Monday, May 30, 2011

I Can See Clearly Now

I was reading Thomas Merton's spiritual autobiography and listening to London Calling and Police on My Back by The Clash as Miguel, Maya, and I were flying back from Seattle this evening. Welcome to the living Yin and Yang of my life or, as the late anthropologist Claude Levi Strauss said, the binary opposites that blend together to form the whole me.

I have been thinking a lot lately about the seemingly disparate strands that make up who I am (and just about everyone else on the planet). For example, I have a deep passion for jazz and classical music, but still thump my body to rock and roll daily and will never forget how I scored a second row seat (yes, I went alone) to see Journey in concert in Hartford, CT, in 1986.

I am pretty solid emotionally, but cry when I hear certain songs or watch certain commercials on TV. I have a post-graduate degree, but love Jerry Lewis movies, the Farrelly Brothers, and some of the work of Adam Sandler.

I know, I know, one's level of education does not necessarily correspond to one's cultural tastes. But, believe me, my friends and co-workers, when I toiled for a Connecticut political organization, teased me about Journey and the other popular rock and roll I favored over the Grateful Dead and other 'deeper' music. So I have always been sensitive about my apparent contradictory pleasures and paths.

Until now.

Merton and the Clash can co-exist, in my universe for sure.

I guess the biggest expression of this binary opposition has been my officiating of weddings. On one hand, I am a widower who feels a strong measure of sadness around love, happiness, and commitment. Not that I want anyone to be unhappy, but I do feel wistful when I gaze at couples taking the marital plunge or holding hands in the park or nuzzling at a restaurant. On the other hand, weddings can be a heck of a lot of fun, and I do feel a tremendous honor in helping two people begin their married lives together.

And there is another yin and yang moment. Many people rightfully see me as a wise guy who rarely takes much (including myself) seriously. But I also feel that I am participating in something deeply sacred when I officiate at a wedding. I felt the same when I was a funeral director, which is the reason I took the job, and again when I watched my mother-in-law die in 2008 and when I whispered to Verna minutes before she took her last breaths in 2010.

Sacred is as sacred does.

Which brings me back to weddings. I did one two weeks ago in Napa, and when the couple hired me in February, they said, "We are not just looking for an officiant, we want someone to form a relationship with."

"Does that mean I can go on your honeymoon?" I asked. They just left for a month in Italy.

So while I wistfully watched as Jen and Bryan began their happily ever after, and mingled with Jen's parents, Bryan's sister and her fiance, and sampled awesome radishes, I felt blessed to be present for them. During the ceremony, which I always personalize, I mentioned how Jen was, um, really focused on all the details. She sent me an email that said, "The wedding coordinator expects your ass on the shuttle by 2:45." So I repeated that line in the ceremony.

Later Jen literally yanked me onto the dance floor and said, "I can't believe you said 'ass' during the ceremony."

"Was that OK?" I asked somewhat sheepishly.

"Only you could pull it off," she said, before leading me through a dance where she twirled me around and then thanked me.

I slipped away while the party was still raging, in a vineyard with an Italian-like villa and under partly cloudy skies that held back the rain, content and sorrowful, with images of my own wedding day and night swirling through my mind.

The wedding I did this past Saturday was held in a large loft studio in downtown Seattle. The bride is the niece of Verna's and my sister-in-law, who is married to Verna's brother. The days leading up to the ceremony, I've been told, were incredibly stressful where vendors flaked out, plans were dashed and redrawn, and the bride was so overwhelmed that she got hives.

The ceremony, if I have to be honest, was great. I recited a few poems, weaved in wisdom for the couple, shared how Kelly and Courtney met, how Kelly was unsure at first of his feelings for Courtney, and how he sought counsel from his grandmother, and then listened with moist eyes as Kelly and Courtney were unable to read their vows to each other without gushing in tears. Then I closed with a Lao Tzu poem about the sacred space a couple must carve out for their love before I whispered--at their request--just to them that it was my "supreme pleasure and honor to pronounce you married; Kelly, you may kiss the bride."

I spent most of the evening with family, then dragged Miguel onto the dance floor (Maya was with friends because young kids were not invited to the evening wedding), and then boogied to several songs, some with Miguel literally on my back as I twirled him around, before I almost quietly stepped away with my son and drove back to our friends' house by Green Lake.

See, I just had to push the envelope slightly. Since I am single I pulled Miguel with me and lined up with a half dozen other bachelors for the tossing of the garter. The cluster of guys near us said, "No contest here, we're all jaded," which was an interesting comment for they were there with their girlfriends. Miguel was just confused, but stood next to me anyway.

After two misfires, Kelly's third toss of the garter soared sort of in the air and landed near my left shoe. I slowly reached down and picked it up as everyone cheered. My only thought was, "Oh s**t."

Was I supposed to put it on the woman who'd caught the bouquet and was certainly young enough to be my daughter, as I am 52? Was I supposed to keep it or return it to the bride and groom? Or just fling it out the window and then follow?

Someone said, "Just put it on and dance."

So I did. And by the next day I had four marriage proposals. Just kidding. I saw Kelly and Courtney last night for dinner, a send-off sponsored by Courtney's great aunt, before the newlyweds left today on their honeymoon, to which I wasn't invited, and they also said, "Keep it."

I stuffed the garter, which represents, I guess, hope and love and all that (blah, blah, blah), in my closet next to my haircut kit and sachet of lavender. Just call it another strange pairing that somehow makes perfect sense--at least to me--as I navigate the turbulent and placid waters of life as I know it.

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