Friday, August 2, 2013

Words, Words, Words

"You're good with words." I get that a lot. But the truth of the matter is that words are not my friends. In fact, we struggle against each other every day since I make my living as a writer at my day job. When I am trying to assemble text for something about which I have no real passion, I sometimes wonder what it might have been like if I had decided to pursue a career as a social worker, or a carrot farmer. Anything, anything but as a writer.

The mood usually passes, and I invariably finish the assignment without missing a deadline. But there are days when I want to shut off my computer and just walk away after tossing a match backwards through the door on my way out.

I have stood before countless brides and grooms and repeated words for them that moved them to tears. And I have stood beside too many caskets, and beside too many gravesites, and hoped that the words I have prepared will bring some measure of comfort to the shattered relatives and grieving friends who have gathered.

However, words really are my enemies when I need to them line up strong and perfect to help me rescue the broken heart of a friend -- somebody I truly know and who trusts me to help -- who calls me with hard news. A medical test has delivered a death sentence, a child has died, a beloved spouse has had a stroke and will not recover. These personally monumental events are just small clouds in the infinite storm of human existence, but they completely take over the soul when they arrive in one's personal sky. I know that, and what I want to do is comfort, console, lift a burden, provide some relief. And because I am emotionally invested, I fear I will fail.

But what I do is roll around wrestling with words. Words that don't truly convey how precious life is, how fleeting, and how capricious. That can't express what loving somebody feels like when after 50 years the beloved is suddenly so completely gone from sight -- yet the birds still sing, and the paper lands in the driveway.

So I turn on the computer, and I utter my own mantra. "Please, God, just help me say it. Just one more time. And this time it's really important."

And I hope it's God that answers, because words usually find their way to my fingers, and onto the computer. And eventually they become a part of a memorial service, or a prayer vigil. And often I am reading what I have written hoping that words and I have both done our work well.

I'm not good with words. But they haven't beaten me. Not yet.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Dress

I found her out in the barn, 20 minutes or so before the wedding was to start. She was still in her jeans, but she'd had her shower. She said, "Is it that late already?"

I said, "My only rule is that we begin when the bride is ready. And since you're the bride, we will wait."

She looked at me and I saw a flicker of desperation go across her face. I asked, "Are you nervous?"

She said, "Not about marrying John. We've been together 22 years and we have grandkids."

I prompted her, "What is it?"

She said, "It's that damn dress. My grandmother and mother have lost their minds."

"How bad can it be?" I asked.

"Have you seen it?" she asked me. "It's huge. I'm 42 years old. I raise horses. I'm getting married in a double-wide. There's not going to be room for the dress, and I don't know if I am strong enough to move in it."

I coaxed her out of the barn with a vague promise to get her through, no matter what it took. The groom, John, watched us walk towards the porch. "Brenda," he said, "I think you'd best wrestle into that dress. They're all waiting."

She nodded her head, and went inside. I followed her, and there it was. The Dress. It was hanging from a door, and its skirt seemed to reach for several feet. The sleeves were lace, and the skirt had ruffles from the waist to the hem. Brenda looked at me as if to say, "See what I mean?"

Her mother and grandmother sat in the living room, their eyes shining with pride. I soon learned that they had bought the dress years before for Brenda in the fond hope that the day would come that she would be a bride, even if it came after she was a mother and a grandmother herself. So, now that the day had in fact come, they were resolute that it was going to include The Dress.

I said to Brenda, "Put it on, and we will figure out how to navigate the double-wide."

In a few minutes, she called for me to come retrieve her, and we maneuvered her into the hallway of the mobile home. Her mother and grandmother gasped in delight. "Brenda, you look beautiful," they said. John quite wisely said nothing, and just smiled.

Brenda walked sort of sideways down the hallway of the double-wide, and we guided her to a corner of the living room where an archway filled with handmade paper flowers awaited. John stood quietly, and a little boy with a clip on tie said to me, "My mimi and papa are getting married."

"I know," I told him. "I'm the minister." And then we began.

Brenda's mother and grandmother signed the marriage license, and in an hour or so Brenda and The Dress had arrived safely into the realm of matrimony.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Extortion Factor of Weddings

I recently met with one of my favorite young couples whose wedding is coming up soon. In the course of what is now a relaxed conversation between us, the groom told me about another wedding of a (former) best friend who is being married in a few weeks. Apparently his (former) best friend (FBF) expects him to help fund a bachelor's party in Las Vegas -- airline tickets, hotel rooms, shows, etc.

I must have given my best deer in the headlights impression, because my groom went on to explain that it's a common problem these days. You are asked to be a wedding attendant for a friend, and you find yourself on the hook for hundreds -- even thousands -- of dollars in "must dos." Showers, bachelor and bachelorette parties, etc., etc. There is nothing optional about it, either. You take on honor of being photographed all day in rented plastic shoes or wearing a dress that looks good on everybody else but you -- and you pay, through the nose, for the honor.

My bride also told me that one of her friends was told to get a series of microdermabrasion treatments so she would "look better in the photographs."

