The day after Valentine’s Day I attended two very different events: a memorial service and a wedding. Both in Riverside, separated only by a few hours and a few miles, but inhabiting disparate emotional worlds – one of sadness and one of joy, or so I was thinking while getting dressed for the day.
I fussed over what to wear that would be appropriate for both occasions. I settled on a dress with equal amounts of black and cream in it. I fretted about the emotional roller-coaster I anticipated experiencing that day, so I packed lots of tissue – an attempt to prepare myself for the potential appearance of tears – either of joy or sadness.
The memorial service was for someone I didn’t know well, but who I saw often. Doug Magnon, a well known businessman in Riverside whose family firm The Magnon Companies is one of the largest and oldest real estate development companies in the Inland Empire and at whose restaurant Magnone Trattoria I frequented and spent many hours writing this column or editing the newspaper. I know his staff well and had regular chats with his wife Evonne. They shared a life of love for six years and married shortly before his death – a vibrant life cut short by an aggressive cancer.
The public memorial service was held at the Riverside International Automotive Museum, an institution Doug co-founded to celebrate and memorialize Riverside’s racing heritage. It also reflected his passion for motor racing, a sport he loved since his childhood attending the races at Riverside’s International Raceway. He collected rare Maserati cars and was considered an authority on the European brand. Doug had a passion for food, cooking, wine, Italian culture, and as a result I watched my share of classic Italian cinema featuring Sofia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni or Roberto Benigni while seated at my favorite table in the restaurant’s lounge.
Although Doug’s death brought sadness, the memories of his life brought joy. The service, held at the museum, was attended by hundreds of people whose lives he touched. The slide show documenting his life and passions encapsulated a life well lived. One full of passionate pursuits and love for family, friends, colleagues, employees, and community; and that’s what lingered in my mind as I drove to The Mission Inn for my cousin’s wedding.
My cousin Ryan Zavala and his bride Brenda Gutierrez were married in the St. Francis of Assisi Chapel amid the soft glow of candlelight and the harmonious sound of a string quartet. The wedding party entered to Chopin’s Waltz in C Minor. And the bride slowly strolled down the aisle to Puccini’s O Mio Babbino Caro. The ceremony was simple, heartfelt, and joyfully shared by 150 family members and friends.
The two met in November of 2004 but did not start dating until the following August. During the ten years between their first meeting and Sunday’s ceremony, she moved to New York to attend graduate school at Columbia University, he eventually followed. For work. Actually in part because of a career change, but more importantly because Brenda was there.
Initially Ryan designed the engagement ring but during a window shopping excursion at his local vintage shop he unexpectedly eyed a rare 1920’s ring. Nervous and excited Ryan first shared his plans with her parents and family before kneeling on one knee, ring in hand, heart beating so fast she offered to take him to the ER, and proposing ten years after that first meeting. Tears flowed. The wedding ceremony and reception reflected their love of vintage fashion and music, including a big band orchestra.
The celebrations of love that day – the love friends and family expressed for Doug during the celebration of his life and Ryan and Brenda’s celebration of their love – became an emotional bridge instead of the barrier I anticipated. Love, as Sophocles so poignantly reminds us, is freeing. It is transformative. It is something we should celebrate every day and not just once a year.