All that was left was the declaration. The entire wedding party, groom and brides folks alike, had, at my request, taken a moment of silence on the back-end of the final blessing and the moment had now passed. It was time. In an effort to disallow the moment from becoming a lull, it was time for me to open my mouth and spew forth the final words joining these two individuals together in holy union.
Jonathan and Alyssa are amazing people. Consequently, they draw to them, mainly, other amazing people. And so, sitting before me, in a host of white wooden chairs held by the boundaries of a quarter-acre or so of the most perfect plot of land you’ve ever laid eyes on in one of the most beautiful cities in the country, was this small cadre of remarkable individuals watching and waiting for me to carry us all the last few yards across the finish line.
It’s a remarkable thing bringing two people together in the bonds of marriage. An unfathomable honor. A monster responsibility. And, standing there, underneath the origami adorned archway, centered on the semi-circle raised platform, with the bride and groom standing before me, the mind-blowing juxtaposition of accountability and approbation was more than enough, even in the dry California heat, to bring about a deep freeze of both blood-flow and mobility.
And all these things, the overwhelming nature of it all, would have been mostly true had any two random people stood before me. But this was not two random people. This was Jonathan. Jonathan and his bride to be. And I have come to enjoy and care deeply for Alyssa. She is a fascinatingly enigmatic and wickedly talented woman. She is everything that he deserves. And that is saying a lot. Because he deserves everything. Every morsel of delicious goodness that this life can conjure is what Jonathan deserves. Jonathan is, I think, the very best man I know. And I don’t quite know how to qualify that. I just know that it is true. It’s difficult to quantify what makes him better than other men. But he is. He just is. Jonathan is light. Jonathan is air. Jonathan is the embodiment of the deepest brand of passion and the richest form of empathy that I have ever looked into another man’s eyes and seen with stark clarity. Jonathan is MC Guru and William Carlos Williams and Sandra Bernhardt and Taylor Mali and Theodore Geisel and Craig “muMs” Grant sloshing around in some strange discordant groove cacophony. Jonathan is the best man. A better man than me. And I don’t mean that as a slight to myself. I am me. And that is fine. I am loveable and wonderful in a host of ways. But I don’t have what Jonathan has.
But I do have Jonathan. And if you can’t be the best man that there is, my advice to you is seek out the best man there is and make him your best friend.
Starting the thing was the hardest part. The rest of the ceremony would have something of an official air, following the basic structure of your average wedding, albeit with wording and phrasing commensurate with the adjoining parties particular preferences. But the opening I wanted to be special. I wanted it to be casual but not glib. I wanted to speak of my love for Jonathan but not at the expense of Alyssa. I wanted it to be touching without it being treacly. I wrote it over and over and over and finally decided to stop and stick with what I had put together for fear of losing the beauty of the event in the futile attempt at perfectionism
First and foremost, I’d like to warmly welcome each and every one of you and thank you for being present for Jonathan and Alyssa on this blessed day in these stunning surroundings. Thank you all for bringing not just your physical presence, but also your love….your support…..your kindness….your generosity. The air is thick with who you are, and how much you care.
While I do function today as a clergy member with the appropriate authority needed to join these two people in the bonds of marriage, I am, far more importantly, their friend. I love Jonathan and Alyssa deeply and feel greatly invested in their joy, their protection and their care. Simply to know that they are being wed is a gift. To have the opportunity to attend the nuptials is a blessing. To be asked to officiate is… well, I don’t really know what that is. Those who know me would tell you that I am rarely at a loss for words. But this… this I do not have words for.
Jonathan and Alyssa were brought together by love. They were brought together by spirit. They were brought together by common interests and a mutual sense of humor. They were brought together by many things. But for those of you who believe in fate; for those of you drawn toward ideas of Kismet and synchronicity; for those of you who revel in a good old-fashioned romantic tear jerker… Jonathan and Alyssa were brought together by poetry. And for those of you who know the story of their initial intersection, you know that I mean this quite literally. Their discovery of each other occurred via a website used as a hub for poets to post, share and process their work. They were brought together by poetry.
Paul Dirac, an English Theoretical Physicist, was quoted as saying, “In science, one tries to tell people, in such a way to be understood by everyone, something that no one ever knew before. But, in poetry, it’s the exact opposite.”
