Archive for the ‘wedding’ Category

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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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Blood Wedding

October 21, 2011

It was to be a day of joy, the union of two good friends in marriage. When it began, I didn’t know fate would have my path cross that of a young man of such great ill fortune. I never even knew his name, but his spilled blood still stains my memory of that day.

Charlie and Lucy were to be wed in the chapel at Seton Hall University on the campus where my circle of friends had all met. Since I’d recently returned from overseas, I was in a period of transition, living in my childhood room at my parent’s house in Bergenfield. I had no car and thus was forced to take a complex and circuitous route to get to South Orange. This entailed a bus ride across the George Washington Bridge, a subway to 42nd Street, another bus from the Port Authority Terminal to Irvington, ending in a walk through Ivy Hill Park to the chapel in the center of campus.

The trip began uneventfully enough, but something went terribly awry. As the downtown A train was pulling into the 42nd St. station, it suddenly jolted to a squealing halt with most of the cars, including mine, not yet out of the tunnel. I could see through the window that the next car had made it into the station, so I went there. Since I was running late, I exited between cars despite the posted warning against doing so. As I stepped onto the platform, I saw him right there in front of me. It was an image I can’t forget.

The young man was awkwardly sitting on the floor next to the subway car in a huge pool of  blood. One leg was bent beneath him, the other pinned at the thigh between the platform and the subway car. His face was a ghastly white, his terrified eyes staring down in agonized disbelief, all the while rocking, rocking, and repeating trancelike in a low moan, “Oh God, oh God, oh God,” over and over again.

I stumbled back, both horrified and transfixed by the sight, as a transit cop rushed over and started applying a tourniquet. In numbed shock, I made my way up the steps to head for the bus terminal, peering back as a crowd gathered around the drama that was unfolding below. The bus ride to Irvington was a blur as the horrific scene replayed itself in my mind. Who was that poor guy? How could something like that happen? And so much blood — could he possibly survive?

Being with friends at the wedding was a good salve for my shaken soul, but I remained distracted. The following day, I hurried to the local newspaper vendor to buy a Daily News to see if there was any information about the incident. Indeed there was, buried way back on page 48.

The young man was from a small town in Pennsylvania. He had recently returned home unscathed from a tour of duty in Vietnam. To celebrate his safe return, he decided to go into the Big Apple, something he had never done in his short life. Finding himself on the wrong side of the track to go downtown and unfamiliar with the stairway system to cross over, he had jumped onto the tracks, run across (amazingly without contacting the deadly third rail), and was climbing up the platform wall when my train pulled in, pinning and crushing his leg. The article went on to say that the leg had to be amputated, but he was expected to survive.

As it turned out, Charlie and Lucy’s marriage did not survive, ending in divorce several years later, perhaps another victim of ill fate. But I couldn’t stop thinking about how someone could get through the extreme travails of war only to be maimed in that fashion back home and the odd manner in which I had come to witness it. I wonder sometimes what became of this young man, if he was bitter about what happened, or did he count his blessings to have lived.

I occasionally told this story to my students in school when discussing the role of fate in the play Romeo and Juliet. There are two sides to consider. The decisions of those involved can be seen as the direct cause of the consequences that followed. However, the series of events that placed them in the position in which they found themselves sometimes seems inexplicable but for destiny. Who knows for sure? Either way, my recollection of Charlie and Lucy’s wedding is forever entwined with the blood of an unfortunate young man on the platform of that New York subway station.

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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.