In an ordinary suburban house, people began to gather.
Family, friends, strangers. Early greetings were polite; muted; a touch awkward. To begin with, the two families were quite distinct and separate. After a while, the adults mingled quietly, almost hesitantly.
The children ran from one end of the house to another, oblivious to any chasm.
When everyone, adults and children alike, gathered for the imam to begin the ceremony, all was hushed. Even the tiny babies in the room slept noiselessly, lulled by the old man's calm voice.
The words, spoken in rapid but gentle Arabic, were understood by only half in the room. It didn't matter. The intent of those words was clear to all. When they were translated into English, the beauty of those words was appreciated by every person in that room.
By now, the smiles around the room were growing. If you listened hard enough, you could have heard a faint heartbeat growing stronger with every new exchange, every erupting laugh.
When the bride's father spoke of kindness, understanding, tolerance, a bringing together of two different cultures, and above all else, love, his words resonated. Of course, you could hear everyone thinking. It makes sense.
In Australia, we pride ourselves on being multicultural. On being the types of people to give anyone a fair go. To be tolerant, and fair, and to welcome people from all over the world.
And yet, while many of us love the idea of the availability of cuisine from around the world in central Melbourne, few of us venture beyond our own backyards to experience life as others live it. We are suspicious of those different from us. We do not automatically seek the good in others' religions or customs. It is still considered unusual for people of different religions and cultures to marry. There are, unbelievably, still those who think that we don't have enough room for refugees fleeing hellish lives.
Today, in an ordinary, average, Melbourne loungeroom, conversation billowed as a new husband and wife posed for photographs with their children. People who had been strangers that morning swapped stories and laughed; children played and ran up and down stairs in a blur of olive and milky white skin tones.
The heartbeat of a new family grew louder and stronger. It fed on the goodwill and kindness filling the house. It swelled with the hospitality of this groom's father, who was so very kind to all who entered his house. It was watered by the tears of the bride's mother, who had thought that her daughter might never be happy again.
This new family was born of a father and his two daughters, and a mother and her son and two girls. Today, this new family was held and nurtured in the hands of an enormous extended family, one made of two very different families who came together with the same objective. Observed by my son as they posed together for a snapshot, they were described thus, "Look, Mum. Before today, Anna had three kids. Now she has five. And a whole lot of uncles."
Regardless of religion, or culture, this wedding today was a beautiful occasion. On the surface, food and names and stories were exchanged; new acquaintances made; new experiences had. But underneath the pretty clothes and the comaraderie, the children present saw adults of many different walks of life practice love, kindness, tolerance and respect. And not one child there was surprised.