And so we have Jonathan and Alyssa, cosmically joined in this one charming corner of cyberspace, lyrically sharing things that no one has ever known before in a manner not meant to appeal to as many people as possible. Only to appeal to those it happened to appeal to… only to those who were meant to hear it, meant to be moved by it… meant to be drawn to it. And so it was. Two souls draw to each others sides through the magic of their words… words expressing their deepest and truest selves.
And here’s the thing. They are poetry. To know Jonathan and Alyssa is to know the poetry of their blessed union. The way they move fluidly within each other’s sphere. The cadence of their conversation, often finishing each others sentences or simply not needing words to get across what they wish to communicate. The way they walk together. They way they order in a restaurant. The way they play video games. The way they listen to music. The way they cook a meal. They were brought together by poetry that they might embody poetry… and be a poetic model for those lucky enough to bear witness to their love.
And we are lucky. All of us. To be here joined together to watch them join together… to become as one. For me, they are evidence that there is some sort of grand plan. That all is well and all is as it should be. That there is a path and an order that we may not always see and we may not always trust, but if we stay mindful and listen and watch… every now and then we get some stark evidence that it’s all good. That’s what Jonathan and Alyssa are. Stark evidence. And for now, for right here, right in this moment, which, let’s face it, is all we ever have, it is all good.
I met Jonathan in 2003, not long before Lorri and Sydney and I packed up our belongings and ditched The Big Apple for mid-western suburbia. While I couldn’t feel more secure that he would not care one whit what I disclose about him, in the interest of having learned some painful lessons about shooting my mouth off in this forum, I will simply say we met at an organizational meeting. I had been a committed member of the organization for quite a while and Jonathan was just getting his feet wet. He looked utterly petrified and I went out of my way to engage him in some cursory conversation. He appeared simultaneously grateful and resentful of my gregariousness, but accepted it, perhaps begrudgingly. It is an organization where new members are encouraged to find a more seasoned individual to be their advocate as they navigate the early goings and Jonathan soon asked that I be his. I told him that I was holding that role for too many guys at that particular moment and was unavailable, though I had offered up one of the guys I was advocating for to advocate for Jonathan. They were a fairly ideal match, and so it went.
It was through this third-party, my good buddy Andy, that Jonathan and I came to know each other in that last few months that I spent in Manhattan.
We had a lot in common and enjoyed each others sense of humor and encyclopedic knowledge of the hip hop and film worlds.
By the time I left the city, I had literally hundreds of friends and acquaintances. If you had asked me on the day of my departure to make a list of the top ten people I was most likely to stay in touch with upon my arrival in the western suburbs of Illinois, Jonathan would not have made the list. Honestly, I’m not sure he would have made the top twenty list either. This is, in no way, to suggest that I would not have been more than happy to see Jonathan again or that I would not have missed him.
Simply, our relationship was always sort of through Andy, and those sorts of friendships always seem to be primarily dependent on the presence of the third-party. Yes, we had experienced time on our own which had been enjoyable, even powerful, but not enough that the autonomous bond appeared to have dried and set. And, barring a forthright commitment to facilitate three-way calling commitments with Andy, who easily would have made the aforementioned top ten list, I figured the relationship between Jonathan and I had reached a natural end.
And for my first three years here in The Land of Lincoln, that prediction appeared to have been prescient. And then, in 2006, Andy got married.
To celebrate the nuptials, he threw a big old beach bash near the house he and his bride, Karen, had rented for the summer, not far from the heart of midtown Manhattan. An old friend of mine offered her apartment, vacant for the summer as she was frolicking in the affluence of The Hamptons, as a free place to crash and I decided to buy a plane ticket and fly east to show up and celebrate with my beloved friend.
The party was a lot of fun. And that is really saying something. I completely loathe the beach. On every level. I would rather spend the day in line at the DMV than go to the beach. I hate the sand. I hate the salt. I hate the crowds. I hate the heat. Suffice to say, I genuinely require a perfect storm of ideal elements, to spend a day at the beach that is even in the neighborhood of tolerable. And it was one of those days. Great people. Gentle breeze. I was having a fairly lovely time. With that said, after a few hours, I had pretty much had my fill and was angling toward finding a convenient way to get myself back on the train and back into the air conditioning and cable equipped pad awaiting me back on east 62nd street.
