Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Somewhere Over the Red Ball

This is cool. I am actually typing this as the kids and I soar to Florida to celebrate my father's and step-mother's 80th birthdays later this month. Technology has a few up sides.

But the human connection is what matters most, which is why I officiate at weddings. My "career" began in 1997, after my then co-worker and friend, Samantha, asked me to perform her wedding ceremony with Evan.

"You seem like you'd be fun," she said, clearly misguided. "And you're Jewish, which will make Evan's parents happy because he's marrying a Catholic girl."

Their wedding was a downright hoot. Evan's father told me before the wedding that he loved Samantha, but that his son could've had any "piece of a** he wanted."

I was, um, shocked.

The ceremony was really an excuse to continue the happy hour that'd begun a few hour earlier. Verna, who was pregnant with Miguel at the time, and I were among the very, very few people who were even sober the entire evening.

During the toasts after the ceremony, Evan's father shared how Evan and Samantha had met in high school. "I'd come into his room late at night," he said, "and he'd be under the cover, moaning..."

Verna and I exchanged glances. Did he just say what we think he did?

But after the ceremony, Evan's mom came over to me and said, "When you recited that blessing in Hebrew, I was in tears."

I didn't do another wedding for a year. I needed time to recover from Evan's father. I was outside the Jewish Community Center when I bumped into Dina, another former teaching colleague. I'd heard she was getting married so I said, "Congratulations."

She mumbled a thank you, almost looking away from me.

"What's the matter?" I asked.

"Well, we don't have anyone to do the ceremony."

"I can do it," I said.


Since 1997 I have officiated at more than two dozen weddings. And every couple is still together. I have officiated for friends, former students, strangers whom I will never see again, and I am doing one in Napa in mid-May with two people who seem ready to adopt me. I have done services in hotels, restaurants, country clubs, and in the living room of my neighbors. I did one right outside my home for a couple, both from Mexico, whom we met at the park. I literally snagged two witnesses from passersby.

I once shared duties with an Episcopal priest. I have done ceremonies that were 15-25 minutes long and, one, that had to be five minutes maximum or the bride, in her own words, would've thrown up from anxiety.

Why would someone who was married 19 years, but lost his wife to cancer, put himself in such emotionally charged situations?

I have no clue.

Seriously, I have always loved weddings. I love how fun they are, how they represent hope, how they are filled with life affirming meaning.

So there I was this past Sunday officiating at the wedding of Tracy, another former education colleague, and Jamie, a gentle and sweet guy. I was struck by how Tracy and Jamie gazed at each during the ceremony, hands clasped, underneath the traditional Jewish wedding canopy, the chuppah.

Tracy said she knew Jamie was her life partner after he'd so courageously helped her through the ordeal of putting her beloved cat to sleep.

I will admit I wasn't much into partying and resisted a friend's attempt to lure me onto the dance floor, but I loved being surrounded by love and tingly excitement. And I wasn't sad at all, just a tiny wistful.

At some point during the reception, someone dropped a red ball into Tracy's lap. I later posed with the red ball and the groom's mother, whom I'd tried unsuccessfully to cajole into dancing with me. What goes around...

But the red ball symbolized what I also love about weddings. It's obviously an in-joke or some detailed or cute story that only the couple and a select few understand. However, whenever Jamie or Tracy talk about the red ball or other slivers of insider details that make them smile, it just heightens their connection. And maybe gives them a few laughs as well as they navigate the calm and turbulent waters of marriage and life.

At one point at Tracy and Jamie's reception, after we'd eaten and after I'd met a couple who are getting married next year on my wedding date ("How cool would it be for me to officiate?" I said to them), I just stood back from the fray of bodies bouncing to Pat Benatar, smiled at everyone and knew it was time to quietly slip away and go home to Maya and Miguel.

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