I open my eyes and find myself dressed in Indian clothing in the center of a huge crowd of anxious people. All eyes focused towards the center and what is about to happen. I look over and get the signal to go, NOW! I kneel down and grab my buddy by the leg. As we are about to lift him above the ocean of people an old woman leans to my ear as if to offer some much needed advice and whispers “Protect the shoes…”
This was my first Indian wedding.
When I found out two of my close friends were getting married I was more than excited for them. When my buddy asked me to be in his wedding party I was honored. When he told me he wanted me to be one of two people to participate in one of the ceremonies where I would have to protect his shoes I thought I had blacked out drunk and was dreaming.
The celebration of an Indian wedding is spread out over a number of days and multiple ceremonies. Everything builds up to the wedding day. On the wedding day the ceremony starts outside with the families of the bride and groom dancing and symbolically coming together. I was enthralled with every detail like a child seeing himself in the mirror for the first time. We stood just outside of the crowd laughing, clapping, and dancing. Suddenly it was time for the bride and groom to come together. We started to hear shouts for me and another of the groomsmen to come over and get ready. We pushed through the sea of people to get to the groom; two tall white guys in Indian clothes standing out like fat guys walking through a Personal Trainer Conference.
I was told what to expect the day before. The bride would go to put a necklace of roses around the groom’s neck. It was our job to lift the groom out of the bride’s reach. Relatives would lift the bride, but chances are she still wouldn’t reach. After some back and forth we would have to lower the groom and let her win. At that point the bride’s family would try to steal the groom’s shoes and make him pay to get them back. It was our job to protect the shoes… since he would be sitting on our shoulders. Well, that’s how it was supposed to play out.
As we got him on our shoulders a few hands were anxiously getting ready to rip the shoes off. As soon as the bride was lifted hands started coming from everywhere for the shoe. The bride’s family had cut off the groom’s family, jumping on the shoes earlier than anyone was expecting. I was caught off guard, trying to protect the shoe and hold him up. As soon as the roses where on his neck I could swear that bodies started flying over the crowd. We were in the middle of the bride’s entire family.
There were at least 50 hands on the shoe and another 50 trying to loosen my grip. The groom looked like he was going to be split like a wish bone. As he started to fall back he managed to wiggle his feet out of the shoes and the crowd brought him down gently. At that point I thought to myself I could abandon the shoe and escape the madness… but I could not do that because “this shoe was my shoe to protect!”
I felt like I was on my own… playing tug of war with an army. I remember feeling exhausted. As if out of a movie scene, I recall looking up and across from me was a smiling face staring me in the eyes…. “Don’t let go of the shoe! Whatever you do, don’t let go!” It was the groom’s uncle who had managed to fight his way through the crowd. It gave me the kick I needed to hold on. I heard his uncle shout to me “Start to move back!” “Ready?! Now!”
I pulled with every ounce of energy that I had left. I was losing my grip. His uncle shouted “I have the shoe! Let go!”
One final push and we were out of the crowd with mangled shoe in hand along with a few scratches and bruises. I had a fantastic time at the wedding.
There are times in our life when we think we have everything worked out and know exactly what to expect. Sure, we understand what the goal is, but we can be blindsided. Things don’t always play out as expected. We may question whether it is worth holding on especially when we find ourselves alone trying to fight against what seem like insurmountable odds. You can’t always do it on your own. Look to people who have your back and use that momentum to push through.
Protect that shoe and don’t let go!