt as if the entire world was watching (750 million did). We rooted for the young schoolteacher with the charismatic smile and hairdo to live a fairy-tale life as the new princess, wife of the future king.
It didn’t happen. Charles and Diana endured a rocky and ultimately failed relationship. She grew miserable. He was aloof. She was once asked if they were in love, to which she replied “Of course.” Charles added, “Whatever ‘in love’ means.”
They divorced after 15 years. Their two sons were the objects of sympathy, even pity, all the more so when Diana was tragically killed evading the relentless media that shadowed her marriage.
And here, on Saturday, was her youngest son, Harry, marrying Markle, who wore a tiara, smiled beautifully, and recited vows about “forsaking all others” and “death do us part.”
Yet she did something similar in 2011, when she married a movie producer named Trevor Engelson, after dating him for seven years. They reportedly had a big wedding in Jamaica, according to the Telegraph, with 102 guests.
They divorced two years later.
Did she say ‘till death do us part’ to that man as well?
So with all this in the backdrop, why was Saturday’s affair constantly referred to as “A real life fairy tale?”
Perhaps it’s the majesty of it all. Even the most cynical might have snuck a peek at the horse drawn carriages, the guards with swords, or the opulent chapel. Nobody does a ceremony like the British, and this was royalty with all its flags unfurled.
Perhaps it’s the media. Or the fact that Markle was a TV actress. Or the guest list of famous and beautiful faces. Or the idea that a mixed-race woman was joining the royal family.
But I think the attraction is something else, something bigger than royalty and absolutely essential to a marriage.
No matter what comes before, no matter how many stones the past throws at the present, the human spirit contains an indomitable belief that things can be better. That we are not doomed to what has been, but energized by what is yet to come.
“There’s power in love,” said the residing Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, who spoke at the ceremony. “Don’t underestimate it.”
And don’t underestimate human optimism. It’s the reason newborn babies and bridal parties seem to stir a positivity inside us.
Maybe that’s what was on display Saturday morning. If so, why fight it? Every new marriage deserves its share of hope. Even those ushered in by horse drawn carriages.
Contact Mitch Albom: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Friday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.