Lori's wedding day surprised everyone, most of all Lori. No one could have foreseen, even 24 hours earlier, how events would unfold.
Plans for the wedding had begun a year before. The ceremony was scheduled at a local synagogue and the reception at a beautiful beachfront hotel, where out-of-town guests would stay. For months, Lori pored over floral arrangements for herself and her attendants, and chose white roses for the centerpieces.
"The hardest job was making seating charts," said Annette, the mother of the bride. "It took me months to work out the arrangements. I didn't want to end up seating a cousin with no other relatives, or putting all quiet people at one table!"
The weekend of the wedding arrived. Although the event was scheduled for Sunday afternoon, guests began arriving on Friday, hoping to enjoy a beautiful autumn weekend in Florida. That night, as many socialized in the hotel lobby, those hopes were dashed as the radio broadcast news of a tropical storm nearing hurricane strength, hovering some miles offshore.
"Don't worry," the bride's father said. "We'll get some rain and a little wind. We can handle that."
At 2 a.m. on Saturday, with the wind roaring and the rain pelting the house on all sides, The mother of the bride awoke in time to hear the phone ring. "We're being evacuated!" shouted a wedding guest. "Where should we go?"
"Evacuated?" Annette repeated. "Come to our place."
Within an hour, 25 people poured into the bride's home. Every couch, armchair, and patch of floor soon housed a sleepy guest. The rains continued to beat the walls of the house and the winds to whip through the trees, bending them to meet the roof.
"Annette!" came her husband's voice from the kitchen, "I called the hotel. They're under water and have lost half the kitchen. They said we're on our own."
Lori spent Saturday night sobbing. All that planning would be blown away in a tropical storm, and she'd have to cancel the wedding.
By Sunday morning, the winds and rain had subsided. The synagogue, being inland, had not been damaged, but finding a reception site for more than 100 people with only 24 hours' notice was a daunting task. Most of the beach places were flooded. The few still operating had rapidly filled up with displaced visitors from other hotels.
When the bride's parents at last secured a place, Lori burst into tears.
"Wong's Chinese Restaurant? For my wedding reception?"
"You love Chinese food," said Annette, trying to soothe her daughter's anxiety. "Let's talk to Mr. Wong."
Lori left the room, not quite consoled.
"Do you have room for the band?" Lori later asked Mr. Wong.
"We can make a place for at least some of them," he said.
The ceremony took place on time. The out-of-town guests, who had left their finery in the waterlogged hotel, showed up in whatever they'd been able to borrow: tennis shoes, raincoats, baggy pants, and loose skirts. No one seemed to notice.
That night the ill-clad visitors joined the more appropriately bedecked locals, as all edged their way into the small restaurant. Inside, a buffet dinner had been hastily assembled. White paper place mats adorned glass covered tables; small silk flowers in plastic vases replaced the canceled arrangements of roses.
Guests landed randomly wherever chairs were available, rendering useless all of Annette's painstaking efforts at seating charts.
"Mom," called Lori. "where should Kevin and I sit?"
"Squeeze in wherever you find a seat," Annette answered.
The band, reduced to three musicians and crammed into the corner, played joyously. "Cel-e-brate good times, come on!"
"How about a hora?" a voice called.
"Where?" Annette asked, her eyes scanning the room, which lacked any usable area for a dance floor.
"Right here in the aisles!" said the bandleader. With the bemused waiters lined up against the wall looking on, the guests snaked their way between tables, using their hips for the movements their feet would have performed with more space. Mr. Wong, who had never seen people dance the hora, found himself laughing as he was pulled into the undulating line.
In the urgency of the moment, no one had time to bemoan the crowded conditions, lack of elegant wedding fare, or rain-soaked evening wear left behind. In 24 hours, a near disaster had been turned into a triumph, leading one to wonder about the importance of the many things that often drive us to tears or despair.
In the end, the joy of sharing life's great moments with friends and loved ones is all that seems to matter.