Sitting At The Altar

Maggie and Amanda went to the same college but didn’t meet until Amanda graduated and stayed during the summer to do research. They met through mutual friends, stayed up late talking at Amanda’s apartment on her balcony, and then a few weeks later decided to hang out and go to the highline together. It happened to be on June 26, 2013 – the day the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down. They ended up going to the Stonewall Inn to celebrate later that night and, coincidentally, were told by a friend of a friend that they would get married.

The wedding they eventually decided on was a small gathering of friends and family at a rented house in Stowe. The only wrinkle was that a few months ago, Amanda got hit with a strange virus, spent several weeks in the hospital, and has been on a slow arc of recovery ever since.

Having spent the last year dealing with a huge health event myself (exploding appendix/sepsis), I completely understood the challenges she’s been facing.

One of their big concerns was how tired she gets, and how she’d handle a whole day of celebration. A solution we came up with was to have them sit for the ceremony. Easy enough! They settled themselves in facing Adirondack chairs, and we carried on as usual.

An upside to this arrangement was that it made their extremely decorative socks all that much more visible!

Maggie is a biologist, so the African savannah socks were absolutely perfect!

It also turned out Maggie’s brother works at Dobra Tea – one of my fave Burlington haunts. And he was at a wedding I did for another of their Devoteas. This was a legendary ceremony in which one of the attenants – the couple’s dog – threw up just before the vows in a spectacular display of Canine Projectile Hurling.

At any rate, these gals were chill, smart, funny, extremely charming, and I wish them all the absolute best!

Need A Wedding, Stat!

I got a call last week from my friend, the kicky wedding photographer Karen Pike. Her mom’s caretaker, Michelle, needed to get married, like, NOW, and could I do the wedding?

Karen said that her mom has Alzheimer’s and that Michelle goes out of her way to keep her calm and happy.

As I cannot imagine a job much harder than Michelle’s, I was more than willing to do whatever Karen wanted to make Michelle’s day!

We rolled out to a secret corner of Shelburne Farms. Michelle, her guy Tim, and their kids were all suited up in matching white, tan, and peach.

We had to make the ceremony quick because the boys were DYING to go flinging themselves up and down the hillside. Which, of course, they did.
All the best to two people who clearly work very hard, and are also (very clearly) such an immense blessing on each other’s lives!

All photos, of course, by Karen Pike.

Money money money money money money money…

I just learned that most couples underestimate the cost of their wedding by 40%, and that the average wedding costs $28,000.

Seriously. This is not necessary. I mean, if you’ve got cash to burn, go ahead, knock yourself out. Let it be lobsters, Belgian lace, and ice sculptures all the way. Load up on monogrammed M&Ms for your guests, hire videographers to make a film-quality documentary of the day, and escape the party in a triple-decker tricked-out limo. But this is not necessary.

Celebrating your love and commitment with heart, beauty, and community doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. You won’t be dishonoring yourselves or anyone else by not hiring gold-plated caterers.

I mean, I’ve been to those kinds of extravagant weddings, and they’re beautiful and impressive. But you can do just as well with a bunch of hay bales, a playlist, a potluck, and a cake baked by your best friend’s Mom. You won’t be any less married if you get your dress second hand and have it altered to fit. Heck, buy 3 wedding dresses at Goodwill for $150 and have a seamstress blend them together into an all-new creation!

Or make your own. This dress was made from plastic bags:
All I’m saying is what I say to high school writing students contemplating a career as a pen jockey. Don’t go into debt over this one. Get creative, ask for help, and remember that the most important thing is being lucky enough to find someone you want to spend your life with, and sharing that great fortune with the people you love the most.

The rest is just beautiful, fancy cake frosting.

But Can You Handle…

catinthehatI’m closing in on – or have recently just passed – the 400 ceremonies mark. Which allows me to speak with some degree of authority on a variety of wedding-related topics (though admittedly, I rarely confine myself there). It also means that when someone asks me a question which begins with, “But, can you handle …” I can usually answer, “Yes!” with confidence.

