Musings + Essays

Truly, Then, These Words Are Most Serious.

By: Jen Shoop

*Image above via Mara Hoffmann. You can buy the stunning architectural dress seen above here — a dreamy COVID-19 wedding option.

At 5 P.M. on the 14th of August, I sat on the couch of my living room wearing a navy lace evening dress and 4″ high Christian Louboutin mules and I watched my youngest sister — “my first baby,” as I would address her in a toast over Google Hangout an hour later — marry her partner on a 15″ Macbook screen.

For the entirety of the preceding day, my sisters and I had been texting one another in agita. There were many exclamation points, illogical GIFs, and all-caps HAHAHAs. We were a flurry of excitement. An hour before my sister’s digital ceremony, I FaceTimed one of my sisters. She and I were both fully dressed, hair blown out, eye makeup on, and we laughed at one another for our prematurity.

“So…do you want to just go to the Church early and sit in the pews?” she joked.

And me: “I don’t know what I should be doing right now, but I feel like it should be something besides ordering groceries on Amazon Prime.”

We were side-eyeing the meat of the matter, which was that we both felt strange and sad being apart from one another and especially from our beloved littlest sister on this most important of days. I had taken my daughter to the zoo earlier that morning, and as we watched sea lions sun themselves on boulders in a little pool on the East side of Central Park, bathing our hands in sanitizer, wearing masks, having purchased timed tickets from an atrocious online ticketing system that involved waiting in a virtual queue (!?), I had the distinct sense that I was living in an alternate universe. Mini had been exclaiming to no one and everyone as we walked around the near-empty zoo: “This is SO fun! This is SO fun!” Her voice was a good octave higher than its normal register, and I could tell from the funny, clipped wiggle of her movements that she was just barely containing her excitement at being alone with both of her parents, outside somewhere other than the greensward we’ve claimed for ourselves just off Central Park West, for the first time since early March. Meanwhile, my stomach churned with both excitement and the odd thought that maybe I shouldn’t be doing something so frivolous as visiting a zoo on the day of my sister’s wedding? I should have been fluffing a veil, or tracking down gluten-free crackers for somebody, or finding a safety pin, or weighing in on the color of somebody’s lipstick, or at the very least eating hotel room service on a plush arm chair while other people attended to my baby sister. The only strand of normalcy was the presence of butterflies in my stomach every time I thought about the toast my sisters and I would be delivering later that evening. I had rehearsed it to the point of rote memorization, repeating it while brushing my teeth, while cleaning the dishes, while selecting a dress from my closet, and still I felt a lightening bolt as I contemplated my words while idling in front of the grizzly bear at the Central Park Zoo. I am horrible at delivering toasts. I cry 100% of the time. I gave dozens of polished public talks in my past professional life, on occasion in front of audiences as large as 200!–but ask me to speak from my heart about somebody I love and I will weep through my words. So in a strange way I was reassured by those butterflies: they reminded me that still, in this strange time, under these remote circumstances, I was about to watch my sister get married, and I was about to experience all of the tenderness and love and excitement it would entail in even the best of conditions.

At the beginning of the ceremony, my father read the Exhortation Before Marriage, a relic of the pre-Vatican II Catholic Church. The rite is no longer a part of contemporary Catholic marriages, but it is poignant and beautiful and rich with truths that I am only now fully understanding, ten years into my own union with Mr. Magpie. It is written in surprisingly down-to-earth language despite its now-ancient-seeming origins, and its message is this: marriage is something serious, not to be undertaken lightly. My father has read it at some point in the wedding celebrations of each of his five children, and he and my mother had taken care to edit the address this last and final time he would deliver it to honor the fact that my sister was marrying a woman. I cried for most of it, for reasons both legible and illegible to me even now, nearly two weeks after. I was moved by the consistency of faith, these words having been read across generations within my family and at some of the happiest moments in my own life; by the constancy of love, as reflected so beautifully in the words of the exhortation; and by one particular section:

“This union, then, is most serious, because it will bind you together for life in a relationship so close and so intimate, that it will profoundly influence your whole future.

That future, with its hopes and disappointments, its successes and its failures, its pleasures and its pains, its joys and its sorrows, is hidden from your eyes.

…And so not knowing what is before you, you take each other for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death.

Truly, then, these words are most serious.”

To the COVID-era brides and grooms preparing for the wedding days,

To the COVID-era parents and siblings preparing to watch their loved ones marry one another through an iPad:

I once wrote that there was nothing that COVID has not touched. But sitting on my couch with my children and my husband at my side, listening to my father’s words and then to the most serious words my sister and her partner would in turn say to one another, I realized that neither COVID nor the isolation it has mandated we endure has touched the solemnity and beauty of the saying of vows.


+Love in the time of corona.

+More airy white end-of-summer dresses to consider here and (!!) here. The latter is so Victorian chic. I’m so into this vibe!

+The Louboutins I referred to above are this exact pair (available in one size on eBay). They are one my most treasured possessions. I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d worn heels when I slipped them on, but it led me down a path to stare open-mouthed at these, which…I think I would break my ankles trying to wear but WOW.

+What to wear to a celebration in the era of COVID.

+Beautiful bridal finds here.

+Do I need this flounced knit sweater?! I’m so into the sleeve.

+Beyond darling jumper for a little girl.

+My nephew just celebrated his fifth birthday and we had a virtual Lego-building party in his honor. A few of the gifts we considered sending him (but we ended up buying him some on-theme cool new Legos):






+This bag is adorable and on sale.

+I had to buy these fall camping pajamas for micro (in the “sightseeing” pattern).

+Are we all ready for fall now? Good, because I’ve been collecting some favorite finds for autumn here.

+I can’t believe the price on this darling bed with built-in storage. So cute for a boy’s room.

+More nursery finds here.

+I have been seeing lock and key necklaces all over the place — this J. Crew submission is adorable and well-priced!

+Fall 2020 dresses and boots I love.

+High end looks for less.

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14 thoughts on “Truly, Then, These Words Are Most Serious.

  1. With everyone else on having misty eyes reading this! Beautiful writing and tribute to your sister and sister-in-law.

    Although I’ve been at my fair share of Catholic weddings (and am Catholic), I’ve never heard those words before. How poignant. I love that your dad updated them to reflect that your sister was being wedded to her wife!

  2. Echoing the others – so beautifully written and a lovely tribute to your your sister, your new sister-in-law and your whole family.

  3. Jen, this is beautiful and made me teary too!! Your writing is such a lovely gift to your sister and her wife in remembrance of their day. Thank you for sharing with us! We’re all clinging to what good remains these days.

    1. Thank you, Katherine, for the sweet note! Yes, clinging to the good is a lovely mantra right about now. xx

  4. I got married the day after your sister!
    We had a very small celebration that my father and older sister could not be present at due to COVID and I think your words describe exactly how we felt that day. Imperfect though it might have been, at the end of the day we are together forever.
    Thank you for your beautiful words describing it!

    1. Congratulations, Sandra!!! So glad this resonated with you, and so happy for you in general. Love finds a way, doesn’t it?!


  5. I’m with Natalie on the misty eyes — what a gorgeous sentiment here! Congratulations again to your sister, her wife, and your family. Love love love!


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