I Do. We will.
For ten years, we had been living happily in biblical sin. Neither of us had ever been married. One of us had a child. Both of us were sixty. Together we had been through the spin cycles of multiple relationships. We were doing quite well without marriage. With no finger-wagging relatives about, and societal pressures at a relaxed yawn, why get married? Some say the only necessary precondition is love. Some say it’s a laundry list of reasons ranging from Assets to Zip codes. I accepted love as the foundation, but I still needed to understand the core reasons for a wedding ceremony. I never fully grasped what those reasons were, until much later.
We’d had the good fortune to be bi-residential. We worked like professional dogs, and lived in our New York City apartment. On weekends, we would escape to our modest Sag Harbor home. Eventually, the engine that powered the city existence ran out of gas. I’m not sad. I considered it a Darwinian lesson in evolution. As the percentage of our time in the city decreased, the balance tilted towards home and marriage. I’m convinced there is a strong causal relationship between home and marriage. Home is the epicenter of domestic affection. The nesting instinct is a powerful urge set in motion by primordial genetic codes. It will not be side tracked from its evolutionary purpose.
For us, marriage was never about the celebration. Let’s face it. Wedding parties are a hoot ‘n’ a holler — at least for the guests. Those that plan these events can easily spiral into cataclysmic dysfunction. I’ve witnessed benign symbols of love transformed into lethal weapons. Guest lists, wedding dresses, flowers and food, can create a deadly marriage minefield. I needed something to provide stability. A church service seemed like the answer.
On a beautiful fall day, we planned our church search like a tour of the North Fork Vineyards.
GET IN CAR — DRIVE — GET OUT OF CAR – TASTE…
GET IN CAR — DRIVE — GET OUT OF CAR — TASTE…
REPEAT AS OFTEN AS NECESSARY.
Our first stop was St. John’s Episcopalian church on Main Street, Southampton. It remains relatively untouched for well over one hundred and fifty years. It boasts a modest stucco exterior, and a magnificent pipe organ. The construction displayed none of that “fear-of-GOD” architecture. It seemed cozy and humble.
We drove to the church and waited for the service to end. At noon, the wooden doors flew open, but instead of a random dispersal of humanity, something unusual happened. Every single person, young and old, formed a line to touch, kiss, or hug the pastor. No one sneaked out the emergency exits. No one bolted out the back door. To the contrary, the service was not over until every parishioner paid his or her respects to the man in the robes.
We decided right then and there, the search was over. This was the church, and the man in the robes was the man.
We made an appointment to see him the following Monday.
His office was filled with literature, and his desk was cluttered. One could not help but notice that every available wall space was covered with clocks of all shapes and sizes. No one needed to ask him if he had the time. He had that easy southern manner that made you feel like fried chicken and a root beer.
He looked up, five fingertips meeting the other five. “How can I help you folks?”
I spoke up. “Well — let’s start with, what do we call you? Father? Pastor? Or…”
“Peter.” He smiled: “Just call me Peter.”
My girl spoke next. “Peter, we’d like to get married, and a church wedding is important to us — but I must be honest, how do you feel about marrying a lapsed Methodist and a Jew?”
He paused and said, “Don’t worry, we Episcopalians will take almost anyone…do you want to get married tomorrow?”
“Whoa! — We’re only in the planning stages…”
“Ah, I see,” said Peter, “Well, maybe you can tell me something about yourselves? Can each of you describe the other person?”
He smiled and waited for our response.
It’s not that what he asked us to do was difficult, but no one had ever asked us to write an ad for the other person. It does require some consideration.
Just as we were about to pitch each other’s good points, all clocks simultaneously struck eleven. The room descended into animated chaos. There was an explosion of chimes and mechanical clicks.
Bavarian axe cutters emerged from the Black forest, kaftan-clad Cossacks danced about the clock hands, milkmaids were a-milkin’, and coo-coo birds were a coo-cooing. It was an atonal symphony that would make Bela Bartok blush. We were stunned into silence.
“Sorry,” he said, “I guess I’m used to it. Eleven o’clock is show time around here.”
We all laughed.
He could not have been a more charming representative of all the reasons why religion is a good thing. As the interview wrapped up, I asked him how much he would charge to marry us. He said, “No charge. It would be my pleasure.”
We set the date for December eighth. There is no prettier place on earth than the Hampton’s during the Christmas season. The towns go from simply beautiful hamlets, to magical Rockwellian paradises. We arrived at the chapel, just as a winter sky was blending dusk to dark. Inside were two Christmas trees, one on each side of the altar, adorned with strings of white lights. The aisles were lined with wreaths, and Peter had lit the candles atop all the pews. We had supplied a truckload of orchids that filled the room with the sweet smell of jasmine. Three different couples were invited as witnesses. Although spiritually and legally it’s mandatory, it was our pleasure to include some dear friends. With candles flickering, and a light snow kissing the ground, the ceremony started.
It began as it always has and always will …“We are gathered here today in the sight of God to join this man and this woman in holy matrimony…” and most of us know the rest of that ceremonial sequence. But something happened that even veterans of holy matrimony never experienced. Peter turned to the witnesses, and taking them all by surprise, he asked them to make a public vow to uphold our union. It was a stealth demand of fealty. I think I saw a cheek twitch and someone wince. Little did they know that when they accepted the invitation, they were agreeing to a lifetime commitment. Nonetheless, our “I do” was augmented by their “We Will.” The rings were exchanged, the vows were given, and with a final pronouncement, we were married.
Eight years have now passed. The recollections of our wedding have been carefully deposited in a memory bank. We’ve joined the Episcopalian church, making me the only known Episco-Jew in the congregation…(or Jewcopalian if you prefer). As for my wife and I, we have actually become the central characters in the new reality show, “Happily Ever After.” And at last, I can say, that I’ve finally figured out the answer to the question, why get married?
The answer lies in what transpires when words spring from the lips and swan dive into the pool of public air. For me, those wedding words of love and commitment need to be heard to become credible. When words break free of their constraints, they become bonded to their meaning. When they bond to their meaning, they gain validity and strength. Without that bond, words are just rudderless vessels, no wind to fill their sails, and no stars to guide them. Let the words swirl forth in vibrating air columns. Let the words fall on open ears. Set them free so they may one day live happily ever after, and resonate for eternity.