A June wedding always causes me to think: What are you doing?
Now, that could be self-referential as once again, I am cast in the role as Marrying Dave, officiating at a wedding.
Back in the 80’s, when I was the Canon Pastor at the Cathedral, and the youngest priest on staff by more than a decade, I tended to do three, THREE, count ’em (3) weddings each weekend. That meant premarital counseling, rehearsals, and weddings. That pretty much took my weekend. So in terms of weddings, my karma is paid up in full. I gave at the office.
My question these days is more directed at the couple. Are you sure you know what you are doing?
These days, those occasions are rare, with weddings for either family or close friends. Such is the case with this past weekend when I traveled from my island fortress to the ATL to officiate at the wedding for the daughter of two of my closest friends, Janet and Marty.
I had come out of retirement to do the wedding for their oldest daughter, Katherine, one of my daughter’s best friends and college roommate. She was marrying Alex, who is Jewish, which pushed me to get schooled by Rabbi Alvin Sugarman, see Driving Miss Daisy. Alvin prepped me on the proper glass stomping by the groom, tourniquet lessons should it go south, and how to mazel the tov! I passed on the circumcision lesson, which costs extra. I’m a quick and eager learner, but I have my limits. Their marriage looks like it’s going well, so the Quirk Irish clan went to the Galloway Scots well again with the sister, Allison.
Allison the youngest Quirk, was engaged to Jake. The first Quirk wedding was in the pasture behind their house, with tent borrowed from Ringling Brothers for the after party. This time, the wedding was to be at the famed Piedmont Driving Club. A number of friends have inquired, as inquiring people do: What exactly is a “driving club”? You will have to guess as to my various responses, because the Club has good lawyers.
The last time I was involved in a wedding at the PDC (that’s how WE in the know refer to “the club”), something unbelievable occurred. The maid of honor was murdered the morning of the wedding in her hotel room across from Lenox Square, during a failed robbery. I was called off of East Lake golf course to go to the hotel to tend to the mother of this poor girl. When I informed the bride of the murder, without blinking, she responded, “Well, Sissy can fill in.” I learned a lot about brides and weddings that day. The show must go on, as they say, or as least this bride said. As I said, unbelievable.
So I had that ghost in my brain flying around. I remember almost every inch of that entrance hall and ballroom after that horrendous experience. I kept a special eye out for Catherine, the matron of honor, and especially on Alex.
Fortunately, the wedding was not in the former memory haunted location. Rather, it was in the courtyard, that’s right, outside at 5:30 in the afternoon. Did I mention that this is June? JUNE? It was hotter than hell. The sun perched at 30% on the western horizon, blinding me, daring me to wear my Joe Biden Aviators, even in Republican territory, to allow me to see. I did not, since it would break the decorum, plus I was fearful that I might use “Folks” repeatedly, and say involuntarily to the couple getting hitched, “Here’s the deal.”. As my Episcopal friend, H. W. Bush might have said, “Wouldn’t be prudent…”
The service program was ingeniously printed on a fan, for Southern belles to fan themselves, Scarlett-style. The couple’s dog, Charlie, made the procession, well behaved, at least better than Marty, the father of the bride. Various children served as flower persons, adding to the degree of difficulty of the dive. And Catherine and Alex’s child rolled in a wagon down the aisle to make it complete. It was truly a family event, with Jake asking his father to serve as Best Man. It reminded me of my similar selection of my Dad, who was truly my best man, causing me my only moment of becoming verklempted during the ceremony.
I have been working with couples preparing for marriage, couples transitioning into a committed relationship, couples hitting the proverbial “midlife” boogie, and all points along the way for what seems like a long time. My work as a marriage and family therapist formed the centerpiece of my psychotherapy practice early on. So I’ve done a lot of reflection on what attracts people to one another, and how they are able to stay together, and grow, through time….or not.
My big insight came from my teacher and therapist, Dr. Tom Malone, who taught me that the natural attraction is of opposites. One intuits that the “other” somehow brings strengths and characteristics that one needs. This is mostly unconscious but results in a pairing that has “creative tension”, which is the dynamic necessary for continued growth. And of course, it also brings tension. Humans seem to require that for growth, to move them from their normal penchant for comfort.
I once got into trouble playing with the term “homo marriage” at a marriage conference where I was speaking. I was not referring to same-sex unions, which I had blessed prior to the official sanction of my particular religious tribe. I was talking about the problematic nature of relationships when one is attracted to someone that is so much like you that you are basically marrying a mirror image. The attraction is understandable as you feel comfortable with someone “like” you. That was my experience with my adolescent “sweetheart” as she could have been my sister, and in many ways, was. We “fit” but had we gotten married, which had been in the back of our minds in our nine year odyssey, we would have gotten along famously for a while, but then would have become bored, no doubt. Loving your mirror image is clinically referred to as a narcissistic tendency.
A real marriage is “hetero”, meaning “different”, whether you share the same gender or not.
I thought about that as I was reminded of Pride month, and the Pride parades I had been to in Atlanta, as I made my way from my hotel to the club in midtown. My Episcopal tribe led the way in accepting and blessing marriages between same-sex couples, and we have taken the hit from that explicit commitment, which was a bridge too far for some. I am personally thankful for this openness, and have counseled with many same-sex partners that live into the creative tension that exists in their committed relationship. I celebrate and bless any relationship that emerges from love.