However, it might also leave the Curious Person wondering specifically what I’ve had to deal with in the past. What unexpected, untoward, or surprisingly entertaining experiences have I come across in my Official Officiant Tenure?

Well, I’ve seen just about everything from fainting brides to barfing dogs to barfing grooms. I’ve had someone lose the bride’s ring on the way to the ceremony (they found a stunt ring to stand in). I’ve zipped up too-tight dresses, flirted with needy Grandfathers, calmed panicking mothers, and fended off excessively curious cows.

Seriously. I have documentation:

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Photo by Karen Pike

 

Now admittedly, some of the challenges have been all on me. Excessively organized as I try to be, in the long run, I can only (grudgingly) admit to being human. More than once, I’ve been the source of the problem needing to be solved. I have:

  • Brought the wrong ceremony with me (saved by the Best Man who had an extra copy).
  • Worn orange when everyone else was in blue (fortunately, they were complementary colors).
  • Forgot the wrap for the hand-fasting which was made from the bride’s mother’s veil (I made a new wrap by stealing some ribbons off the decor and braiding them together).

I’m also pretty terrible with names, and once, I forgot – in the middle of the ceremony – which groom was Dave and which groom was Chris. To my defense, we’d only just met. But still… Not. Professional!

I was able to fake it by not looking at them when I spoke their names. Then, when we got to the big moment, I said something like, “Dave, this is it. Time for your vows. Please step forward.”

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Photo by Jennifer Kiewit

Chris on the left, Dave on the right.

Also, once, I had two brides named Rachel and Jennifer. I was terrified I’d mix them up. I told myself I could remember one particular woman’s name because she had hair like Jennifer Aniston’s on Friends. But then I got confused because I didn’t know if I was supposed to remember the actress Jennifer or her character Rachel. I gave up, and faked my way through again.

A Few Fun Facts

  • Shortest initial phone call to ceremony time: 20 minutes
  • Easiest replacement for non-existent rings: Matching temporary tattoos
  • Languages spoken by me in ceremonies: English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Hindi, Hebrew
  • Number of those languages I actually speak: 2
  • Number of weddings I’ve sung at (as an officiant): 3
  • Most unexpected moment: A giant dragonfly landed on the groom’s nose. He didn’t want to bother it, so we just left it there and continued on with the vows.
  • Number of outdoor ceremonies completely rained out: 1
  • Number of gently moist/slightly damp/excessively misty outdoor ceremonies: Too numerous to count.
  • Strangest location for a ceremony: Tossup between a big booth at a coffee shop and the back corner of a Bonsai tree expo.
  • Most urgent wedding: The bride was in active labor, and left for the hospital right after we finished.
  • Greatest size difference between me and the couple:
Seriously...

Photo by whomever was standing there

Biggest Resolvable Concern

“Has anyone ever broken down during a ceremony and not been able to continue because they were so emotional?”

Answer: Yes, it’s happened twice. Both times, it was a teenage girl reading “Oh The Places You’ll Go.” Fortunately, it’s an easy problem to avoid.

 

 

Naked Passion

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George and Amanda came out to my house to get married down by the riverside. Despite the ironic fact that Amanda is a divorce lawyer, they’re a classic example of young, hopeful, ambitious people psyched about each other and extremely happy to get married.

Except…they had a thing. Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up. No, let me digress and contextualize.

Having performed close to 350 ceremonies at this point, I’ve married A LOT of couples. A lot. I’ve worked with people who care deeply about each other, people who are insanely hot for each other, people who are good friends, people who still can’t figure out how they manage to make a relationship work, people who can barely stand each other but are getting married anyway, people who, in finding each other, have clearly saved each other’s lives.

I’ve married teens and grandparents. I’ve married people who don’t speak English. I’ve married couples who’ve been together a few months and couples who’ve been together 35 years. Gay, straight, trans, and, interestingly enough, a whole lot of dog lovers (though they weren’t marrying the dog).

Ok. You get the picture. I’ve seen a lot of love.

What stood out for me about George and Amanda was Amanda’s complete lack of guardedness when it came to her love for George. She had a kind of unbridled, gazillion-kilowatt passion for him which beamed out of her face like an exploding sun. Nothing tempered or held back about it. It was full-on, shared-with-the-world capital LUV.

