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About a year and half before The Day That Broke The World's Heart, Daphne Uviller went to the top of the Twin Towers on Valentine's Day. There, she found all kinds of people, from all over the world, making Big Gestures in a Special Place. This is how we choose to remember that place and that time.

Your Love Put Me...
On Top of the World

Valentine's Day, 2000

by Daphne Uviller

On Valentine's Day 2000, forty couples thumbed their noses at tissue paper-filled invites, spurned table-seating charts, and freed themselves from the tyranny of caterers, florists, and mothers. In a marathon that began at 5:20 a.m. and continued until 8 p.m., renegade lovers were wed in succession by a judge on the Observation Deck of the World Trade Center, 107 stories above Manhattan.

Careful observers of the phenomenon will tell you: just as the greeting card and marshmallow-chocolate-kitsch industries launch Christmas the day after Thanksgiving, so, too, is Wedding Season begun on Valentine's Day. No sooner does the sun set on the day of cut-out hearts, simpering cupids, and chalky, cheeky candy than specialty stationery shops splatter enormous wedding displays across their windows, enjoining couples to stay on schedule by ordering invitations NOW for their spring weddings.

But for those couples who want to inject a sense of adventure into their nuptials, the nice folks at the World Trade Center have a better way. For the fourth year in a row, the staff at the Twin Towers invited couples to enter a contest called "Make Love on Top of the World" by writing essays explaining why getting married in the urban aerie would be the perfect end to their courtship. The lucky couples had one week between being notified and tying the knot, during which time they had to procure some dressy duds, break the news to their families, and secure a New York State marriage license. In addition, many couples had to purchase plane tickets. While most of these spontaneous lovers were locals, about a quarter had come from outside the state, and some from as far away as Estonia. One couple from Singapore arrived with a wedding party of 25 in tow.

It Was Meant to Be

When asked Why here? Why now? couples from Brooklyn to England fell back upon the same answers: most saw it as a sign, a call to wed this instant. Many of the participants at the elope-fest were mixing and matching their skin colors and most already had children, either with each other or from previous unions. Many had been harangued by their families to break off their culturally conflicting relationships or to hurry up and marry already before the third child was born. The spontaneity of the contest and the romance of the locale proved both a seductive formula and worthy antidote.

One couple, a conservative Jewish man and a Japanese woman, wrote that their families have been trying actively to prevent them from marrying. The pair was drawn to the symbolism of the venue. "Terrorists attempted to destroy the World Trade Center on February 25, 1993," they wrote, "because they disapproved of America... yet the pressure that should have torn it apart and broken the will of the American people did not. The building stands as tall and as proud as it ever did. Despite the pressure being placed upon us, our resolve and love has only grown stronger."

Admittedly, not every couple had reasons as poignant as theirs, but the prevailing sentiments were still sincere. Al and Rebecca came from Las Vegas, quickie-wedding capital of the world, because they didn't want to be married by an Elvis impersonator; also, they felt compelled to trump his proposal to her atop the Eiffel Tower. They landed at Newark airport, stopped at David's Bridal, and got their license with minutes to spare (New York State requires that a couple possess the official papers for 24 hours before the wedding). Rebecca's two daughters walked down the aisle with her, each about to receive a ring that matched their mother's enormous, glittering two-tiered rock because "it's like the whole family is getting married."

Once More, With Feeling

The brave couple that took the first time slot were renewing their vows. They had six children, all in attendance, and had been married for 20 years. The oldest daughter was concerned about a science test she had later (it was a school day, after all) and the boys were pawing through the gift bag given to each couple. When asked why she would subject herself to such an activity, the bride -- a college professor and bustling organizer if ever there was one -- separated the two littlest ones who were arguing and said in a harried voice, "You have to find ways to keep the romance alive." Wake up; check. Keep romance alive; check. Get kids off to school; check. All before sunrise. Ouch.

The most traditional couple, Sarah and Carl, were the same race, young (she 26, he 25), and without children. They flew in from the north of England, certain only that they would wed somewhere in New York sometime in the next four days on the way to their honeymoon in Hawaii. On Friday, February 11, they were waiting on line for a license when they happened to read about the World Trade Center ceremonies. A quick call got them accepted, even without an essay, but Sarah was intent on including some traditional elements in their wedding, among them items borrowed and blue. Later that evening, they found an English pub and were chatting up one of the locals sitting nearby when Sarah mentioned her predicament. The noble New Yorker handed her his itchy, blue wool scarf, which she gallantly kept tied around her thigh throughout the ceremony. The stranger said she could keep the scarf, but Sarah told him, "No! You must meet us again tonight, so I can give it back! Otherwise it's not borrowed!"

Resigned couples will often concede that a wedding is for the family and friends, while the honeymoon is for them. But by tossing tradition to the winds, these adventurous partners made their weddings their own. The couples who came by themselves depended on each other to be not only bride or groom but best man, best woman, ring bearer, babysitter, stylist, and travel coordinator. A groom attaching his bride's train for her, as he was taught just the day before at the store, bespeaks a partnership not often imparted during a traditional ceremony. (Also worth noting: every bride who chose to wear a white gown fit into her dress perfectly; further evidence that eight months and four fittings are not essential.)

So start working on your essay now and next year you could have a spontaneous ceremony very nearly on Cloud Nine. One final advantage, for those who may need it, was pointed out by a groom from the Bronx: acrophobia can help you keep the size of your wedding down. "The whole family would have come," he said, "If we'd done this on the third floor."

Daphne Uviller makes a point of being spontaneous between 2:15 p.m. and 3:15 p.m. nearly every day.

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