Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Wedding in Three Acts

     Act I
     Our first wedding was beautiful.  It happened on a sunny September afternoon on a farm with 125 supportive friends and family members surrounding us.  People traveled to our Carolina celebration from as far away as Boston, Delaware, Pittsburgh, and Pensacola.  We rented a huge tent, bought tablecloths, sewed table runners, and topped every conceivable surface with mason jars crammed with local wildflowers.  A food truck catered dinner, and we made little paper bag lunches for the kids.  At the fire pit, guests roasted s'mores, and as the sun went down folks gathered around the fire to play instruments.  Aside from people who like to dance (We, being your typical uncoordinated white people, had neglected to even think about providing a proper space and proper music for dancing.), everyone had a great time and lots to do.
     The ceremony was sweet, too.  Danielle got choked up saying her vows, and I saw glimpses of many of our guests getting teary-eyed as well.  The words we spoke were beautiful.  I love you.  I trust you.  I delight in you.  For my part, I avoided any kind of emotional expression by obsessing over the amount of gnats resting on my arm on this muggy, late-summer day.  I felt like I had pin pricks in my skin running all the way from my shoulders to my wrists and wasn't sure what to do about it.  I'm no Emily Post, but I'm pretty certain it isn't good form for a bride to swat at bugs and flail her arms incessantly while solemnly swearing  faithfully to love and support another person for the rest of her life.  (And can you imagine how the pictures would look?)
     Gnats aside, it was a lovely day.  We got to visit with friends we hadn't seen in a long time, receive countless hugs and well-wishes, have fabulous hair, and feel incredibly validated and affirmed.  Our outdoor wedding had no trace of rain, and our guests lingered to talk, eat, drink wine, play music, and just savor the last remnants of summer.  It was pretty much perfect.
     However, legally speaking, our vows held the weight of a heaping helping of diddly-squat.
     There have been many times when this fact has angered and saddened me.  The extreme of unfairness of denying marriage rights and protections to same-sex couples is downright infuriating.     
     And yet, today I feel grateful.
     Why the change of heart?  Because on February 14, 2015, I got the chance to say my vows all over again.  And it was even better.
     The road to being able to legally marry in our state was a windy one.  Less than three years ago, our state passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.  Danielle and I had serious talks about moving from a home we love- and living farther away from our families- in order to reside in a state where we could legally wed.  Temporarily, our love of place and family won out and we stayed put, but we were left feeling vulnerable in the absence of legal rights.  We discussed traveling to Maryland over the summer to obtain a legal marriage license, but we knew the futility of such a trip: the license would be null and void as soon as we crossed over the state line.
     So we carried on in this state (no pun intended) of legal limbo for some time.  Then, one day this past November we started seeing Facebook posts about gay marriage becoming legal in our state.  Perhaps past experiences had conditioned us against optimism because our first response to the news was incredulity. Surely there was a catch.  Perhaps this was one organization's take on a recent court ruling and not the voice of the state speaking.  Yet post after post kept popping up in our feeds.  Apparently, a regional court ruling coupled with our Attorney General's refusal to defend the state's gay marriage ban had indeed paved the way for us to legally marry on our home soil.  We were, of course, thrilled but also shocked.  We had no inkling that a court ruling was in the works.  There was no gripping story line we were following, no waiting with bated breath.  The day we had long been waiting for had arrived, but anticlimactically so. 
Act II
     Fast forward to December 31, 2014.  To end the year, Danielle and I paid a visit to the Register of Deeds office two counties away to obtain a marriage license, although the getting there almost jeopardized our relationship. (Okay, not really, but it makes for an entertaining story.)
     On one of our last days off for winter break, Danielle and I decided to make it official and headed to a county office about an hour from our house to take care of the legal paperwork.  We did this for two reasons.  First, we wanted to avoid getting our names in the local small-town paper, and secondly, the other county has better restaurants.  So we decided to have a celebratory brunch at one of our favorite breakfast spots.  En route, we stopped by our local health department so that I could get my blood drawn as part of preparation for an upcoming surgery.  This blood panel involved fasting, something I don't do well.  After getting blood drawn, Danielle drove my coffee-deprived, empty-stomached self an hour down the road to get a much-needed hearty brunch. 