I was truly stunned. What kind of self-focused, egotistical, delusional level of an attitude of entitlement does it take to make these kinds of demands? On bridal party members?

A final note: My groom told his FBF that because his own wedding was so close at hand and he and his fiancee were paying for everything themselves, he would have to bow out of the festivities for any wedding other than his own.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Parents NOT Behaving Badly

I officiated recently at the wedding of a couple who each had a complete set of parents and stepparents. They also wanted their mothers, stepmothers, fathers, and stepfathers to participate in the pouring of sand during the unity sand ceremony.

I watched the families gather for the wedding of their much-beloved (and I guess you could say multi-beloved)children, and just sent up a silent prayer that everything went smoothly and that everybody remained on their best behavior.

I could have spared myself a bit of anxiety. Regardless of what rancor might have existed in the past (and I did not ask, nor would I ever ask) -- not a whiff of it could be detected during the wedding itself. Everybody paid attention to the words being spoken, and did their best to maintain an air of affectionate decorum for every part of the ceremony.

The gift those parents and stepparents gave the couple being married was an example of true community, and unselfish love. They put aside their own issues, and acted like truly loving adults. The photos will reflect smiles, genuine good will, and a magical couple of hours when everybody offered true best wishes and congratulations to a very sincere couple embarking on one of life's most important journeys.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Etiquette versus Manners

We all know just enough etiquette to cause us problems -- especially if there's a wedding involved. It seems that once the ring is on the bride-to-be's finger, somebody's mother or grandmother drags out the etiquette book, and the tensions start to build.

Speaking as the daughter of a woman who authored several etiquette books over the course of her professional lifetime, I will quote my mother. "Etiquette is protocol, and most people don't really give a damn about how things were done in the royal courts for hundreds of years. But manners are what make it possible for ordinary people to deal with each other more comfortably."

Etiquette used to be (and probably still is) what divided the social classes. The great unwashed was not versed in the subtle nuances of "proper behavior." Manners are the small actions that convey respect and smooth interaction between people.

When you're planning any kind of event, rely less on what the etiquette books dictate that you do, and more on what your sense of kindness and compassion tell you should be done. (But write those thank you notes by hand! It's still a no-no to email them.)

Friday, July 1, 2011

Planning Ahead in Uncertain Times

The stationery stores and card shops all have beautiful wedding planning notebooks. There are books galore that would imply that every bride sits in a candle-scented room for months and plans each and every detail of a wedding that knows no bounds except her romantic imagination. This only happens in a parallel universe.

The simple fact is that brides -- even royal brides -- are real women living real lives. And right now, times are hard all over the world, and the only thing that can be counted on is that something is bound to happen that a bride hasn't counted on.

Does this mean that today's bride should abandon her favorite daydreams of ribbons and flowers (or feathers and beads -- whatever)? Absolutely not. When it comes to weddings, compromise and a willingness to be flexible are the keys to happy memories after a day that is thought back on for all the right reasons.

Taking reasonable precautions is also essential. When selecting a venue, be certain that it is one that will still be in business when your big day arrives. Do not select a venue strictly for its looks and the seemingly unbelievable deal you can get for no apparent reason. Ask the proprietor outright, "Do you own this location, or lease it?" And if the answer is lease, ask another hard question, "Is there any chance at all that you won't be in operation when it is time for my wedding?"

Slight variations to these two questions -- depending on the service being contracted for -- are a good hedge against heartbreak later on. Google the name of the florist, photographer, officiant, dress shop, etc. -- and see what may have been posted online.

But most of all, don't get yourself into situations that could break your heart along with your budget later on.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Weddings and the Recession

It's no secret that the country has been in a recession. Almost every facet of our existence has been impacted either directly -- with the reduction of income or the loss of jobs -- or indirectly in the form of the emotional toll that hard times take on the collection consciousness.

Initially, many wedding services and vendors clung to the folk wisdom that weddings (and funerals) are "recession-proof." What I have observed is that although people are not refraining from dying during the downturn (although many funerals are definitely feeling more hands-on and homespun than they have in recent years) -- many couples are definitely postponing the wedding until better days. That doesn't necessarily mean that they aren't getting married. But the celebration itself -- the dresses, cake, flowers, and photographs -- are often being pushed into the future.

Although many couples are choosing prolonged cohabitation over a civil ceremony, others are still tying the knot legally. A genuine deterrent, at least in Arizona, has been the steady increase in the cost of the license itself. By the time a couple leaves the courthouse, they are out about $100 just for the license itself. If they choose to complete the job before they leave the tender embrace of the courthouse, there are additional costs, and a marrying atmosphere about as tender as the department of motor vehicles.

I encourage couples who want to marry but can't afford a wedding to procure their license, and then find a sympathetic and affordable officiant (I am one) and a couple of witnesses to seal the deal. It can be a day that feels like a real wedding, but costs exactly the same as a stripped bare civil ceremony.

The recession will eventually ease up, or people will decide that life goes on, regardless of what the economy does. I predict that we will figure out again how to observe the special times and celebrate them. As a society, we always do.