Meditations and invitations
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Wedding story

Today I officiated at my first wedding for people I didn't know before they hired me. I'd done a wedding once before (actually a year ago tomorrow), for my friends J and C, but this was my first for people I didn't already know before I started working with them. It was a really good experience for me.

I met the groom's dad this summer; he's an antiquarian bookseller in my town. Not long after that, I got a call from bride and groom, then living on the West Coast; we talked about my ritual work, about why I enjoy working with people to create custom ceremonies, about my perspectives on intermarriage (in their case, as in ours, the woman is Jewish and the man comes from an interfaith household). Shortly after that they emailed me and said they'd like to work with me.

We spent the next few months working together, over the phone and email and in person. One memorable day they swung by with both of their mothers in tow. (I was a little worried about impressing their mothers. I remember feeling the same way when I did the baby-naming for the son of my friends in Kansas City: I wasn't nervous about my ability to do the work, just about whether his parents would respect my qualifications.) We went back and forth on a couple drafts of their ceremony; I gave them a lot of options ("Here are three variants on the blessing over wine") and they tailored the language to what they're comfortable with. Gratifyingly, it only took a few iterations before they were happy with it. My instincts on what they would like were generally good, though parts of the ceremony didn't come together until the very end -- they emailed me the final version of their vows two days before the wedding!

Yesterday afternoon I ran the rehearsal, which was a little bit chaotic but that's probably inevitable. Weddings involve a lot of moving parts, a lot of what my friend Sandy would call cat-herding.

This morning felt like a regular leisurely Sunday. We had pancakes and coffee, we lounged around with the Sunday Times. But then at noon I went and put on my suit and my favorite kippah, and checked that the whole ceremony was in my binder, and drove to where the wedding was. As when I lead services, there's a feeling that I'm bringing a particular part of myself to the forefront. It's not that I put on another persona; more that I'm reaching inside myself for the part of me that can do this, that's nourished and energized by doing this, that taps into something powerful when I do this.

An excited, bustling energy caught me up as soon as I arrived. People greeted me happily. We collected bride and groom and their two witnesses (and their nuclear families, who served as auxiliary witnesses) and signed their beautiful ketubah, and I got a charge out of signing it as the officiant.

The wedding went beautifully. The bride and groom were radiant, as they should be. The day was cloudy and windy but the rain held off, and the aisle was carpeted with brilliant orange fallen leaves, and the chuppah (made of gorgeous sky-blue cloth) billowed over our heads. People laughed in the right places, and hushed in the right places. My homily went over well: the bride and groom laughed at the parts I meant to be funny, and they seemed genuinely moved by the parts I meant to be poignant. Walking them through the vows and the exchange of rings felt wonderful: I love being a part of that moment, watching the light shining in their eyes. And I love the way the words of the ceremony effect a change in reality: when I say "it is my pleasure to present to you the newly-married couple," they really are something different than they were half an hour before.

Afterwards several people complimented me on the service and told me it was perfectly representative of the bride and the groom, which means I did it just right. The mother of the groom thanked me for creating an interfaith ceremony that reflected their dual heritages; the mother of the bride thanked me for making such a beautiful wedding. The stepmother of the bride praised the wedding and remarked that it's a wonder from someone so young (apparently I look twenty; who knew?) and even the grandmothers liked it! And, most importantly, the bride and groom were happy with it.

And then I came home, changed back into jeans and flannel, and spent the day cooking and working on our quilt. Back to ordinary-Sunday, but with the pleasure of a job well done, of having done something good for these two people.

It turns out that there are no Justice of the Peace openings in my town, so I can't become a JP. Massachusetts allows ordinary citizens to apply to solemnize marriages legally (which is how I married this couple today), but they only allow one per calendar year. That bums me out. I love this work; I love the satisfaction of doing this work; I love being able to put my talents to work in a way that serves people and fills a need. And there is a need for interfaith-friendly Jewish officiants.

The good news is, I can still work with people to write their ceremonies, and I can still handle the spiritual side of weddings even if I can't handle the legal one. (That's what I'll do for my second wedding at the end of this month.) It's disappointing that I can't hang up my shingle and do more marrying on my own, but it's been an incredible experience to do it this time.