Of course, what also stood out for me was the fact that George, who’s a quieter, less demonstrative kind of guy, seemed completely unperturbed by the amount of affection coming towards him. In fact, quite the opposite. He drank it in like a lost desert traveler with his head plunged into the pool at the oasis.

A lot of folks might think it would be great to be loved that much. But, I know people who would be a little overwhelmed by that much energy laser-beamed directly at them. They wouldn’t know how to take it in or how to respond if they weren’t that kind of Beamer themselves. Some might not think they deserved that much affection.

Not George. He’s clearly given her the message that she can’t possibly dig him too much, so go for it, Amanda. Beam til your guts ache and your face falls off. Knock yourself out.

It’s a rather cynical, rambunctiously contentious age we live in. So their juicy, complementary love mojo was an utterly beautiful thing to see.

Hearts Aflame, Minds Confused, Hands Fasted…

You will note from my previous entry, that my friends Allison and Holly, though excited to be getting married from the love-each-other-very-much perspective, they were more than a little dubious about participating in an institution which, up until very recently, had excluded them from its hallowed halls.

So, we all approached this ceremony a little differently. We, I would say, sauntered thoughtfully towards it.

Rather than sitting down with them to have a big, deep chat about their relationship, and all the different elements of a ceremony from which they might choose, we had a couple of philosophical email exchanges, and then I just showed up at their house with some text that they’d found about the novelist Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson, and a couple of props.

We hung out in their kitchen for about an hour just talking about their thoughts, issues, and desires to create a marriage which was reflective of them, and not any societal expectations for how anyone – gay or straight – should run a relationship.

Then we meditated for 10 minutes to ground ourselves, and wandered down a path through the woods behind their house to their Ceremony Tree. We lit a candle, shooed away a few mosquitoes, and began.

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Because they’d said they weren’t exchanging rings, I brought a beautiful strip of beaded leather that my best friend Jeannette made for my wedding lo, these many years ago, and turned the heart of the ceremony into a hand-fasting.

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Since Allison is a cartoonist and graphic novelist and Holly is a painter who also makes incredible compost bins, it seemed appropriate to focus some attention on their hands – tools with which they make manifest all manner of remarkable creations.

The dance of their partnership also made me think of (and remark upon) what we’ve learned this week about Pluto and Charon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pluto, it turns out, isn’t a planet with a moon named Charon. Pluto and Charon are actually a binary planet, as the focal point of their revolutions is between them. So rather than Charon orbiting around Pluto, they orbit around each other.

This seemed like a more than appropriate metaphor for an egalitarian partnership. Plus, you know, space.

Fortunately, everything seems to have worked according to our non-plan, as we made it through the ceremony with senses of both humor and honor intact

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It’s a remarkable moment for a person to find herself going from Outsider to Insider status – due to the long arc of history as much as personal development. And I know both these gals gave their choices as much compassion and conscious thought and deep discussion as they could, so that nothing would ever be taken for granted.

I have great faith in their ability to remain wholly themselves. And while in a certain sense they’re now Total Insiders, they still have hard-beating Rebel Hearts. And that – along with their deep regard for each other – is something which will never change.

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Strange Dream

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Ben, not knowing what’s coming.

This is my friend Ben. Great guy. Looks a little like Matt Damon.

I had a dream last night that I was heading up to northern Vermont to get married. It was somewhere kinda nowhere near the Canadian border.

When I got there, I found out that the person I was marrying was Ben (I didn’t know ahead of time), but he couldn’t be there for the ceremony.

So, the officiant agreed to let him call in.

What’s interesting (and a little more relevant than the prospect of us getting married near the Canadian border) is that while I’ve had friends and family Skype in for the occasion, I’ve never had that situation where someone wanted to wed via some form of telephony. But, I can imagine that, much like my Dream Officiant, I wouldn’t have a problem with it.

But I’d never actually thought about it before. Most people do like to be there in person.

Anyway, on with my day! Just thought I’d share.

 

Hearts Aflame, Minds Confused

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Allison and Holly and baseball.

