Saving the Best for Last

It’s hard to believe I’ve been married almost twenty-two years, but as anyone in middle age can attest, time is sneaky, creeping past you undetected until something draws your attention to it—like when you’re talking to another adult about how when you were in college, Windows operating systems hadn’t been invented yet, and he’s like, “I know what you mean. When I was in college, Facebook was only for students, not the whole population,” and you realize that this ‘peer’ you’re talking to is fifteen years younger than you.

But nothing highlights the passage of time more than being asked to officiate a wedding, for who else but an old dowager would be given that honor? Last year, I had to decline such a request because I learned that being ordained, even online, might compromise my standing in my own church. Yesterday, however, I had another opportunity to perform a wedding, as the couple had already gotten legally married, so my participation was purely symbolic.

It was a joy to participate in such a beautiful, relaxed, yet momentous occasion (in Maui, no less!), and although I was the one standing there doing all the talking, I felt that all of us attending were playing the crucial role of bearing witness to an act of courage. Because that’s what marriage is these days. It takes a lot of faith to stand there and proclaim your assertion that things will work out, especially when they haven’t in the past. When you’ve got kids involved it’s even more audacious an act. But the great thing about getting older is that you have the perspective to look back and see that everything that has happened in the past has brought you exactly where you are now—in this case, standing on Haleakala, looking out on the glorious Pacific, surrounded by loved ones.

Marriage is so brave because it is essentially a creative act. It says, “I won’t just react; I will create. I will create this new entity, this new space, where our lives come together. A space big enough and flexible enough to encompass us and our families, able to expand and bend along with changing circumstances and goals. As Kahlil Gibran put it so beautifully, “Let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.”

I like to think of this new space as a sandbox where we come together with our chosen playmate to work together and build our castles. I didn’t truly understand this when I got married at age 24. I knew I was in love and that I was committed, and most of all, I had been through enough to know that when something truly good came along, you cherished it. I didn’t think about the sandbox, and I’ve certainly thrown my fair share of sand, but somehow I knew intrinsically not to get out of the box. Because what was beyond it was just another box, and more sand.

Our wedding was a traditional Greek ceremony, and it couldn’t have been more different than the simple gathering that I just officiated. If you’ve ever been to a Greek wedding, you know they are full of joy and dancing and eating and drinking and enthusiastic proclamations of life and love. But the ceremony itself is long, made even longer by the incomprehensible (to me, at least) recitations in Greek, as well as the fact that everything is done three times in order to symbolize the holy trinity: the flower crowns are crossed three times over the heads, the couple walks three times around the altar and drinks three times from the holy cup.

Some parts are sung in English, however, and those are my favorite. Not because I can understand the words, but because the canter usually chants these sections in monotone, with the only variation in melody taking place at the end of the line, when the final syllable dips down. It can give an unintentionally comic overtone to a serious subject, like the story of Jesus turning water into wine, which is chanted near the end of the ceremony. According to the gospel, Jesus attended a wedding where they tragically ran out of alcohol. So he asked that jugs be filled with water, and when the host poured the water, it became wine. The man turned to the bridegroom and said, “Most men serve the good wine fi–irst, and when men have drunk freely they serve the poor wine. You have saved the best wine for la—ast. It is truly a mir—acle.”

Whenever it’s time for that part I always snicker a little, but that tale is especially significant in context of two people getting married in middle age, as my friends did yesterday. For they have saved the best wine for last, and that truly is a miracle.