It might seem like an abstract conclusion from which to walk away from Signed, Sealed, Delivered: To The Altar, but it's the profound truth, written and delivered in love, upon which the entire narrative of this movie is intricately built.
We joined Shane, Oliver, Rita and Norman in the home-stretch leading up to NoRita's long-awaited nuptials. A clearly joyous occasion, the week brought with it a certain gravity in light of the letter mystery and each POstables' individual journey "to the altar."
After the sudden loss of her mother, Sunny, during a spelunking excursion, Rita found herself planning the final details of her wedding without her mother. At the same time, her repeat attempts to contact Norman's globe-trotting grandmother, Ardis, remained unsuccessful. That is until Shane stepped in with some particularly resourceful "tech support," making her Maid of Honor of the Year---a title she earned not once, but twice.
Norman aided in some of the planning, a constant support to Rita in the absence of her mother, even as he fretted over the honeymoon and beyond. From not knowing how to "swim," to his concern about "going to the movies," Norman required his own particular kind of support, which his Best Man, Oliver, expertly provided.
Together, Norman and Rita remained a united front in the midst of an eloped florist, minister with measles, an unexpected canoe, skunk-infested venue and a Ramon wedding takeover Norman could have done without. Through it all they never once forgot the greatest gift waiting for them at the end of the aisle would be each other.
Of course, all the wedding preparations had an immediate impact on Oliver and Shane. Not only was their banter colored by subtle undertones that had even my cheeks turning red, the moment Oliver saw Shane in the dress she rescued from auction, it was clear his ongoing contemplation began to shift in a specific, and important direction, even if his mind had yet to catch up with his heart. It was the process of heart and mind syncing up which we watched play out over the remainder of the film. This important preoccupation, and being "hopelessly lost in the 20th century," resulted in some particularly entertaining moments surrounding the planning and execution of the Bachelor party.
From there unfolded a carefully woven tale of Anneliese and her long-fought battle with mental illness, whose absence was meant to protect her daughter, and of Jessica, who coped with her absence by turning her mother's stories of heroism into best-selling young adult novels. Their story, and Shane and Rita's relentless, passionate and heartfelt pleas to both mother and daughter to reunite, proved it's never too late to come home, never too late to get the answers one needs to put the past to rest, and reminds us there is always someone out there who "knows what too late feels like."
With both the dress delivered, and mother and daughter reconciled to one another, it was finally time for Norman and Rita to say, "I do."
At the same time, their ceremony, both in word, and in visual retrospective, set up what immediately followed. No sooner had NoRita said "I do" did Oliver, having only uttered the phrase "I love you" to Shane for the first time the previous day, don the ugly green tie as per O'Toole family tradition, and adorably propose marriage to Shane. Because "when you love someone, you marry them" as Ellie so sagely stated in The Future Me. This was one in a plethora of callbacks and references generously sprinkled throughout the movie!
But perhaps what I loved most about this movie is how it was, in essence, a multimedia, multi-dimensional Living Letter from Martha herself, drawing on many aspects of her own life and loves. Rita's reflection on marriage counseling with Ramon, particularly "If you invite God to the wedding, He stays for the marriage," is drawn verbatim from her book, Inviting God To Your Wedding, a book that reflects on her own journey to the altar, and from which much of the content of this movie is drawn in both obvious and subtle ways to those who have read it.
Martha even drew on pieces of her relationships with her daughters, Isabel and Abigail, who are absolutely her pride and joy, a fact vividly illustrated if one has the privilege to hear her speak about them or see Martha interact with them. The mother/daughter story was absolutely written specifically as a product of her love for her girls, and passion for motherhood. Annaliese and Jessica were written to honor every mother, whether maid or roving reporter, no matter what the nature of the challenges overcome in life. At the same time, she challenged all of us, son or daughter, to find a way to honor, or, at the very least, acknowledge, the woman who brought us into this world, to see what she was able to give, and even acknowledge and begin to make peace with what she wasn't.
So to Jessica Sipos and Janet Kidder, thank you for living this story through your characters so beautifully. The impact may very well be the thing that brings a mother and daughter back together, or allow one or both to make peace with the past and move on---and those are priceless gifts.
Martha truly gave us a story of love in all of its forms, the variety of which were also expressed through the return of some of our favorites.
Gregory Harrison's Papa O'Toole got to be and do everything he does best, his love as both friend and father on full display. He was a good friend and source of encouragement to Bill in his time of need. He intervened when Oliver slacked on his Best Man duties, and of course, he used his skills as as senior expeditor to guide his son to the correct relationship destination where Shane was concerned, even giving him the method through which to get there in the form of an "ugly" green tie.
I literally could not have imagined Norman and Rita's big day without Zak Santiago's Ramon. What I did not anticipate was how appropriate it would be for Ramon, already a man-of-all-trades to become an all-in-one wedding planning and executing entity. From caterer, to DJ, to minister---it so fit, right? All exhibited the love of a friend (or frenemy, where Norman is concerned?). Ramon is now inextricably linked to the most important moment in Norman and Rita's life and love story. The picture of Norman receiving dance lessons from Ramon will never leave me! Like his character, Zak truly has mastered it all!
How could we forget Jill returning as Hazel, as precious as ever---particularly her cliffnotes-style story about Gabe's presence at the wedding?! It was really nice to see her included.
And you may have noticed a young lady in the background of Carol Burnett's "yak milk" scene. Just wanted to give a shoutout to Abigail, whose first on-screen appearance just happened to be with a living legend---congrats on a job well done!
To Crystal, Eric, Geoff & Kristin, I hope you've had the chance to see and feel just how much you, and your characters, have become a part of our hearts, as well as our families. We love you all so much as Rita, Oliver, Norman and Shane, and know you as individuals poured your hearts, and even your souls, into every facial expression, every word and every breath. And you reached our hearts and souls as you did so. Thank you.
But before they spoke a single line, we know Martha poured everything she had into their story. Thank you, Martha, for always giving every piece of yourself to do what you were called to do, and inspiring us to choose the "more honorable, kinder...the higher ground" in the process.
In the meantime, your next chance to see Signed, Sealed, Delivered: To The Altar is Thursday, July 19 at 7pm EST on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. Please tune in and set your DVRs. This is especially important since we don't yet have an order for more movies. So check out this post to see how you can continue to let the powers that be know we aren't done rallying on behalf of this awesome program and those involved with it!