And then I saw him.
He was walking slowly in my direction with a warm, cautiously excited smile on his face. I don’t know why I had not expected to see him there. I guess my communication with Andy had been a little spotty over these years and, consequently, we were generally playing “life catch up” which pretty much filled whatever time we had and Jonathan had never really come up. Close as they had been, though, there was no real reason to think that he would not be invited, and still, I was surprised. Pleasantly surprised. It was a face I had sort of thought I would never see again, so I was taken aback by him standing in front of me, delivered once again to my side by some power greater than either of us. I hugged him tightly, and we quickly engaged in the same easy back and forth that we had always naturally fallen into. The catching up was really nice. He was doing well. His continued participation in our shared organization had seemingly brought him much peace and insight into himself. He was thriving as a computer technician, though searching for a career that might bring him satisfaction beyond just the financial. He was on the back-end of a relatively long-term intimate relationship which had run its course, though he was quite optimistic about both his relationship with his ex and the opportunities for new love that inevitably lie ahead. I updated him on my work, my family and a host of other less critical data of which he appeared genuinely interested. And then the conversation shifted. I don’t remember how or why, but all of a sudden the tenor of our talk took a deeper turn and we slowly made our way to an isolated section of the beach in an effort to afford ourselves a bit of privacy.
I will admit to having been feeling more than a bit nervous about leading this ceremony, and so I called a wise man whose advice I trust implicitly. He reminded me that I, myself, have twelve years invested in what, in the eyes of many, as a strong model for a successful marriage. He suggested that I my own experience, strength and hope might serve the couple I would be marrying.
And so while neither I, nor my wife Lorri, hold ourselves as experts in the institution of marriage, here a few tips that have reaped great rewards in our own union:
There is an art to marriage as there is to any creative activity we human beings engage in. The art asks that we pay attention to the little things as well as the big ones that are part of the closeness of marriage. Never grow to old to hold hands. At least once each day, remember to say “I love you.” In so much as it is possible, develop the capacity to forgive and forget and heal quarrels as they happen, so that you do not go to bed angry. Your courtship should not end with the honeymoon; so pay attention that you do not come to take each other for granted, and remember to speak words of appreciation and demonstrate your gratitude in thoughtful ways.
It is important to have a mutual sense of values and common objectives so that you stand together as you work through the world and do things for each other, not as duty or sacrifice, but in the spirit of joy. Do not expect perfection from each other, perfection is only for the gods. But do give each other room to grow and cultivate flexibility, patience, understanding, and sense of humor in your relationship. And your marriage is not just for two people. Use it to form a circle of love that gathers in your families and the children who may be part of your lives.
Find room for the things of the spirit and make your search for the good and the beautiful a common search. In the words of Louis Kaufman Anspacher, “make yours a relationship in which the independence is equal, the dependence is mutual, and the obligation is reciprocal.” Remember that standing together never means dissolving your individual selves into each other, but indeed means the strengthening of the individuality of each. A good marriage evolves when two distinct souls face life’s joy and it’s sorrow in harmony, not in unison.
That experience on the beach bonded Jonathan and I together in a way in which I have little question will last until he or I conclude our time on this earth. Over the past half decade there have been various incarnations to our relationship, shifting organically in response to the growth and difficulties of our individual journeys of enlightenment. We have been student and teacher. We have been big brother and little brother. We have been spiritual peers. And always, we have been friends. We have been containers for each others joy, grief, disappointment, fear, adulation and shame. Jonathan became an uncle to my daughters, cherished by them beyond almost any male in their lives short of myself. Jonathan saw me through a difficult separation from my family of origin and a few years later he followed my lead by letting go of his dangerously toxic mother and her familial minions. While my relationship with family remains difficult in many ways, there is current communication with them all. Some of that communication feels more obligatory than others, but there is contact. Jonathan has maintained the silence. I fully understand and support the decision. But that doesn’t change how painful that distance must be for him. It also doesn’t change my intense desire to protect him and shield him from pain. And that distance has all to do with the importance of my standing before Jonathan on that resplendently sun-filled afternoon in Ventura County.
