October 31, 2018

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today...

It was the day before Christmas last year and I was over at my friend's house. His daughter, also my great friend, had gotten engaged just days before, to someone who is also a great friend (so many interconnected friends). These three have all brought me in like family, and this was one of several times they have included me in holiday celebrations. 

We were toasting the newly engaged and listening to the proposal story. After a bit, the couple pulled me aside in the kitchen to talk. They said they had something to ask, but then hesitated a bit, looking at each other. The soon-to-be-bride had some tears welling up and told the groom-to-be to do the asking. I had been in weddings before so I thought maybe they were going to ask me to be one of the groomsmen. 

They surprised me by asking me to perform the ceremony.

I was stunned, confused, honored, touched, and even mildly freaking out, all in the span of a couple of seconds. They continued by saying that when they had previously talked about hypothetically getting married, that for at least a couple of years they had known they wanted me to perform the ceremony. At hearing this, I was beyond moved. After some hugs and excited chatter, I half joked that I would need to have a stiff drink before the ceremony to be able to speak in front of a crowd. Whenever I have had to do a speech or make a presentation, I have spoken too fast and stumbled over words in a rush to get off stage. But that was the problem for ten months-from-now-Sean. 

Over the next several months, I would jot down thoughts as they came to me - "Shower Thoughts" as one of the bridesmaids called them.  I would copy down good turns of phrase from videos or books, save pictures from Instagram that had thoughts about love and relationships, and bookmark web pages with good wedding poems. Themes appeared but it was nothing close to coherent writing, much less a wedding ceremony. 

A month or two before the wedding, Matt, Jenica and I went away for a weekend. We took the dogs and stayed in a family cabin on Vashon Island. There was good food, drink and conversation. We talked about the ceremony in general terms, but what I would say was pretty much up to me. They did not want to hear it ahead of time. They trusted me, which was awesome, but again a little scary being the only one who would shape it. 

We also took a trip to Bellingham a few weeks out to check out some vendors and so I could see the venue. Like previous road trips with these two it was a fun adventure, but like the cabin trip before, it was just so wonderful to be part of the process. I had been to a wedding back in April. It was a wonderful ceremony and a joy to be there to witness the excitement and possibility of this new beginning for a friend. Matt and Jenica's wedding was always going to be different though.

Of course both the bride and groom were very important to me, but I had forgotten how different the experience is when you are a member of the wedding party. You are sort of in the inner circle, getting to help with all the behind the scene details, witness the small moments, and maybe lend a voice or ear when needed. As honored as I was to be asked, the actual experience of being a part of it was that much better. 

Now the wedding was a week away and for all the note taking, I had yet to put pen to paper on the actual ceremony. Part of it was my normal procrastination habit, but I think an even greater part was the feeling that I can never quite adequately translate the thoughts in my head to the word on the page. There is always a disconnect. While the thoughts remain only in my head, they are perfect, so I hesitated to shatter that illusion. 

But you can't re-write a blank page.

I combed through the snippets and phrases. Certain ones worked, others felt important but I couldn't get them to fit. Once I got going though I re-discovered a bit of love for writing. The past year or so has been one of malaise and stagnation, but in this wedding and writing the ceremony I found excitement again. It was the first thing I had written in years that I cared so much about getting right. Not since finishing my book really, and at one point I realized that what I was writing for the wedding would probably be heard by more people than had read my book. 

I revised each day, cutting and pasting, winnowing and sharpening. Many versions were saved. A few days out, I was randomly scrolling through my Instagram saves and found a forgotten piece that helped tie together part of what I was trying to say. The day before and the day of there were multiple trips to coffee shops to write, and to Fed Ex/Kinkos to print out the latest version. Even an hour before the ceremony when I was sitting in my car rehearsing, things were being crossed out and moved. Given the chance I would endlessly keep re-writing, but it is never really done, you just run into a deadline. 

But what a beautiful deadline. 

Though I was still re-writing an hour before the ceremony, I was pretty happy with what I had written. It was heartfelt, at times personal but it also touched on love and connection in general. I felt reasonably comfortable up in front of everyone and did my best to speak slowly and be in the moment. Mostly I focused on the happy couple and pretended it was just them I was talking to. 

People were very kind after the ceremony, complementing me on what I had written and several were surprised this was my first time. I don't know if I will ever perform another ceremony, but you never know.

At any rate, with this being my first, and for my connection to the couple, this one would be a tough one to top.