“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” – from the United States Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

These principles, Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness, are the great American Sacraments. Finding the fulfillment of these ideals looks different for each of us. The stories in this series are about rites of passage in my pursuit of a more joyful, whole life. I’ve written about a lot of emotionally complex life events so far. These are my best memories. These are my favorite stories to tell. This is what Happiness looks like for me.

My heart has always been tied closely to the earth. Something about the dirt and flowers and trees and stone and the breeze and the warm glow of fire sings a breathy, whispering symphony to the deepest parts of my soul. My love for Katie was from the ground. It was a field of yellow asters in the fall, sprouting in subtle, wild patches until it consumed every part of me. It was real and organic, and, no matter how much my winters tried to choke it out, it always blossomed and called me home.

My feet were naked on the bare, dusty ground as her brother escorted her along the dirt path that lead to the wildflower-lined stone wall and chimney that served as our marital alter. Candles and the setting October sun ignited her soft alabaster features into the easy, beautiful warmth of a tender, golden harvest moon. The mellow, mahogany hum of a string quartet sang the melody of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Edelweiss” as, step after barefoot step, Katie made her way to the earthen spot where we joined hands and vowed to love one another from that day until our last. We and the wedding party went barefoot as a symbol that the ground where we gave our lives to one another was the ground where we were giving our new marriage to God, and, in recognition of that holiness, we were following the example of those who had stood on holy ground before God in the Bible by removing our shoes. I’ve forgotten the sermon the preacher delivered that day, but I remember how beautiful it was and how significant the words felt. I’ve forgotten most of the vows I had written for us, but I remember I worked long and hard to make them as true and deep and meaningful as I could. I don’t remember my best man, my father, handing me Katie’s ring; I don’t remember the maid of honor handing Katie mine. I’ve even forgotten the kiss. But I remember the power of seeing her walking barefoot down that aisle, and knowing that somehow our lives would never be the same.

As man and wife, we hurried toward the end of the aisle of smiles and applause, the cello and violins playing a classical rendition of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”, each stray rock beneath my tender bare feet betraying me, threatening to break my stride, balance, and composure. With my relieved feet in the loving embrace of a cheap pair of black Walmart flip flops, we raced the setting autumn sun to get photos with the wedding party, our families, and our close friends. As darkness crept in and candlelight gradually adorned the bustling, pre-reception exterior of the tiny stone cottage that sat adjacent to the stone structure where we’d made our vows, we were whisked away to a backroom to sample some of the food from the reception, calling it dinner. Still hungry but with no time to notice or care, we were escorted to the entrance of the cottage where we exited to cheers and applause and high-fives as The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights”tried its best to break through the celebratory din. After a brief procession, the music faded into Sting’s “Fields of Gold”, and Katie and I started the dance party reception together in the steady side-to-side of our first dance.

We didn’t serve alcohol at our reception because my conservative Baptist family wouldn’t have been particularly understanding. Regardless, people danced with what felt like the intoxication of joy that comes from seeing two friends promising to build covenant lives together and to love only one another for the rest of their lives. It’s all kind of a blur now, but the thing I remember most was seeing my painfully introverted, occasionally harsh, emotionally withdrawn dad standing to the side of the grassy dance floor, smiling with contentment and surprise as he saw me dancing untiringly with my new wife and all of our blissful friends and family.

After the cake had been cut, the bouquet and garter had been tossed, and the final dance had been danced, all the remaining attendants meandered down the trail that led back to the parking lot. We were going to Disney World for our honeymoon, so the DJ played “A Dream is A Wish Your Heart Makes” from Disney’s Cinderella as wound our way down the forest trail, through a tunnel of glistening sparklers held by the remaining well-wishers, exited the tree line, got in our car, and headed to meet some of our closest friends at our favorite bar where the drinks flowed freely, the dancing continued, and much karaoke was sung. The last thing I remember of our reception was the tearful smile of my mother-in-law as she saw us off. She had made the whole thing possible, and the look in her eyes seemed to say that it had all been worth it.

We were just two kids who loved each other deeply and naturally. We had no idea the beautiful, albeit difficult, story that was ahead of us.