Mawwiage (Part One: The Ceremony)

A&M WeddingPHOTO BY COLIN RIGLEY

That’s how I wanted to start the wedding ceremony. Just one simple word: “Mawwiage …” And then pause for the requisite moment of laughter at my Princess Bride reference before I would proceed to emotionally devastate the audience with my wit and sentiment.

Officiating a friend’s wedding is an enormous privilege and responsibility, even when your friends are as laid back as my buddies Maeva Considine and Aileen Manley, who asked me to perform their wedding several months ago. The big day was Saturday, Sept. 20 (this past weekend) and my anxiety about writing and performing the perfect ceremony are part of the reason I’ve been negligent in my blogging responsibilities. (The fact that I’m leaving for Turkey in a few weeks has been another factor.)

This wasn’t my first wedding. I officiated my friend Dakota’s wedding about eight years ago, and I remember panicking that I wouldn’t say the exact right thing for my friend’s big day. That I wouldn’t effectively communicate the significance of love, romance, commitment, and marriage. In hindsight, I didn’t really need to accomplish all of that. A wedding is not a dictionary, and a really good officiant doesn’t have to philosophize pedantically about the history of marriage or the origin of the word “love.” I think the best officiants tell a couple’s story and captures their personality.

Plenty of wedding professionals will warn against having a friend or family member perform your ceremony. They’ll warn that leaving such important details in the hands of an amateur can ruin your wedding. And I see their point. Choosing the wrong person for an important task like officiating your ceremony could, ostensibly, ruin the wedding. However, I also think they take an alarmist stand on the issue because they don’t want to threaten their livelihood. Does a wedding professional have a vested interest in making sure engaged couples pay a professional for every service and aspect of their wedding? Obviously.

But there are some very good arguments for having a friend–the right friend, of course, someone who won’t get wasted before the ceremony, and who doesn’t have a fear of public speaking–marry you. First, it’s the cheapest option, which is to say it’s free. Second, a friend knows you in ways that someone you’ve only met once or twice does not. They know how much “god” you want in the ceremony, for example. (In Maeva and Aileen’s case the answer was none, and I would have been the wrong person to perform the ceremony if it had been otherwise.) A friend knows your sense of humor, knows the silly little details of your life together as a couple. Also, in many cases the wedding officiant is simply performing from a standard script they’ve already read dozens of times. Even if you opt to do something nutty like read your own vows, everything else is as packaged as a fast food meal. A friend will go the extra mile to make your ceremony perfect. Which is what I tried to do for Aileen and Maeva in the months leading up to the ceremony.

In case you’re wondering, “How does this random writer, who isn’t even religious, have the authority to perform a wedding?” the answer is Universal Life Church. I was ordained for free several years ago, and have other friends who went through the same process, either for kicks or because they also wanted the option of performing friends’ weddings. I even have the framed certificate hanging in my office to prove it. Not all states accept officiants who were ordained through sites like Universal Life Church, but thankfully California is pretty relaxed about these things and I’ve never had an issue with anyone challenging my legal right to perform a wedding.

While I tend to regard the fact that I am ordained as a complete joke, I regard my responsibilities as officiant very seriously. I spent several months before the wedding planning what I wanted to say. It started with a questionnaire I put together and sent to both the brides with the orders that they had to answer individually and could not compare notes. I figured I would frame the ceremony around their story, and if they happened to have different perspectives on their story, so much the better.

These were the questions:

When and how did you meet?

What first attracted you to her?

What was your first date?

Do you have a song?

What’s your favorite thing about her?

What’s the thing that surprised you the most as you got to know her?

Describe the moment when you realized, “Fuck, I really hope I’m stuck with this person for a long time.”

Any nicknames I should know about?

So what were the circumstances surrounding the proposal?

Tell me about that gym membership: Which gym? Does one of you take classes there?

Where do you see yourselves in five years? Ten? Fifty?

Anything you’d like to add?

As much as I love to pretend I’m cool and emotionally detached, I was not prepared to receive the answers to those questions. Aileen finished the assignment first, and as I read through her responses, I was overwhelmed by her obvious, gushy love for Maeva and I started to cry. But I was very happy that I had their perspective and that set the tone for the ceremony I ultimately wrote.

I also realized that Maeva and Aileen have a lot of cool friends who might also want a say during the ceremony, so I dredged every silly, mushy love quote I could find and assembled them into a single document. Then I began covertly asking their friends if they’d be willing to participate in the ceremony by reading a quote from the list. Everyone I queried said yes, although I was trying to keep the plan a secret from Maeva and Aileen so I tried to subtly send friend requests to their friends on Facebook in order to send secret Facebook messages. If this all sounds ridiculous, I’d have to agree that it was. But once I had enough quotes and readers, I began to reshape the ceremony incorporating the themes behind the quotes as well as Aileen and Maeve’s responses to my questions.