Following the Supreme Court decision allowing same sex marriage, my friends Allison and Holly have finally decided to get hitched, and asked me to perform the ceremony.

They’re both excited to be marrying each other, but more than a little conflicted about entering into the institution itself. As Holly said, “Let us know if you have any words of advice or things to keep in mind. We’re taking this very seriously yet we’re both ambivalent about marriage and not very sentimental, and I think that is bearing out in our approach.”

This is what I said in my reply:

I hear you about your conflicted feelings. I think the thing to remember is that this, first and foremost, is about the two of you. While you may not be very sentimental, you did happen to bump souls, and you’ve chosen, quite happily, to be together as lovers, friends, and life partners. You take joy in hanging out together. You have fun together. You adventure well together. You look awesome in tuxedos together. And you love each other in a way which gives you a universe of intimacy between you.

You’re both brilliant, powerful, seriously no bullshit women, and you have managed to entwine your lives in the same way that whole galaxies can interweave and pass through each other – with eddies of gravitational attraction and total transformation – while still remaining utterly intact. You have a Big Red Love, and that’s what really matters.

No, the government shouldn’t have Word One to say about the “legality” or “legitimacy” of relationships. Nor should any other kind of institution. No, our culture shouldn’t have its undies in a bunch about any kind of sexuality. It’s utterly absurd. But that’s just the way it is. Just like the fact that we have to pay taxes and allow ourselves to age and die with a modicum of grace, and accept the reality of Fox News and doofusy people like Scott Walker, Donald Trump, and the KKK.

Well, you know what? Fuck ’em. Fuck ’em all. Play the game. As Robert Heinlein said, rub blue mud in your bellybutton if that’s what everyone else is doing, and then get on with your lives. You’re at the fulcrum of a remarkable moment in our cultural history. And not only that, you’re an intimate part of it. So, enjoy it. Love each other. Eat cake. Party hard. And then get up in the morning and go do more great things.

It’s truly how I feel. Marriage is what happens between two people as they’re living their lives together, and very little to do with what happens at the altar, or as a consequence of a piece of paper being signed.

However it’s also a part of our culture and legal system and that emotional part of our lizard brain which barely knows from rational.

So, we follow our hearts and make our peace with the contradictions. Some of us make it legal. Some of us could not begin to be bothered.

But life is a hard and challenging and frequently struggle-filled business. Finding someone you love, who makes your toes curl and your heart sing and your life a little happier…that’s something to be celebrated one way or another. It just is.

Slipper-Sliding Away…

IMG_3761Amy and Andrew met while taking a class at Johnson State College. The attraction was immediate. They started dating. Amy got pregnant. They decided to get married. Fairly straightforward trajectory. Or as they told me, “We’re pretty laid back people.”

They gathered a bunch of their closest family and friends at Nye’s Green Valley Farm Bed and Breakfast in Jeffersonville, and held the ceremony in a gorgeous refurbished barn on the property known as The Apartment:

When I arrived, everyone was hanging around, eating food…

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…Comparing Amy’s pregnant belly with her sister’s (who’s a month or so farther along) and gazing out at the gorgeous winter landscape.

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I also noticed that this was a Shoes Off place and everyone was adhering to the rules – even Amy, who was decked out in a gorgeous dress, and bedroom slippers.

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Seriously. Slippers.

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I told her I’ve had brides in Crocs, Wellies, cowboy boots, and barefoot, but slippers were a first.

Well, actually, there were a couple people in shoes – most notably, another sister, for whom her heels mattered more than the refurbished pine floors:

IMG_3748Not me, though. I had my formal wool Darn Tough Socks on.

IMG_3767I swear, I wouldn’t have made it this far through the winter without them.

Anyway, ceremony pulled off with nary a hitch and I wish these two – and their soon-to-be little baboo – all the best!

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Thousands Of Words

1000 words

In going through my files, records, archives, and phone pix, I realized that I have a lot of wedding shots from ceremonies which I never managed to post anything about. The Officiant’s Life can be a busy one!

So, I thought I’d share a little Gallery Of The Woefully Ignored. Ignored they are no longer!

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