     Something to know about me: I am an eater.  I do not skip meals.  I do not forget to eat.  How does a person forget to eat?  That's like pushing a gas-depleted car down the road for miles and then saying, "I didn't know the tank was empty."  I could be asked to sing in a concert with Patty Griffin and Emmylou Harris, my two all-time music idols, and I would make sure I had a pre-concert snack.  By the end of the show, I'd also be hoping the ladies would wrap up all their unnecessary singing so we could go out and get a nice dinner.  I'd be planning possible restaurant options and thinking about what I might order in each establishment.  When I am hungry, food pretty much trumps everything.
     All this is to say that Danielle found herself in a pretty precarious position that late morning in December when we arrived at our destination only to discover our restaurant of choice to be packed and overflowing with customers waiting outside in the cold just to get a table.  Outside.  In the cold.  I can't remember my exact response, but I'm certain I did not handle this well.  On our way there, we had passed another breakfast place I was interested in trying, so we decided to go there instead.  However, my warped sense of direction caused me to advise Danielle to park about a mile away from the aforementioned restaurant.  We walked several blocks in the cold and wind before confirming my error, so we had to get back in the car and drive our caffeine- and carb-craving selves to a closer parking space.  When we finally arrived, we discovered a line, but at least this one was indoors only.  The place was crowded and cramped, and we were a little grouchy because we didn't know the procedures and couldn't find a menu.  In other words, it was a wonderfully romantic start to our wedding proceedings.
     Eventually, a menu got passed our way, we chose wondrously decadent meals and fancy coffee drinks, and we shared a cozy meal together.  Danielle took photographs of the designs in our ultra-creamy lattes, and I loaded a biscuit with innovative toppings like tomato jam and strawberry-rhubarb preserves.  My hunger satisfied, more sane feelings like gratitude and joy rose to the surface of my consciousness.  Now that our blood sugar levels were stabilized and our capacity for being loving wives was restored, Danielle and I walked starry-eyed back into the cool air and headed for the office of the Register of Deeds.
     This should be the ending of this part of our happy story, but our legal paperwork-y day included an unexpected twist: a visit to the bank.  (You know how the song goes, "Goin' to the chapel and also to the bank, and we're gonna get ma-a-a-ried"?  Yeah, me neither.)
     When we reached the Register of Deeds' office, we were greeted warmly and congratulated by one of the office workers.  She asked if we were getting married in the state within the next 60 days, which we confirmed.  "Great," she said, "then all I need to see is your driver's license and Social Security card."  I opened my wallet and produced both of these items, but Danielle said, "What?"  She had her driver's license, but her Social Security card was in a lock box at home....an hour's drive away.  The lady at the front desk then suggested that she could also accept another item with Danielle's name and Social Security number on it, an insurance card perhaps?
     You would be amazed by how many personal documents do not contain your Social Security number.  In general, this is a good thing, but it was most inconvenient at this specific moment.
     Finally, the woman at the desk suggested a last-ditch solution.  If we banked at a local bank, we could get a typed letter on company letterhead listing Danielle's name, address, and Social Security number.  This solution was workable, and as luck would have it, Danielle's bank was just a couple of blocks away from the Register of Deeds' office.  So we moseyed down the street to obtain the letter, took a selfie in front of the bank, and returned to complete our legal paperwork.
     In keeping with the anticlimactic nature of our same-sex marriage, filling out the requisite paperwork was a breeze.  In fact, I'm a bit disturbed by how easy it is to get married.  There are virtually no hoops to jump through, unless you are no longer able to recall such basic personal information as your address or your mother's name.  (In which case, you may have some more pressing matters to attend to.)  Paperwork obtained, we were ready to embark on the final step of our legal wedding: the ceremony.  Because we wanted to have close friends and family around for this final step, we opted not to go to the Justice of the Peace and instead contacted our priest.  We were ready to set a date.
     In choosing a date for our legal and final wedding, we had no particular preference within the 60-day timespan, so we asked our priest what dates might work for him.  He offered up a lineup of Saturdays, but one stood out: February 14th, Valentine's Day.
