Few things will compel me to get out of bed at o'dark-thirty in the morning: the pop of gunfire, the heat of a house fire, the caterwaul of a baby distraught and the blast of trumpets announcing the Wedding of the Century. That's how news anchors the world over referred to the July 29, 1981, union between Lady Diana Spencer and the Prince of Wales.
A reported 750 million people — many who got up before the chickens — watched Princess Diana, bundled in taffeta, exit a for-real glass carriage. Thousands of spectators lining the streets erupted into cheers, waving the British flag and calling out her name. And in the predawn darkness of a Portland, Ore., apartment, dressed in flannels, I joined in their merriment.
Inching closer to the small TV sitting atop the plywood and cinder-block shelves, I strained to see every embroidered element of Diana's storybook dress. The first of many tears fell when she reached for her father's arm, just before their walk down the aisle of St. Paul's Cathedral. There was such a loving tenderness shared between those two.
It saddens me that the People's Princess — as Diana was so affectionately called — will miss such moments with her son as Prince William weds the lovely Kate Middleton on Friday morning. I can't help but think of how proud she would be of the men her sons have become. It is through them that Princess Diana's legacy lives on.
Can you imagine how much she would have liked Kate? She is a "common" girl who appears to embody many of the personality traits that endeared Princess Diana to us — humor, grace, beauty, compassion, humility and independence. Oh, the late-night talks those two women could have shared.
I'll be watching this royal wedding, too, but with a different sort of googly-eyed wonder than I did that first one. Oh, I'll still oohh and ahhh over all the people wearing their finest clothes — the rainbow of silk suits and matching pumps, the uniformity of red coats adorned with shiny brass buttons. And I suspect I'll get all muddled at the sight of the beaming bride and her proud prince.
But it's the message of marriage I'll be considering this time round.
"A marriage is good news," says the Archbishop of Canterbury, "because it says something so deep about our humanity. It tells us we can have grounds for hope. That there are still people around who want to spend their lives with each other, who want to make this great act of generous commitment to one another."
It would be easy enough for Prince William to be cynical about marriage, given the way his own parents' union turned out. Who could blame the chap if he swore off marriage altogether? That he has fought beyond the demons that plagued Charles and Diana and come out on the other side in such a confident way is, indeed, hopeful.
When Prince William stands at the altar at Westminster Abbey, he will be flanked not by a best man, but by what the British call "supporters." It's an apt term, one that more accurately reflects the role we should all play in the lives of this couple.
"To be a witness is to be more than a spectator," the Archbishop says.
Life is hard. Marriage is challenging. It isn't the adulation or even the admiration of the public that Prince William and Kate Middleton are going to need. Like any bride and groom, what they need are people who will pray for them, encourage them and challenge them to be the partners they have promised to be.
It seems as if hope went AWOL these past few years as wars have rumbled on, and as economies the world over have tumbled. Lately, the only thing bringing us together as a world community has been all the calamity. Tsunami after earthquake after earthquake after tsunami. This wedding is the first time in quite a long while when we have had a reason to rejoice collectively.
"Everybody around the world watching this will have some sense of the commitments that are possible," says the Archbishop. "People who are witnessing the wedding are bound to ask themselves, if William and Catherine can make that sort of commitment, if these people can share that sort of generosity, perhaps I'm capable of more generosity, more commitment, more faithfulness, more purposefulness than I ever thought. Perhaps there's more to me than I ever realized."
I pray the Archbishop is right, and that those of us witnessing the Wedding of this Century come away encouraged, hopeful and more committed than ever to loving one another.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Will Jesus Buy Me a Double-Wide? ('Cause I Need More Room for My Plasma TV). She can be reached at www.karenzach.com or via Twitter @karenzach.