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Amy+Neal: stars and guitars on the beach at the Oceanic in Wrightsville Beach NC

In our job we deal in superlatives. The wedding was amazing, the bride’s dress was the prettiest I’d ever seen, the food surpassed all expectations, the wedding party was the most fun wedding party ever.

You know when you go to a concert… say you’re seeing a band you don’t really love, but the tickets were cheap and your friend begged you to go with her so she wouldn’t be alone — so you go, and you’re not all about it but once the music starts and the crowd starts pumping and your friend has tears streaming down her face because she’s in love with the bassist… suddenly, you’re having the time of your life. Even if the music sucks. Even if you normally wouldn’t be caught dead listening to that band. Watching the happiness around you… feeling the emotion… being caught up in it. Living. It makes everything better. It turns the ordinary into the extraordinary. The amazing. The most fun ever.

That’s what a wedding does. It does it to everyone. You get sucked in. You get even more sucked in when the bride and groom are so in love, so happy, so overjoyed… there’s no way to be there and not LIVE IT. Not become part of it. Not feel what they’re feeling. Whether you’re a guest, a vendor, part of the wedding party, or even just a passerby… experiencing a wedding on any level is intoxicating, because right before you, before your very eyes, are two people who love one another so much, who waited their entire lives for each other, who want to be together until the end. That’s something. That’s really, really something.

On May 19, 2012, this was the best wedding in the entire world.

Amy and Neal waited forever to find one another. We all say that, don’t we? Whether we found our perfect match at 21 or 41 or 71… whether we’d never been kissed, or had been around the block a few times… by the time we meet THAT ONE? It feels like it’s been forever. It didn’t feel like forever before you met the one, mind you. Mostly, we’re all happy living our lives, dating one wrong guy after another. But then the right guy comes along, right? And suddenly you look back at all the time you spent with the wrong guys, or alone, or chasing after the wrong dreams, and how LONG it seems now that you’re on the back end of it.

It’s funny how falling in love does that. Turns a once-tolerable stretch of time into the most unimaginably LONG AND PAINFUL stretch of time… just by meeting the right person. What a trip life is.

cupcakes: Imaginary Cakes | flowers: Moxie Floral Design Studio

On the day that Amy married Neal, there was an electricity in the air. This palpable vibration that resonated through every last person involved in the day, from the most distant cousin to the best man. There was joy. I have no better way to describe it. I have never witnessed as much joy out of any group of people in all these years.

The amazing, diverse, personality-rich women that were there for Amy that day (and, no surprise, every day of their lives) were filled with the same vibration, this incredible joyful anticipation that you could feel just by standing near them. Their hands shook – not out of nervousness (I don’t believe there was a shy person in the entire group), but as a side effect of that electricity. MY hands shook.

Neal’s hands shook. His from the buzz of elation, anticipation, and awe. He stood in this constant state of amazement at all the incredible ways his wife-to-be made this happen – for them. For their marriage. For their celebration, their families and friends. How nearly every last person in attendance had traveled, many all the way from California, just to participate in their day. Thunderstruck. I think that’s the best word to describe how Neal was feeling in the moments before he walked down the aisle.

If you know me at all, or if you’ve been reading the blog for any length of time, you know how much of a sucker I am for true human emotion. The human experience, the one commonality we all have that ties us together while simultaneously making us each so distinct, so unique. We each have our own very personal ways of being, of communicating and emoting and showing our love. Finding those ways for each person we photograph, feeling what they feel, and watching them honestly, fully, and totally express themselves… there is nothing more grand.

The below sequence will explain (better than I can do with words) how much emotion we found in the ceremony on May 19th. Mike and I both wiped tears as we shot… I can’t speak for Mike, but I had a pretty steady stream of tears falling. Neal’s expressions… Amy’s joy… their absolute pure delight and ecstacy in seeing one another after a night apart, gripping each others’ hands, and saying the words that would send them to the next chapter of their lives together… it was all I could do not to sob right along with Neal.

This. If we all allowed ourselves to be as happy physically as we are emotionally, this is how we would all look and act at the moment we’re pronounced husband and wife.

Their wedding party surrounded them in this surge of hugs, laughter, tears, an immediate physical connection between everyone, cementing what had just happened. They were all, equally, elated. All overjoyed. All brimming with more pride and love than you’d think possible. This was absolutely the most supportive, loving, and joyful wedding party I have ever witnessed. Period. And that’s not just a superlative from the high of being there.

It was as though these two couldn’t believe they were married. Like they had just opened the most magnificent, most fantastic Christmas present of their lives. Like they’d won the lottery. They were breathless, overcome, completely in their own moment with only each other. Mike and I are lucky – so lucky – that we get to see things like this.

Amy’s father KILLED IT with his toast. The entire room stayed in stitches all through his speech. He’s one of the most delightful characters I’ve seen yet at a wedding, and certainly among the best speakers. Watch him deliver his deadpan joke, and the crowd reacting (it was pretty risqué)

I hope that next March, when Mike and I get married, our celebration is even half as fun as this one was…. but just as real. Just as authentic and honest and unabashedly human. There’s nothing more beautiful. I’d rather shoot weddings like this every weekend than to spend even a half day at a wedding that is all about the pretense, the show of wealth, the caché of the guests.

The level of emotion, electricity, and excitement of the day was nothing compared to the frenetic vibe of the dance floor. There they were, fifty or sixty or nine hundred and seventy four kids and adults, all squeezed on to a teeny dance floor, all ready to claim a twelve square inch piece of laminate for their own personal show. There were elbows and knees and butts and hands and stiletto heels (oh the stiletto heels… as if I needed another reminder not to go barefoot once the dancing starts!)… it was nothing but energy, hours of energy all packed into one undersized but crazily adequate dance floor.

It didn’t end. It didn’t slow down. It didn’t even take a breather. The dance floor was alive, and it would not give up! I’ve seen dance-happy receptions before and since, and this one might not even be the most dancey… but it sure was the most energetic.

It’s because of Amy. When you’re with her, you get to feed off all the energy she emits. It infects you, and makes you do more than you thought you would, try harder than you meant to, laugh longer, dance sexier, be more. She just does that, just by her very presence, by the way she lives her life and how she shows you exactly who she is from the very first moment you lock eyes with her. I suggest that everyone find a friend like Amy, and that every Amy out there has a soul mate for herself like Neal. I suggest this because we did this, and it has worked out wonderfully for us.