As we pulled up to the gate at MacDill Air Force Base, I wondered if the heavily armed and attentive guard would notice my nervous smile and sweaty hands. Would he mistake my shifty eyes for “suspicious behavior” and ask us to pull over? Christina, who was driving, was relaxed and calm as she handed him her military ID. She had no idea that in ten minutes she was going to be asked for her hand in marriage, and I had the job of leading her into the “trap” and photographing the whole proposal. The mixture of excitement for my sister and the pressure to capture every special, fleeting moment was overwhelming.
The ten-minute drive to the beach once on base seemed to drag on and on. I watched the beautiful Tampa Bay scenery go by in slow motion and tried to make small talk, anything but rings, weddings, and proposals. I dug deep in my mind for things to talk about and came up with “oh, there’s a palm tree” and “look, military people.” I basically just pointed and named the things we were driving by for ten minutes. Smooth, Courtney. Real smooth.
We finally arrived and walked up to a gazebo on an uncrowded and serene beach to meet up with our family. They had arrived early to “prepare gourmet appetizers to enjoy while we watched sunset.” All good actors, they casually greeted us and Christina said “ummm these are the appetizers we are here to eat?” She was clearly not impressed with the bag of pre-sliced, half melted cheese and small bag of fruit that 8 of us were supposed to share. Before she had too much time to ponder the strange spread of food, dad said “girls you HAVE to go check out the turtle’s nest down on the far right side of the beach!” We took off towards the water, Christina oblivious to our beaming and teary-eyed family members behind us.
When we reached the mason jars filled with flowers and candles, I knew we had arrived. I started walking towards them and Christina stopped behind me saying “Court don’t go over there, it looks like somebody is about to get proposed to or something.” Delighted, I turned around and said, “oh yeah?? Does it??” My trigger finger furiously snapping pictures of her confused face.
Then she saw him.
Her mouth fell open, not believing her eyes.
Her boyfriend, who was supposed to be studying at home in Tallahassee, materialized from behind a bush.
I grinned and asked again, “what did you say, Chrissy? What do you think it looks like is happening here?”, my camera hiding the tears starting to roll down my cheeks.
After what seemed like the longest 20 yard walk ever, Spencer arrived to where Christina was standing, still frozen in her tracks. She kept repeating “you’re here? I can’t believe this. What is happening? YOU’RE HERE???”
Spencer led his soon-to-be fiance to a chair with the letter “C” on it and had her take a seat. He handed her a scroll to unroll and read while he washed her feet in a white, ceramic bowl. For a few minutes, she giggled as she glanced between the letter and her boyfriend, overwhelmed with what was happening. In the Bible, Jesus used foot washing as a sign of commitment, servanthood, and humility. In John 13:4, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples before dinner, surely a surprise to the men that their King was on the ground washing their dirty feet.
By washing Christina’s feet, Spencer was symbolizing his servanthood, humility, and commitment to her as her future husband. Either that or Spencer just couldn’t stand the smell of her feet and needed to give them a quick rinse before popping the question. But I’m pretty sure it was the former.
impromptu pedicure foot washing, Spencer pulled a little black box out of his pocket, shaky hands evident even from my distance. While I couldn’t hear their exchange of words, the wide smiles and excitement pouring out of them told me that he had asked to marry her, and she had said “yes.” More tears escaped my eyes, but I refused to lower the camera from my face to wipe them, afraid to miss one single moment.
They hugged, kissed, looked at the ring, and repeated about 15 times. After a few minutes, Christina seemed to remember that she and Spence were not alone, the world existed outside of their love bubble. She looked over at me crouching in the sand and yelled over the celebrating seagulls “you knew about this!?!?!” I laughed and shrieked “Umm yeah, we’ve all known the whole weekend sweetheart!!!!” For what seemed like the hundredth time, Christina said “I just can’t believe this.”
The three of us made our way back to the family who were all dying to wrap their arms around our newly engaged Christina and our soon-to-be brother. Spencer gave a reassuring “thumbs up” to the crowd to let them know that she said yes. Phew.
At this point, you can imagine the conversations and squeals that took place. My sisters and I giggled and hugged, all trying to get a better look at Christina’s new big rock. We high-fived each other, amazed at our ability to keep such a colossal secret from the worlds sneakiest sister. She had no idea, SUCCESS!
In the middle of all the champagne cheers-ing and well wishes, Christina’s brow furrowed and she asked “wait, are there no sea turtles?” We all burst into laughter and said we hated to disappoint, but no sea turtles.
As we packed up the cars to head to a celebratory dinner, something more exciting than sliced cheese and strawberries, I couldn’t stop smiling. To see your sister and best friend having the most exciting day of her life is an incredible gift and wonderful experience. I watched Christina climb into Spencer’s car and felt a pull at my heart. As Spencer had washed her feet to symbolize humility and service, I was experiencing some symbolism of my own.
On the drive to the beach, Christina sat next to me just as she had for the past 22 years. Since I can remember, road trips, school carpool, work commutes, and joy rides have been a minivan jam packed with four
horribly behaved sweet, angelic girls.
As each sister finds her true love and starts a family of her own, it’s incredibly bittersweet. The symbolism of our car ride to the beach together and leaving apart honestly hit a little harder than I thought it would. Another sister all grown up, starting adventures with a new partner. A new seat mate.