There were several different versions of the wedding. In the first it was to take place during the annual birthday party we throw for Bill Murray in Avila Beach (which I will blog about on Thursday, Sept. 25). When they realized it would cost $600 to hold the wedding on the beach, despite the fact that we weren’t utilizing any resources or doing anything different than we typically did at the annual party, they scratched those plans. The second location was the Elfin Forest in Los Osos–a gorgeous location but ultimately impractical for the number of guests they finally wound up with. And the third, and final, location was the Sweet Springs Preserve in Los Osos, a few miles from the Elfin Forest. The wedding was going down guerrilla style–no permits or permission, or chairs, even–creating pressure to keep the ceremony short. Once I learned that everyone would be standing the entire time–including Maeva’s pregnant bridesmaid–I began determinedly editing, down from 15 minutes to 12 to 10, factoring in one minute for each of their vows–which I didn’t hear until the wedding, and instead wrote “sappy, sappy, sappy” as placeholder text in the ceremony. I was actually pleased by the effect of all the cutting on the overall ceremony; I tend to be overly wordy, and having that pressure to examine every line of the ceremony and determine whether it contributed to the overall message helped prune the excessive warbling to which I am prone.

Aileen and Maeva opted to be surprised by the ceremony, so they didn’t know any of the content until the actual wedding, which I recognize as a huge leap of faith on their part. In fact, the only person who had read or heard the ceremony before the wedding was me as I rehearsed it a handful of times each night in the weeks leading up to the wedding. The night before the big day I actually began to panic that maybe I should have let someone read or hear the ceremony. Maybe the tone was all wrong–too silly and playful, too sentimental, too scattered. Colin offered to read it but then pointed out that I might not welcome edits the night before the wedding, especially after I’d spent all those hours rehearsing it to the point that I pretty much had it memorized (eye contact with the couple and audience is important, and your words can’t have their full impact if you’re staring into a giant book while you deliver them). And I was reading the ceremony from a very large, very old book, which Maeva’s mom, Athena, kindly let me borrow for the wedding. A few sheets of paper wouldn’t have looked nearly as official as that book, though I did have to spend some time practicing how to hold it, shifting the weight from arm to arm every couple of minutes without looking like a fidgety child.

Without further ado, this is the ceremony I wrote (bearing in mind that I will probably blog about Maeva and Aileen’s wedding far more extensively once Colin has finished process the photos):

 

Men and women; ladies and gentlemen; squirrels and birds; stray hikers who stumble upon our gathering: We are here to celebrate the union of two of the funniest, most genuine, authentic, and compassionate people on this earth.

In order to prepare for this ceremony, to really obtain a solid grasp on the subjects of romance and commitment, I watched and read the sappiest movies, television shows, and books I know—the ones that really get love—and after watching Jim wait for Pam for what seems like an eternity and the Bride kill Bill with the five-point palm technique and Robin Williams storm the underworld to recover his beloved Annie, I realized that though the basic emotions are always the same, the truly great couples go their own way.

As evidence of this, I looked for love poems with the word “cheese” about couples who met at Fiona Apple concerts and frequented ostrich farms, but, surprisingly, there weren’t any.

And I remembered that we are dealing with a pair of originals who deserve to have their very own unique brand of love celebrated, so turn off your cellphones and bear with me: We’re entering uncharted territory.

At this point in the ceremony, Maeva and Aileen invite the wedding party to partake in a ring warming ceremony: Pass them around, say a silent prayer or blessing over them, give ‘em a good rub. Just make sure they’re back here for the big finale in about 10 minutes.

Calvin, of Calvin and Hobbes fame, once said, “As far as I’m concerned if something is so complicated that you can’t explain it in 10 seconds, then it’s probably not worth knowing anyway.”

And while I’m generally inclined to agree, explaining love is a task at once delicate and monumental—not easily accomplished in 10 years, much less 10 seconds. So I asked for a little help.

Colin.

(Colin reads: “Gravitation can not be held responsible for people falling in love. How on earth can you explain in terms of chemistry and physics so important a biological phenomenon as first love? Put your hand on a stove for a minute and it seems like an hour. Sit with that special girl for an hour and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity. –Albert Einstein.”)

So we know that even the scientists with the really big brains and the really crazy hair are stumped by love. The why of it. The how of it.

This particular unexplainable adventure began two years ago at a Fiona Apple concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl. Or rather, it began on the car ride to the Santa Barbara Bowl where Aileen and Maeva met and instantly discovered, if not a soul mate, certainly a kindred spirit. Aileen said that she recognized within an hour that Maeva was “talented, hilarious, thoughtful, sweet, caring, considerate, well-mannered, well read, down to earth, honest, humble,” and she threatened to go on from there.