     Valentine's Day has never been a favorite holiday for either Danielle or me.  In high school, my friends and I referred to the date as "Singles Awareness Day," and my college dorm friends and I even created a fake sorority, DDW (Dateless Dirty Whores) to commemorate the day.  I have never craved gifts of roses, giant cards, and stuffed animals, and I doubt I ever will.  Still, Danielle and I never pass up a holiday that might allow us to go out for a fancy dinner date, so we do observe Valentine's Day as a couple these days.
     Danielle and I already have two anniversaries we celebrate.  The first, on September 17th, marks when we officially became a couple.  When planning the first wedding ceremony, we had hoped to use that date, but the venue we wanted was not available at that time.  Therefore, the anniversary of our first wedding falls on September 24th.  Not looking for another anniversary date to remember, Valentine's Day worked perfectly for us.  It was a date when we would go out for dinner anyway and a date the card industry won't let us easily forget.  Besides, we could do worse than publically professing our love for one another on a day dedicated to the celebration of love.
     This second ceremony was so much easier to plan than the first.  Just a few friends and family members were invited, and we decided to do a potluck brunch for an after party.  Because of the new state laws, our sweet, small, and simply beautiful Episcopal church was available as the location of our same-sex marriage ceremony.  Our kind and patient priest gathered the appropriate liturgy for a marriage service and generously accommodated our last-minute decisions regarding readings and music.  I found a passage from Rabbi Harold Kushner that I felt summed up our relationship, and when I read it aloud and it made Danielle cry, I knew it belonged in our service:
"I was sitting on a beach one summer day, watching two children, a boy and a girl, playing in the sand.  They were hard at work building an elaborate sand castle by the water's edge, with gates and towers and moats and internal passages.  Just when they had nearly finished their project, a big wave came along and knocked it down, reducing it to a heap of wet sand.  I expected the children to burst into tears, devastated by what had happened to all their hard work.  But they surprised me.  Instead, they ran up the shore away from the water, laughing and holding hands, and sat down to build another castle.  I realized that they had taught me an important lesson.  All the things in our lives, all the complicated structures we spend so much time and energy creating, are built on sand.  Only our relationships to other people endure.  Sooner or later, the wave will come along and knock down what we have worked so hard to build up.  When that happens, only the person who has somebody's hand to hold will be able to laugh."
     My parents, who were tremendously supportive of our first wedding, seemed even more excited about the legal ceremony.  My mom called me multiple times to ask what they could bring for the brunch, if they could bring a cake, and what colors should be on the cake.  I think every daughter wants her mom to be involved in her wedding, and it was so nice to experience her enthusiasm and joy about our big day.  My folks also read the readings we selected for the day, and they teared up in all the right places.  Our one regret from our first wedding was that we didn't have a toast, so we got my parents to give a toast as part of our brunch.  They said very heartfelt and meaningful things, and one of my friends confessed that she had to reach for another tissue each time my parents got up to speak.  The whole thing was very, very sweet.
     Danielle outdid herself by making platters and platters full of food for the brunch.  My mother felt so sorry for her slaving away in the kitchen, and Danielle tried to explain the phenomena of actually liking to cook, an affinity that does not seem to run in our family.  Danielle also took the day off of work before the wedding and bought tons of flowers for decoration.  (Another benefit of a February 14th wedding- there is no shortage of access to flowers.)  Most of what she purchased were live plants, so her gardening wife looks forward to planting our wedding hydrangeas, Lenten roses, Calla Lilies, and azaleas very soon!  It will be lovely to walk around our yard, see the plants in bloom, and remember our special day.
     And what a special day it was!  Surrounded by arched wooden ceilings, glorious natural light, and the beaming faces of our dear ones, we said our vows. This time, I wasn't thinking about gnats.  I wasn't worried about how long it would take to clean up or even how I would look in the pictures.  In this quiet, holy place, I focused on looking into my wife's eyes.  I cried happy tears freely and openly.  I was present.  I paid attention to the words I said.  Again, the words were beautiful: I do.  I will.
     I still mean them, and I always will.

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