WILL YOU TAKE THIS WOMAN TO BE YOUR WIFE
TO LIVE TOGETHER ACCORDING TO THE BEST ETHICAL PRINCIPLES
WILL YOU LOVE HER
COMFORT HER IN PAIN AND IN SORROW
WILL YOU SHARE JOY WITH HER WHEN SHE IS HAPPY
AND RESPECT HER DIGNITY AS A WOMAN
FROM THIS DAY FORWARD
FORSAKING ALL OTHERS?
Initially, right after the “save the date” email had been sent out, Jonathan asked about my kids participation in the wedding. That’s how much Jonathan loves my girls. He addressed their place in the wedding before addressing mine. I got a text. “Do you think Sydney would like to be the flower girl at the wedding.” I responded, “Of course she will!.” About an hour after that, came another text. “What about Ryan as the ring bearer?” I responded, “I am quite sure she will feel as honored as I am feeling right now.”
The third text took a few hours. I sensed he felt a little nervous about asking. He had no reason to, of course, and I expect deep down he knew that, but still, it is a big question for anyone to pose. When he got around to asking me to be his best man, I responded that it would be one of the true highlights of my life. Ironic to have the best man there is ask me to be his best man.
But then, life happened. My wife left her job and with the wedding drawing ever nearer, it became clear to both Lorri and I that, much as we longed so much to have the whole family there to show up for Jonathan, four plane tickets to California was going to run us $1400 before we even thought about hotels, rental cars and food. It was more than an extravagance. It was an impossibility. And while I had little doubt that Jonathan would be completely understanding and gracious, it was hard to tell him that only I would be attending the big day. He was more than understanding. He was amazing. He said that not only did he completely understand, but that he and Alyssa would be willing to fly here from Arizona (their current home) a month or so after the wedding and restage the whole thing here so that the girls could experience it for themselves. I told you. Best man there is.
And that was that. I would be there to stand up for my bestest buddy and that’s what was most important. The girls were disappointed but took the news in stride. Lorri and I knew we had made the right decision in terms of the wellness of our family unit and made peace with the situation as it was. And then, months later, not six weeks before the event itself, I got yet another text from Jonathan. ” What would it take to get Lorri and the girls to the wedding?”
Please take Alyssa’s hand in yours and repeat after me:
I PROMISE TO BE YOU LOVER, COMPANION, AND FRIEND
YOUR PARTNER IN PARENTHOOD
YOUR ALLY IN CONFLICT
YOUR GREATEST FAN AND YOUR TOUGHEST ADVERSARY
YOUR COMRADE IN ADVENTURE
YOUR STUDENT AND YOUR TEACHER
YOUR CONSOLATION IN DISSAPOINTMENT
YOUR ACCOMPLICE IN MISCHIEF
YOUR STRENGTH IN YOUR NEED
AND VULNERABLE TO YOU IN MY OWN
AND MOST OF ALL
YOUR ASSOCIATE IN THE SEARCH FOR ENLIGHTENMENT
This time I forewent the machinations of technology and picked up the phone. “What are you asking?” I inquired. “I want to know how much it would cost for me to fly out Lorri and the girls along with you?” “Jonathan… jesus… Jonathan, I love you and I’m so touched you would even think of such a thing. But, dude, there’s no way. I can’t let you do that. I just can’t.” And then he said…
“Michael. I have no family. My mom. My dad. My sisters. They will not be there. And I don’t want them there. But I want to have family around me when I take these vows. And you and Lorri and Sydney and Ryan… you are my family.”
And then I got it. He wasn’t asking if he could do something for me. He was asking if I would do something for him. And, I must admit, in some ways, it hit my ego like a wrecking ball… but more… so much more than that… it absolutely blew me away. To feel that loved by another human being. To be understood as not merely welcomed, but integral. And not just me, but the four of us. This family I had dreamed of as far as back as I could remember… to have them loved so much “as a family.” And for someone to love our family so much that they feel incapable of engaging such a spiritual event without our participation… I don’t know. It’s overwhelming. I feel charged to sing Amazing Grace (I won’t, mind you. It would be awful. I’d cut it to ribbons. Oh wait, I know. The 23rd Psalm. Bobby McFerrin does the most spine-tingling version of it as the last track on the album called “Medicine Music.” If you have not heard this particular album, that is, like, 37 different kinds of not okay. But your poor excuse for a music collection will have to be for you to figure out.) For now, I’ll just hum to myself. But back to Jonathan.