Maeva remembers the way Aileen mixed her macaroni and cheese from Panera with a can of tomato soup and recalls waiting for Aileen to take off her sunglasses whereupon Maeva discovered her eyes were “as Irish as I could have hoped.”

Rather than embarrass them with more of their own words, we’ll borrow some gushy sentiments from someone else.

Aaron.

(Aaron reads: I’d cut my soul into a million different pieces just to form a constellation to light your way home. I’d write love poems to the part of yourself you can’t stand. I’d stand in the shadows of your heart and tell you I’m not afraid of your dark. –Andrea Gibson.)

It would be unpardonable to talk about this couple’s love story without at least paying brief tribute to the virtue of humor. Not everyone is capable of reconciling the levity of being silly and playful with the solemnity of a long-term relationship. But laughter can be every bit as sacred as church bells, and I would contend a good deal more useful when it comes time to weather life’s many hardships and tempests.

Maeva and Aileen have conquered the art of humor. I would go so far as to say that’s part of the reason we’re all here celebrating them today, because their ability to laugh at themselves and the world, and probably us, is endearing and has a tendency to brighten even the darkest of days.

And where humor and love intersect, well …

Tanya.

(Tanya reads: Love is hiding who you really are at all times. It’s wearing makeup to bed and going downstairs to Burger King to poop. –Jenna Maroney, 30 Rock.)

As for those tempests I mentioned earlier—the hardships and challenges that can either break a relationship or confirm that your partner is indeed the perfect person for you, the noble soul who will cheer you when you’re a raging, unlovable beast and offer solace and comfort when the world is a raging, unlovable beast …

You’ve endured your fair share of bruises and scrapes—the moments when it feels like life fails to recognize your epic awesomeness, though really these challenges might just be proof that the universe knows what you’re capable of, and each indignity and bump is actually part of an incredible journey.

Tom.

(Tom reads: “What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?” “Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.” “Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit. “Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.” “Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?” “It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.-The Velveteen Rabbit)

Which brings us here, to their wedding day. When Aileen and Maeva first told me they were getting married, they said it was for a gym membership to Kennedy—there was some sort of deal for spouses or something along those lines. And I didn’t believe a word of it—the gym part, that is. I went along with it because we occupy a world in which it is sometimes easier to be cynical than it is to jump in with both feet. To do something terrifying like look someone in the eye and tell them you want to be with them forever.

But I’ve seen the way Maeva and Aileen look at each other, and I knew that while spin classes are all well and good, and do wonderful things for your thighs, that didn’t really have much of anything to do with the reasons they want to get married. It’s hard sometimes to live in so jaded a world, but ultimately that makes what’s happening here, right now, that much more incredible.

Tara.

(Tara reads: “I don’t believe in marriage. No, I really don’t. Let me be clear about that. I think at worst it’s a hostile political act, a way for small-minded men to keep women in the house and out of the way, wrapped up in the guise of tradition and conservative religious nonsense. At best, it’s a happy delusion – these two people who truly love each other and have no idea how truly miserable they’re about to make each other. But, but, when two people know that, and they decide with eyes wide open to face each other and get married anyway, then I don’t think it’s conservative or delusional. I think it’s radical and courageous and very romantic. -To Diego and Frida.”)

At the end of the day, there’s really only one reason to get married.

Kara.

(Kara reads: “She gets me. And I know that I will never meet another person on this Earth like her. –Aileen Manley.”)

Well, maybe two.

Tom.

(Tom reads: “Have you ever met someone that can make you feel the whole spectrum of human emotion over lunch? That’s Aileen. She knows me when I can’t even possibly understand myself and this has saved me on numerous occassions. She makes me see the world in broad, amazing strokes. –Maeva Considine.”)

Since I think we’re all ready to see this union legalized …

Maeva and Aileen have elected to write their own vows:

Aileen.

(Aileen: sappy, sappy, sappy.)

Maeva.

(Maeva: sappy, sappy, sappy.)

Do you have the rings?

Will you, Maeva, take Aileen to be your wife and fellow adventurer? Will you promise to love, honor, cherish, and encourage her through good times and bad, through sickness and health, celebrate her successes, take her to see ostriches as often as possible, read and travel with her as long as you both shall live?

(Maeva: I will.)

Will you, Aileen, take Maeva to be your wife and fellow adventurer? Will you promise to love, honor, cherish, and encourage her through good times and bad, through sickness and health, celebrate her successes, take her to San Francisco as often as possible, read and travel with her as long as you both shall live?

(Aileen: I will.)

By the power invested in me by people who should probably know better, I pronounce you legally shackled. You can kiss and stuff.

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