Any marriage gets the good news-bad news that they are joined by the naturally creative spirit of nature which draws them together. The good news is that there is that native attraction. The bad news is that there will be tension. Count on it.
The real work of marriage begins, hopefully, before any ceremony at the Cathedral, a country chapel, or even the PDC, and it consists of getting to know, really know, the Other that you are connecting with.
This romantic connection has a long pre-history that is crucial. From the time of our emergence from our mother’s womb, we are interacting with the world around us. It may start with the glare of the examination lamp in the surgical suite, blinding temporarily the infant making his/her entrance into the world, The child moves to the warming table if the birth happens in a clinical setting, or it may find the warmth of mother’s chest. From the word “go”, the child is wondering what in the world is going on here? “I was just in a warm, cozy environment, and whoosh, out I go, without so much as a ‘by your leave’!” And from the beginning, the newborn is interpreting this environment.
The basic question is whether this world in which I find myself now is trustworthy, or not? Will my needs get met, will my hunger be assuaged by my mother’s milk? Having lived in utero, a dark watery cave, fed by this magical umbilical cord, I am thrust involuntarily into this new environment, pushed from darkness to light. From the beginning, I am interpreting but also figuring out how to get my needs met.
As the infant becomes a child, who becomes an adolescent, becomes an adult (maybe, developmentally defined), the same two tasks continue: 1. the interpretive task of determining the shape of reality and 2. what must I do to get my needs met. No one is exempt, even members of the Driving Club.
Truth is, we develop an ego structure that becomes the vehicle that carries our Self into this reality. Through time, we construct a persona, that literally is a “mask” that we put on to make ourselves presentable, even winsome, to the important others in our life. The persona is developed through time to please others, to enable our survival, and get what we need. That “what” varies from person to person, resulting from a number of factors. A pregnant question for adults to wrestle with, play with, is “What is it that you need?” What are you spending the best energy of your precious life to get? For many persons that I have worked with as a therapist, coach, or priest, who find themselves far into the stages of life, this proves to be the key to understanding where they are and how they got there,
My point in bringing the persona up in this discussion is that when we are in adolescence and young adulthood, the persona is carefully guarded for fear that someone might discover who we really are and reject us. Our persona is what we present to the world to announce subtly, and brashly at times, just who we are. Listening to fourteen male groomsmen and fourteen female attendants make substantial toasts at the rehearsal dinner, ranging from soulful confessions of deep friendships to stand-up comedy routines, I was thinking about the persona each person was presenting, and what they were trying to get by way of their “performance”. You can tell a lot about a person through the persona they present in such moments, maybe not who they really are, but what they are desperately needing. By the way, the same thing is true for the priest!
In a real relationship, one dares to drop the persona, the mask, with the hope of connecting with the other. In relationships of romantic love, amore, the couple let their masks down and connect at a deep level, between souls. That is what happened between Allison and Jake as a family friend had tried to play matchmaker, arranging the initial connection through the dreaded “blind date”. Both Allison and Jake properly rejected such a medieval play of an arranged relationship and refused. But the Spirit of Amore is tricky. They just so happened to meet at a Halloween party in midtown Atlanta, the place where dreams are made, and fell in love. They told me of slowly letting down their “guard”, their persona, and connecting at a deep level. Allison poetically described Jake as the “light of her life”, the “fire in her heart”. Ahhhh, Amore.
That’s how love starts. It involves following your bliss, making a commitment to this One who promises to be with you, even unto death. That’s when you book the club, arrange the caterer, plan the honeymoon, and ask some old priest if he can show up. It’s a good start, an auspicious beginning….but then the work begins.
Building a life together with two individuals, each with a dream and career, is daunting. Maneuvering through epic transition, changes, disruptions, is just par for the course of life, with unknown bumps and obstacles when you are embarking on this marital road trip. The “creative tension” that drew you together will sometimes prove to be the “pea under the mattress” that disrupts the bliss in this fairy tale. A “Fall” is inevitable and the question will be one of commitment and tenacity, all beginning with a simple, innocent meeting of two human beings. It’s epic, Shakespearian in drama, this thing we call love.
I was convinced that the two, Allison and Jake, knew exactly what they were doing. I even asked them that question during the course of the liturgy, “Are you sure?” in so many words, and they both said “yes”.
We got them launched! The ceremony went well, no blood was shed, no one died (this time!) and the priest did not fall down, a small victory for this Southside boy cavorting in high cotton. And they were off to Greece, a proper mythological setting to begin their odyssey, carried away by Marty’s Bronco chariot that I covet.
Every wedding re-minds the witnesses so gathered that there is magic to do, that love and romance exist, in spite of deadlines and budgets and taxes. And, endings occur too, like the family of origin that will never be the same after this wedding…why do you think folks cry at weddings? And everyone remembers a moment of bliss that sparked in their heart once upon a time, and wonders, dreams, wishes that it might come again. Such is the stuff of weddings….it’s how we are wired.
Blessings on Allison and Jake as they begin this new way of being in the world. Godspeed.