Sunday, September 23, 2007

Another Wedding

When the invitation came it sounded like a blast: a family wedding in Cambridge, Maryland in the beautiful home and garden of our cousins. We knew the celebration would be fantastic. But when it came time to go, all I could think was, “If only I could stay home this weekend, I could get so much done.” I felt frazzled, thread-bare, worn and unfocused. If only I could stay home and catch up.

I would tell you all things I wanted to do, but frankly, I’ve totally forgotten about what I was frazzled. All I can say is that I went from a world where I felt it was “all cancer, all the time,” to one where we were eating crabs with all the cousins and spraying one another with flying shells and laughing and drinking and proposing toasts and reminiscing about the generation before us which is all gone now and realizing that we, yes, us, were up now as the “leaders” in the family, the older generation, but we all felt like lost children and wanted so badly to have another line of family in front of us.

But it was not to be.

I think about death a lot because I work in the cancer field and I’ve had cancer and I’m starting to promote my book so people are asking me questions about dying and death. But this wedding (which was a family reunion of sorts, as all weddings are) made me think about death in a nostalgic, wistful way as opposed to a medical way. Perhaps it is because the elders in my husband’s family did not die of cancer, but died at pretty ripe ages of pneumonia, Alzheimer’s, a heart condition. So far no one in his family has died of cancer. How refreshing. I actually forgot that people do die of “old age.”

So our flower girl is now a married career woman and a mother of two. Her daughter was the flower girl in this wedding. Time seems to circle back on itself and I found myself thinking a hundred times throughout the weekend, “How can this be?” Because of course I still feel like I’m thirty-two, the age at which I entered this family.

But when I sat in our hotel room putting on my make-up in the bright sunlight I realized with a shock that I did not have the face of a thirty-two year old. And I had to remind myself that this is what is supposed to happen: you age.

The fountain of youth is in Seattle because it is usually overcast and without all that nasty harsh sunlight, you can’t see how old you really are.

But one of the great things about aging is that you just don’t care so damn much about what everyone thinks. How else can I explain why, after working out at an Orlando hotel last month, I jumped into the pool in my athletic bra and panties? There was nobody there and my panties were brightly colored and just how different are they from those nearly transparent Speedos that men wear?

I rest my case.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Labor Day of Love

Yesterday afternoon we went to a wedding in the Rose Garden at the Zoo. I have officiated at many weddings, but never one in the Rose Garden, and we dearly love this couple so both Wes and I were excited to attend.

An old friend of the bride and groom, the officiant had just gotten his license off the Internet. He was so eager that he started the wedding without the bride. Then he stopped and we all stood up and waited for the bride to come down the aisle. He forgot to tell the people to please sit down after the scripture reading. So we looked around at one another and just sat down.

Later, at the reception, he bragged about how it took all of forty-five seconds to get his license and it takes three years for most people to go through seminary. His girlfriend said to us, “Yeah, wasn’t he great?! You know how you go to most weddings and it’s not at all personal and the minister is just reading something? This was much better.”

Kudos to me for just sitting there with my mouth shut. As Wes said, “I didn’t want to make him feel bad.” I didn't say anything about how the only personal thing he said was that he introduced the couple to each other. And then he read some stuff about marriage. And both Wes and I noticed he got off on saying, “By the power vested in me by the state of Washington, I now pronounce you husband and wife.” No one says that anymore. It’s so unnecessary.

What he didn’t get was that you don’t go through three years of seminary just so you can officiate at weddings. You do it because you feel called by God to serve as a minister. Weddings are such a tiny part of it. If you work in a church, there’s putting together the Sunday service which means picking the scripture, the hymns, getting the readers to read the scripture, writing the sermon, gathering the announcements, practicing your sermon. That’s just for Sunday.

Monday through Saturday there are the committee meetings, the counseling, visiting the sick, praying for your congregation, helping with the youth group, dealing with any personnel and building maintenance issues, meeting with community clergy and taking part in various walks and demonstrations. Then there are the funerals and the weddings. It’s unbelievably hard work.

I never felt called to parish ministry. As a hospital chaplain, ministering to patients, families and staff means that I concentrate on just a small portion of a parish minister’s job. Perhaps I do more funerals than a parish minister.

And yes, I officiate at weddings, but only for close friends. That way the service is very personal. I refuse to be paid because this ceremony is my gift to them. I know I can give them something nobody else can.

I also know that at a wedding, every married couple there relives their ceremony. And every couple there, married or not, thinks about their relationship. So it's an amazing opportunity to offer words about love, forgiveness, spiritual growth and calling forth the best in one another.

I wish I had asked this Universal Life minister if he was going to start doing funerals now. But of course you don’t need any power vested in you by any state to officiate at a funeral.