Parachute Wedding Dress

Yesterday Nick Schuurman shared the following story (and above video) as part of our Worship Gathering reflecting on Peace:

I never met my father’s biological mother, my grandmother.

She got really sick before I was born, when my father was still pretty young. And so, little by little, over the years, I’ve started to learn about the sort of woman she was. I’ve read letters she wrote, seen pictures, and listened to the stories my father told us about her.

I’ve also heard my aunt and uncles talk about her. Occasionally, at family gatherings, new stories will come up, and I’ll see another little piece of the picture.

Last Christmas, a few of my relatives were talking in my parent’s kitchen. I forget how it started, but they got on the topic of my grandmother, and I remember my aunt asking this question:

“Why did mom make her wedding dress out of a parachute?”

Here, it is probably worth noting that the parachute in question was not the elementary school gym class variety – that incredible multi-coloured childhood miracle (though I suppose you could imagine that, since they always had that hole in the middle – you could just stick your head through and walk right down the aisle if you wanted to). While a nylon wedding dress marked with red, blue, green and yellow stripes may pass in some circles today, my grandmother’s sensibilities were, to say the least, a little more reserved.

It was, rather, a military issued item, most likely made of simple white silk. Nobody that night could remember where my grandfather had gotten the parachute from – if he had brought it with him when he came over on the ship from Holland to Canada, or if he had purchased it as surplus shortly after the war. Whatever its origin, my grandma was a gifted seamstress, and managed to make a simple, yet beautiful wedding gown out of it.

I did a little bit of research, and discovered that making dresses out of old parachutes was actually a pretty common thing in the years following the war. Rations were still in place, and the cost of nearly everything, including fabric, had risen dramatically. Many people simply couldn’t afford things like wedding dresses, and so they got creative. My grandparents, young immigrants, were in an especially strained financial state, and made due with what they had.

I love that story, because, even though my grandparents would have never thought about it in these terms (I doubt they would have ever identified themselves as pacifists), it is, I believe, a beautiful image of the possibility of peace, of something violent being imaginatively re-worked and re-purposed.

War, regardless of where you stand on issues like military participation, the use of our tax dollars, and political parties, is a brutal, awful mess. The beautiful news of the Gospel is that the violence that’s been tearing creation apart for as long as we can remember is not the last word. Death is not the last word.

In Christ, there’s hope that something beautiful, useful and new can be made out of the means by which we war against each other. Swords are hammered into ploughshares, spears are beaten into pruning hooks, parachutes are turned into wedding dresses.

Participating in that work takes patience, imagination, and creativity. The good news is that we serve an endlessly creative God, who took, of all things, the cross – an object and symbol of torture, violence and death, and transformed it into something altogether beautiful, hopeful and new.