And let me be clear. The thousand dollars that Jonathan sent us to buy tickets for the rest of the family… he doesn’t have that just lying around. Jonathan is not some trust-fund baby. Jonathan’s mother is an addictive gambler who took the entire family hostage and essentially bankrupted everyone. Jonathan comes from nothing. Jonathan worked for everything he has and had already spent a lot of money to make this beautiful day happen. He couldn’t really afford this. He could certainly afford more than we could, but it wasn’t easy for him to pull off. But he wanted it. And we wanted to give it to him. And we knew that our love of Jonathan needed to trump our collective pride.
It took a lot of moving and shifting to be able to clear the time at this late date. I needed to reschedule clients. Lorri needed to get the vacation time cleared. Sydney would need to miss the last day of school. It took a few days, but in short order, we had it worked out, and the only thing that was left to do was go and celebrate Jonathan and Alyssa. At least it seemed that that was all there was left to do. And then, another text. “I might need you to marry us.”
From the earliest times, the circle has been a symbol of completeness, a symbol of committed love. An unbroken and never-ending circle symbolizes a commitment of love that is also never-ending. The circle is the symbol of the sun and the earth and the universe. It is a symbol of holiness and of perfection and of peace. Historically, the traditional manner in which the circle is represented is through the use of rings generally placed on the finger of one member of the union by the other and then vice versa. Jonathan and Alyssa, have chosen a more modern approach in that, prior to today’s events, they had rings tattooed onto their fingers foregoing a moveable piece of jewelry in favor of an eternal spiritual marking.
PLEASE RAISE YOUR LEFT HAND AND HOLD BOTH OF ALYSSA’S HANDS WITH YOUR RIGHT:
I EMBLAZONED THIS RING UPON MY FINGER TO FOREVER SERVE AS A SYMBOL OF OUR UNITY
MAY THIS RING FOREVER BE TO YOU THE SYMBOL OF MY GROWING LOVE
Again, the phone seemed the right form of communication for this one. “Marry you? What’s going on?” He explained to me that Alyssa had asked one of her oldest friends to perform the ceremony but he had somehow failed to take the necessary steps to prepare himself to pull off such a thing and somehow this had just become clear to the both of them not ten days prior to the ceremony. “I’m sorry to ask. But we are really in a spot.” “You’re sorry to ask?!” I retorted, “Have you lost your fucking mind?! I will marry the shit out of you!”
And so, the cornucopia of varied roles I had had the privilege of serving in Jonathan’s life over the years would not grow to include minister. This would not be the first time I had married two people, but my previous experience had taken place in Pennsylvania where the laws, in deference to The Amish (or The Quakers- I get them confused) are such that any lay person can marry you and it will be nationally recognized. This time I would need some sort of legal accreditation to make the whole thing kosher.
And so, one form and seventeen dollars later, and this little Jewish boy was ordained by The Universal Life Church as a 24-carat, bona fide, honest-to-goodness Minister.
The facility where the event was to take place was phenomenal, transcendent, otherworldly. I found myself regretful that Lorri and I hadn’t known about it a decade and a half earlier. Simultaneously rustic and sterling, it took me most of the rehearsal to accept that I was gonna get to do this incredible thing in this incredible place.
I was looking quite dapper in my only suit and my wife looked dazzling as always. We had bought the girls matching turquoise fancy sundresses to match the brides chosen color scheme and they looked so grown up that daddy nearly needed a chair to catch his buckling knees at the sight of his angels all gussied up and dressed to the nines. We arrived at the facility at the appointed time and Jonathan, Andy and myself adjoined to “the groomsmen room” and giggled like idiots chock full of bubbling nervousness. When they called us to take our places, Jonathan and I set out for the starting line. He grabbed and squeezed me tight, whispering, “I love you, Michael. I love you.” I answered, “I love you, my friend. Now let’s go blow the roof off this joint.” He smiled and adjourned to his appointed space. As the soft music began and the focus of everyone present turned to the main event, the co-ordinator gave me my cue. I was to be the first person to traverse the aisle and make my way to the platform. I walked forward trying desperately to avoid taking a nose dive.
