A Pandemic Wedding Story.
I hate for every single one of my blog posts to have an underlying COVID theme, but what doesn’t have an underlying COVID theme these days? What isn’t splashed a bit by its wide rolling ripple effect? It’s a pervasive story everywhere, but especially in any arena that is about people gathering to celebrate something they love. And what, if nothing else, is a wedding?
This story is a pretty typical one. Well, typical, aside from the tornado that banished them to the basement of wedding number one which happened to take place during a global pandemic with a brand new and volatile virus that morphs geopolitical politics, changes the world economy, and postpones the reception for 12 months, effectively creating the worlds longest cocktail hour. Okay. So it’s not typical at all, but it is a fairly typical story for a lot of couples who were hoping to have a wedding last year. Except for the tornado part, but we’ll get there.
The story starts with a couple meeting their photographer a year before the wedding. I felt younger then. I remember Devyn being younger, too. It feels a little like we met in another life and in a sense we did. I mean, it was only 2 years ago, but these 2 years have been a different 2 years. I’m not the same person as I was 2 years ago, and I imagine Alex and Devyn aren’t either. I don’t think any of us are.
Chapter 2 is where things start to get squirrly, and I’m going to go off on a bit of a tangent here, but I’ll bring it back around. Stay with me.
Part 1 – The Rescheduling Conundrum.
It’s spring, the world melts down, the economy effectively closes, and the reschedule requests are starting to flow in. I have no idea what to do. None of us do. I was involved in private Facebook groups amongst wedding vendors, group chats of photographers, had countless conversations with friends in similar industries, and no one had a good answer as to how to approach the reschedules. It felt like we were all walking on wet rocks across a bed of hot lava on either side. One wrong decision and your doors are going to shut and here’s why.
The biggest fiscal issue a wedding business faces is cashflow. We have about 4-6 months a year where we are sure to be busy and above average revenue is predictable. I can guarantee without a shadow of a doubt that I will be booked on every 1st weekend in October from now until I retire if I so decide. But, on the flip side of that, I have no idea what I’ll be doing in March year to year. Sometimes we’re super busy, sometimes we don’t work at all. Imagine not getting a paycheck for 6 weeks straight. Better have some acorns stashed away, that’s for sure.
So, we budget the best that we can and try to predict the future. Sometimes we’re lucky and can take a little vacation somewhere warm in the offseason, sometimes not. A big part of how we get through the offseason are deposits, or “retainers” if you’re into legalese. I can’t tell you how many times the heavens have sent me a wedding deposit 3 days before my mortgage was due bridging the gap for another month. It’s a tenuous way to live, sometimes.
If a wedding scheduled for the Summer of 2020, then wants to reschedule to the Summer of 2021, chances are that date won’t be rebooked because wedding vendors are often booked 10-14 months, and sometimes as long as 2 years, away from the day. So, that business records a loss of the income for 2020, AND the deposit for 2021 date that would be booked.
If this happens just once a year, eh, no big deal. It’s not ideal, but it’s not going to bankrupt me. Truthfully, I’m kinda glad to have a surprise weekend off. But if this happens twice, an anomaly happening once in a 12 year career, you feel it. It’s roughly an 8-10% loss in wedding related income. Imagine if you took a 8-10% pay cut. Not super fun, is it? Okay, now apply that whole scenario across your entire schedule for months to come. We were all looking 75-90% losses last year when the pandemic started. And IF we survived, we were looking at a year 2 with another 20-30% losses. It averages out to losing an entire years income. Some businesses with large overhead stood to lose way more than that.
My solution was this — I came to the conclusion that we were all in this together and that I can’t shoulder the responsibility alone, nor should the client shoulder the responsibility alone. So I asked for a rescheduling fee of half of a normal deposit which would help cover me for a short period of time. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to survive. I kept hearing horror stories from clients demanding their deposits be returned threatening (and in some cases following through with) legal action and then taking to social media to destroy that persons business and reputation when the hard truth was, we just didn’t have your deposit to give you. Remember me telling you how it paid my mortgage last March? That’s where your deposit went, not to some hidden bank account labeled, “global-pandemic-oh-shit-fund”. So, remember that slippery rocks over hot lava metaphor? My feet are starting to get warm…
And this is where this whole story gets circled back around to Devyn & Alex. They not only agreed happily that it was fair to shoulder the burden together, and agreed the rescheduling fee was fair, they hired me for a small micro-wedding with just immediate family, masks, and social distancing…. IF I was comfortable with it…
And that’s the character of this family. That’s why I explained that whole story. You needed to see the full extent of the situation. You can see now that a paragraph about how nice they day was and how happy everyone was, just wasn’t going to tell this story. Not only did they go above and beyond to help a struggling small business in a time of need, they put mine, and my families safety in front of our business arrangements. That is the class of people that you’re looking at today.
