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Let Us Be Mangrove Trees

August 23, 2011

Weddings are a time-honored ceremony to which most of us are exposed from the time we are young, through stories and pictures if not in person. Growing up, I assumed they were all pretty much a standard affair. I have since discovered they come, like the people who participate in them, in all different varieties. I went to one such wedding not too long ago.

It was a Buddhist ceremony involving a Chinese nurse who worked with my wife and a Jewish doctor. The day got off to an inauspicious start as the drive to the Chinatown in Flushing, Queens (I didn’t even know such a thing existed) was horrendous. There was a street festival on 2nd Avenue, and it took an hour to get crosstown and into the Midtown Tunnel. We therefore arrived late; the ceremony on the top floor of the Sheraton Hotel had already begun. There were only two seats left in the very back row, which was fine with me because that put us right next to the three musicians playing enchantingly exotic traditional Chinese music.

The ceremony was wonderful, a combination of mystical and meditative elements with the simplicity and efficiency that, in my opinion, the occasion calls for. A program was given, listing, with charmingly incorrect grammar,  the events in the following manner:

1 Commencement of ceremony

2 Witnessing Venerable enter the ceremony hall

3 Groomsman an Best man enters the ceremony hall

4  Parents of the Groom and Groom enters the ceremony hall

We arrived at item 7, Chanting of Incense Prayer, Heart Sutra, and Transfer of Merits. This was the mystical and meditative part. The Venerable, a four foot eight inch tall Buddhist monk, chanted while gentle gongs sounded and incense wafted about the altar. Item 17 was Singing the Song of Blessings, an audience participation item, with lyrics provided in Chinese and English:

“Guests are welcomed by fragrances of flowers, and the air is filled with happiness.

In the midst of eternal love, let us always unite as one.

Let us help and love each other and respect our parents at the same time.

Improve ourselves with the Dharma and establish a good family.

As the sun rises, green leaves appear, this vast earth is blessed by spring.

In the midst of eternal love, let us be a pair of sparrows that flies side by side.

Let us love ourselves and others because all beings are one.

Practicing the Dharma together and be helpful to other people.

While the moon shines upon the red flower, the singing of the birds are lively.

In the midst of eternal love, let us be a pair of Mangrove trees that support each other.

Let us be kind and compassionate to each other and be models for all humankind.

Have sincere faith in the Dharma, and pass it from generation to generation.”

I thought it was beautiful, the message poetically transcending both culture and religion. Final item: 21, End of Ceremony. All in about forty minutes.

The reception was unusual as well, at least by my Italian wedding standards. Alcohol was served only at the cocktail hour, and during the reception a ten course Chinese banquet was served at the tables while the Jewish guests helped themselves to a Kosher buffet.

The meal was wonderful, but the reception ceremonies were nothing short of an abomination. It was like one of those tacky Japanese game shows you can find on cable TV with a garishly dressed and obnoxious MC intrusively foisting audience participation “activities” on a rather stunned group of guests (especially the bride’s rather proper family). It was like an overly long Saturday Night Live skit gone terribly wrong. As the next day was a work day, we left early,  missing the Grand Finale, which was probably a blessing based on what preceded.

The unintentional comedy of the reception aside, I suppose this wedding reinforces the status of the continuing diversity of this great nation. But more than that, to me it serves as an affirmation that love does conquer all.

There are so many barriers between people that sometimes seem insurmountable: social class, ethnic background, religion, cultural differences. Love has always proven to be the way past them, whether it takes the form of simple friendship or full-blown romance. In this tumultuous shrinking world of ours, this is a commodity that is more essential than ever if we are to survive as a species.

So I say mazal tov and gong xi to this couple and congratulations to all others in whatever language is necessary, for there can be few celebrations greater than that of this most intimate and important of bonds between us. Let us all strive to be those Mangrove trees supporting one another. Then each of us who believes that love indeed conquers all can be models for all humankind. Perhaps peace may just follow.

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