Jonathan and Alyssa, as a collection of words, this ceremony would count for little, were it not for the love and commitment which you here pledge to one another. By virtue of being human, there is distance between you, which is both infinite and infinitesimal, at one and the same time. Today you have joined in a covenant bridging that distance. Always remember that in reaching across any distance, you are faced with two choices: to circle the globe in one direction, or to take one step in the other. May you ever seek the shorter distance, for love is as difficult- and as simple- as that.
Everything had gone as smoothly as could possibly have been expected. The girls walking down the aisle blowing bubbles out over the heads of the guests (last-minute change) had been delightful. Jonathan’s little-boy like entrance was as heartfelt as it was adorable. Alyssa being handed off from her mom and dad into the waiting arms of Jonathan was a picture of traditional elegance. And the ceremony, at least so far, has been seamless. In addition to the traditional (or semi-traditional vows) Jonathan and Alyssa went on to recite vows that they written themselves. Jonathan had chosen to take a collection of poetic stanzas he had written about Alyssa over their time together and have them read by different people, Lorri included. And Alyssa’s words brought me as close to falling completely apart as I could imagine coming without actually doing so. But I had held it together. There was a task at hand. A critical, life-changing task that had been placed in my (hopefully) capable hands and I fully intended to complete it. And I was about to do so.
Jonathan and Alyssa- by the power vested in me by The Universal Life Church and the state of California, you are now husband and wife in the sight of a higher power, your community and The United States of America. I ask you and all who are gathered here to pray in silence, seeking the blessings of a power greater than ourselves upon your marriage and your home.
In the history of Major League Baseball, about a hundred and twenty-five years, there have been twenty perfect games pitched. Hundreds of thousands of ballgames and only twenty times has it been done. If you don’t know, a perfect game is when a pitcher gets all 27 outs without letting a single batter reach first base (as opposed to a no-hitter, which can include walks, errors and other ways of reaching first and is far more common.) Of those twenty, I have gotten to watch all, most or at least the end of six of them. And in each of the six, the moment that struck me most intensely, is what must have been going through the mind of the pitcher from the time he gets out guy number twenty-six up until the moment that he finishes off guy number twenty-seven. I mean, there has just got to be a desire to screw it up. At least a little, right? I mean, sure, fierce determination and laser focus and all that. But somewhere, even if in the most covert of places, one strike away from perfection, there has got to be at least some infinitesimal level of desire to just throw that next pitch right into the current batters testicles. No? Got to be, right? Like standing on the very edge of a skyscraper and thinking, if just for a fraction of a second, about going over. Not even necessarily jumping. Just the realization that a simple shift in your body weight and you will plunge to your death is, at least, deliciously interesting enough that you step back to keep yourself from doing it, yes? And damn, as good a story as a perfect game is, an almost perfect game ended by a four-seam fastball right in the good -n- plenties might be even better. But, I digress.
The point is, that during that moment of silence, just a single sentence away from a damn near perfect ceremony for one of the people I love most in the world in this idyllic setting with my beautiful family watching from the third row, I became aware of a momentary desire to scream, “MY NAME IS ASSFACE MAGILLICUTTY AND I LIKE TO FUCK HUNCHBACKED ANTELOPES ON ALTERNATE TUESDAYS!”
But I didn’t. I didn’t say that.
Instead, I said,
You may, and probably should, kiss the bride!
And he did. It was a beauty. A killer. Think the beach moment of “From Here to Eternity” or the crescendo of “The Notebook” or Ralph and Alice Kramden at the end of an episode of The Honeymooners. It was awesome.
We adjourned for pictures and Jonathan and I shared another tight embrace.
“Thank you,” he said.
Later, as the party raged on, and what a party it was, the DJ began to call people up to toast the newly wed couple.
When they said “Michael,” I was totally caught unawares. I don’t know why. It made perfect sense that they would ask. But, somehow, I just figured I had said more than enough for one day, and that others could now have their say.
I certainly wasn’t going to say no. It’s just, I got up there and realized that I was at a loss for words. And that does not happen to me all that often.
But I said some things. I still don’t know what they were. But Jonathan and Alyssa were touched and that is all that counts.
What I do remember, though, is the ending.
I looked right into the eyes of the very best man there is and said,
“Just remember one thing. Now you are married. And you know why you are married? BECAUSE I SAID SO!”