On Sunday, I went to a wedding.
Intellectually, I’m a cynic when it comes to weddings. Not marriages, necessarily — but weddings. I believe that neither a god nor a government should have a role to play in announcing that two people love one another and have decided to make a mutual commitment. In the United States, as in many other countries, there are certain legal ramifications to being married, but I don’t see why families should spend thousands and thousands of dollars to declare, in essence, that a man and a woman have decided to pool their property. It’s a contract, is what it is.
Emotionally, I’m not such a cynic. Weddings are symbolic rituals that go back to the beginnings of civilization. When a couple gets married, they’re joining hands with their ancestors, with all of our ancestors. They’re enrolling in a very non-exclusive club of humans who have recognized that life, in one way or another, is more livable with a partner. They’re making the same kinds of promises that their great-great-grandparents made, promises that may be kept or broken, but promises that are as old as history. Time stops. The couple reaches backward to the past and forward to the future to carve out their own traditional but complex relationship that we need only two words to define: “They’re married.”
The wedding that I went to on Sunday was held on a large projecting balcony area of a hotel. Beyond it lay the ocean, a beautiful and natural backdrop. As the guests seated themselves, the waves, timeless but ruled by time, pleaded again and again with the shore: Let us stop moving; let us stay here. Give us a break.
Pelicans, whose faces resemble the flying lizards from whom they’ve evolved, soared in formation overhead. They flapped their wings infrequently and — to my thinking — reluctantly: Let us stop moving; give us a break.
In the distance, someone on the beach was listening to rap music with a bass beat we could feel in our shoes, music that tried to propel us up out of our seats (and onto an imaginary dance floor) as it competed with the Bach, Vivaldi, and Pachelbel played so solemnly by the string quartet. Our bodies cried out to the faraway sounds: Let us stop moving; give us a break. Wedding marchers walked slowly and awkwardly in time to the strings, pausing every few steps so as not to get too close to those who preceded them. Their nervous eyes and pasted-on smiles said to one another: Let us stop moving; give the people in front of us a break.
So here’s what the preliminaries of the wedding made me think of. In all the crazy motion of life, a wedding is an attempt to fix a certain moment in time: If only for a few minutes, let us stop moving; give us a break. We humans, for whatever evolutionary reason, require our ritual occasions to put us back in touch with the rest of our species, both living and dead. Some of us may even choose to reflect for a short time, to revel briefly in our commonality. Let differences be forgotten for this instant; give our reciprocated animosities a break.
But, of course, that was not to be. The fatheaded officiant brought her god into the proceedings and made the whole thing trivial and silly. She rattled on and on and on: Jesus wants the couple to do this, Christ wants the couple to be that. Her ADHD deity, who never takes a break to smell the roses that he allegedly created, after who-knows-how-many failed attempts, had hand-selected this pair to be “one.” He was deliriously happy that they’d come together in front of relatives and friends to build their futures on the rock of his Christianity. Despite all the crap that’s going on in the world, he managed to put other concerns aside to come to this insignificant small-time wedding on a beach in the middle of nowhere. He smiled on the bride and on the groom and gave them their marching orders; get busy leading a holy life. In Jesus’s name amen.
Meanwhile, the sea — carrying countless lifeforms as it has done, without any supernatural commands, for well over three billion years — kept saying to the priestess: Give them a break. Shut up, and give them a break.
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
On Sunday, I went to a wedding.