Part 2 – A Socially Distance Tornado Shelter/Wedding.
The day comes and the ceremony is small, quaint, but uniquely energetic. It’s in their family church. Devyns father married them. It was close friends and family sitting far apart with masks. There weren’t many smiles, but there was a lot of love. Full disclosure, I hate shooting people with masks, “You can’t see their facial expressions!” I would harp on with my friends. “What’s the point?!” But, as posterity is teaching me, you can tell a lot from peoples eyes if you pay attention.
They were slightly afraid. Slightly wary of each other. Slightly unsure of how to act. Regardless of the uncertainties, everyone was happy to be where they were, with who they were there with as told by the look of unity in their eyes. The looked screamed, “Can you believe this mess we’re in?”
It was the closest thing to gathering that we had done all year. There were air hugs, air high fives, and air handshakes. It was as if there was an invisible conduit that still linked them together and the distance didn’t really exist at all. It’s an odd thing to process if you sit down and think about it.
The processional where Alex geeks out like no one I have ever seen when the doors open and he see’s Devyn for the first time comes and goes. The prayers & ring exchanges come and go. The benediction comes and goes. The “you may kiss the bride” comes and goes. The small greeting between the families and the guests in the courtyard comes and goes. And suddenly, the wind comes alive, the sky darkens, and we feel that cool, slightly uncomfortable intrusion of cool rain drops on our skin.
Inside we go. It’s August and a summer thunderstorm is brewing. For the uninitiated, that’s not out of the ordinary. There’s a 40% change of rain for the entire Mid-Atlantic every single day from June-September. It’s hot, humid, thunderstorms happen. We have stuff to do inside anyway. Family portraits await.
It’s a small chore, but it’s an easy one. We move through them quickly but since it was pouring, we took our time a bit and I styled them a bit more than normal. “Can’t go outside anyway, might as well make the best of it.” The portraits are almost done when emergency alerts from everyones phone tears through the room, shredding the peaceful sense finality of the day. There’s reports of Tornados touching down a mile away. Seconds later, the room is dark and electricity is out. To the basement we go.
We hurry into the basement, and I shit you not, that I think I was the only one in that room legitimately concerned for our safety. That peaceful finality I mentioned turned into a blissful joy. Selfies, laughter, and dancing ensue. I was actually pretty amazed at what I was seeing. It was just happiness. Pure happiness. Happiness to be married. Happiness to be with your friends after not seeing them for so long. Happiness that they were in an outdated church banquet hall, dancing to someones iPhone, using their phones flashlights like cigarette lighters to light up the dark. Kinda symbolic if you think about it.
I still don’t know if everyone realizes just how special this day was. This will be with them for years to come because the truth of the matter is that life moves on. Friends move. People pass on. Kids come. Careers come and go and these days where gathering with your friend are fewer and further between. I know, I know. “Sheesh. Buzzkill, Danny.” But you need to understand the idea that this group of people took a miserable situation, handled it with grace and humility, and made it the best they possibly could for the people around them is exactly how you handle miserable situations out of your control. Lemons into Lemonade, man.
That’s what I mean by special.
Part 3 – The Party.
I’m almost done, I promise. The photos are delivered, a year goes by, every wedding vendor in the world is now considering retiring or part time work at McDonalds next year to escape this years hellacious schedules. I don’t know what was harder, figuring out how to rescue an event based business during a pandemic, or dealing with the schedule the year after presents. Double & triple wedding weekend are industry norms. But I have a friend in a popular wedding band tell me that 5 wedding weekends aren’t uncommon right now. There’s only 3 days in a weekend. Let that sink in. We said yes to things we would normally NEVER say yes to for the sake of our marriages and/or our sanity. Whatever it takes to not get sued and to make it through the other side in one piece, we said yes to.
2021 has been wild. It’s been stressful. We’re all overbooked. None of us have seen our families much. We’re all jaded. We all can’t wait for the season. We’re all ready for a little bit of a stabilization in 2022. But there’s something that is getting us all through a busy year with hope and perseverance, and that is the vibes that these “part 2’s” have had lately. The energy is off the charts. Every single wedding is a “party of the year candidate”.
It’s been really cool to bear witness to, actually. A lot of these people haven’t seen each other much, if at all, in over a year. The hugs are bigger. The smiles are bigger. The laughter is never ending. The music is louder. The cake tastes better. You never know what you have until it’s gone and that’s the underlying theme to this silly little monologue I’m writing right now.
Trite as it sounds, tomorrow isn’t promised.
Covid taught us all, aside from the benefits of staying healthy and that arguing about vaccines makes us all want to jump off a cliff, that life can change in a heartbeat. In the matter of a weeks time (or way less), things completely and utterly out of your control can change the course of your life and all you can control is your reaction. React with humility. React with grace. React with love. In short, react like Devyn & Alex.