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Like Young Lovers Do

November 5, 2013

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Mark and Maggie got married.

Each followed a long and sometimes trying path to arrive at this most blessed event. Only they know all of the twists and turns and sometimes dark corners through which they had to journey. But Mark and Maggie found each other. The strands of their lives wove together to merge in love and harmony, and this joyful union became a reality.

How I became involved in this marriage is a story I can tell, one with its own twists and turns.

I have known Mark and Maggie since their arrival many years ago at the school in which I taught. Mark started as a substitute and then got a position as a reading teacher. Maggie was initially a first grade teacher, then moved up to fourth, and eventually ended up as the seventh grade English teacher. Both of them are terrific teachers, the kind you would want your own kids to have. They are funny and kind, insightful and resilient, patient and honest, and beloved by all. They are my friends, and I am forever grateful for that.

Char is also my friend. She was from Paterson (as was Mark, as fate would have it). I met Char on the other side of the world when we both served as volunteers in the Peace Corps. Life separated us for three decades until the technological miracle of the internet enabled us to reconnect. I am forever grateful for that as well.

Char is a master story teller, and about a year ago she told me the tale of how she married two of her friends in California, where she now lives. And how exactly does one do that? By becoming an ordained minister. Online. Just like that, one can be the means by which young lovers can legally be joined in wedlock. At that time she told me that I should do the same because one never knows. I merely chuckled at the thought.

This spring a group of friends with whom I taught met for dinner. I don’t see them as often since my retirement, so I relished the thought of the evening together for we always have a good old time. However, it was to be more eventful than I had expected. Over cocktails and out of the blue, Maggie announced that she and Mark would be getting married. Amongst all the oohs and ahhs, the suggestion sprang forth (I honestly don’t even remember from whom) “Why doesn’t Donald marry you!”

So what are the chances that this would progress beyond this seemingly flippant comment during dinner? Well, Maggie and Mark liked the idea. They would not be getting married in a church. I have been good friends of both for many years. So why not Donald?

And that brings us back to Char. The following day I returned to my old e-mails and found the website she had sent me. There it was. The Universal Life Church.

And just what is the Universal Life Church you may be asking? Well, so did I.

It turns out that this is no fly-by-night organization (depending, of course, on how liberally you want to interpret “fly-by-night”). There are many prestigious people who are and have been ministers of the ULC. The list is as long as it is diverse, including Conan O’Brien, Bryan Cranston, Ray Bolger, Hunter Thompson, Mae West, Paul Newman, Richard Branson, and all four Beatles. OK, so one must liberally interpret “prestigious” as well. But the mission statement of the ULC is quite admirable in any case:

“The Universal Life Church strongly believes in the rights of all people from all faiths to practice their religious beliefs, regardless of what those beliefs are, be they Christian, Jew, Gentile, Agnostic, Atheist, Buddhist, Shinto, Pagan, Wiccan, Druid or even Dignity Catholics; so long as they do not infringe upon the rights of others and are within the law of the land and one’s conscience.”

Not bad, huh? Except maybe for those stinking Pagans. But I digress.

I proceeded to get ordained myself. It was a grueling process during which I had to memorize passages from the Old and New Testaments, the Torah, the Koran, and the Upanishads…oh, wait a minute…that was to join the Masonic Lodge. But I did have to fill out an online application. And so on May 5 of this year, I joined the ranks of the ordained with this official e-mail notification:

“Let it be known on this date that in accordance with the laws of the Universal Life Church Monastery, as ordaining officer, I, Brother Martin, do ordain you into our ministry. From this day forward, you are entitled to all of the rights of an ordained minister. You have the authority to perform marriages, baptisms, and all other ceremonies of the church. You are an independent minister of this church. This is a position that carries with it a burden of responsibility; please respect others and comply with the laws of the land.”

So, on November 1, I joined in wedlock Mark and Maggie. The wedding was held outdoors. It rained all morning, but the skies cleared for them, and with the backdrop of the changing autumn leaves, Mark and Maggie walked down the aisle together.

In spite of not getting a chance to rehearse, the ceremony went smoothly (except for me not signaling the guests to be seated, quickly rescued by Gil, the groundskeeper, who did so quite gracefully, I was informed). It included several readings by Maggie’s nieces and nephew: an invocation of blessings from the Four Directions, a Celtic Blessing, and the beautiful Maya Angelou poem “Touched by an Angel.” I managed to slip in a few poetry excerpts too (oh, those English teachers). Mark and Maggie exchanged vows which they had prepared themselves, wonderful vows that came from the heart and moved many of us to tears.

I pronounced them Husband and Wife in my most reverent and official voice. They then turned to walk hand in hand into their new lives together, looking happy and beautiful beyond words, beaming from within. Like young lovers do.

And I am forever grateful for that.

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