C and I had brunch at French Roast on the Upper West Side today with my old friend S and her husband. I don’t see S nearly as much as I’d like to. It’s so hard in New York to sustain attention on anything that isn’t right in front of your face at the moment.
S is a playwright. We used to live next door to each other on East 10th Street, back when I was with J and she was single. She watched our cats when we were on tour, and she sang in the “Cowgirl Chorus,” Y’all’s backup choir, for many years. She met and married her husband some time during my hiatus from New York, so I don’t know him well, but he was, until a couple years ago when he left to start his own business, an attorney at the same firm that C is an associate with now. Artists marrying lawyers.
Afterwards, C and I took the train down to Chelsea Market to look for a few goodies to add to the gift bags that C’s mother is putting in the hotel rooms of our out-of-town wedding guests. Apparently this is a thing people do: the hotel gift bag. (My first experience of it was at the wedding of C’s cousin’s son in Savannah recently. In our room we found a bag with bottled water, ibuprofen, and an assortment of snacks. I particularly enjoyed the cheese straws.) C’s mom has picked out a few items already, but we want to add a couple New York-ish things, too. We found some Brooklyn-made “spicy pickle flavor” potato chips (OK, I hate the word, but yes, they’re “artisanal”) and bought a bag to sample. They’re tasty.
C’s family is wedding-crazy. Which is good because I didn’t know the first thing about how all this stuff works. Until I started to contemplate my own, I found weddings very creepy. And, well, I can’t say that I don’t still think most of them are. The difference I guess in my thinking is that, while weddings in general are likely to be pretty revolting, mine is of course going to be wonderful.
I don’t mean to say that my family isn’t super-excited and helpful, too, but it’s hard to compete with the resume of my in-laws-to-be. I know I’ve said this a few times, so I apologize if it’s becoming tedious, but the size and degree of involvement in each other’s lives of C’s family is seriously like nothing I’ve encountered except in 19th-century novels. These folks have been to a lot of weddings. They know the drill.
And C’s brother is also getting married this year, in the fall (just a regular heterosexual wedding) so it’s a wedding frenzy for the C clan.
Everyone asks how the planning and preparation is going. I think we’re more or less on top of it. C bought my ring yesterday. It’s very similar to his engagement ring, a vintage gold band with a stylized orange blossom design. Most of our invitations went out a couple weeks ago, and the last few -- I didn’t have addresses for some people and I’m a terrible procrastinator, but the protocol says 6 weeks in advance so we’re still within the bounds of good wedding form -- will go out tomorrow morning.
We spent a good part of the afternoon yesterday planning the ceremony. The Unitarian Universalist minister who is officiating, though she stressed that we can do anything we want, gave us a binder arranged “Chinese menu style,” as she said, with several choices for each section: welcoming the guests, readings, the homily, declaration of intent, vows, etc. based on a traditional Protestant wedding order of service.
My inclination all along has been to make our wedding as traditional as possible. I want our guests to feel safely oriented, to know that, while we are two men, it’s just a wedding. I want to hear the phrases we all know, like “dearly beloved,” and “for better, for worse,” and “by the power vested in me by the State of New York” (that’s my favorite), and “do you take this man?” and “I do.”
We made all our choices, and I think it’s going to be lovely and touching. We only stumbled twice. First, when I showed C the poem I wanted someone to read right after the processional, during a simple ritual in which our parents will light a candle together to begin the ceremony. It’s one of several poems Harold Pinter wrote for his wife Antonia Fraser. (I just finished reading her memoir of their marriage.) It’s a beautiful, short and evocative poem about being and staying in love.
C hated it. He found it precious and obscure and thought it read like a Christopher Guest-style parody of itself. I was crushed -- because I loved the poem and thought it was perfect for our wedding but also because now I will never love it in the same easy way I did before.
I doubt that any skill is more necessary to cultivate in order to have and sustain a marriage than the ability to not take your partner’s difference in taste personally, to shake off the hurt feelings, and to move on, so the parents’ candle ritual will happen in silence, which in the end, because the purpose of the candle ritual is to create a mood of reverence and sacredness, is much better than would have been muddying the moment with a poem.
The other disagreement was about the prayer we chose. We both love the St. Francis of Assisi blessing (“God, make ___ and ____ channels of your peace, that where there is hatred they may bring love, where there is hurt may they bring the spirit of forgiveness, where there is doubt, faith, where there is despair, hope, etc.”). I wanted to leave out the “God,” at the beginning in order to make it more universal, less alienating and more meaningful to our non-believing friends and family.
We argued heatedly. His argument is that “God” is a universal word. It means whatever notion someone might have of what God is. True. When I hear the word now, I translate it as something along the lines of “the goodness in all creation,” or “the creative force,” or simply, “love.” But, as a lifelong agnostic, getting to that sense of equanimity about the word has not been easy after decades of feeling threatened and manipulated by it. The fact is that most of the time when you hear the word God in the public sphere it’s in the context of making someone feel less than or outside of the group of people who hold similar views about what is godly and what is ungodly. My God is not the God who hates homosexuals and disobedient women and foreigners and artists and communists and prostitutes and free-thinkers and homeless people and the poor.
C feels it would be aggressive to edit the prayer. I feel it’s aggressive not to. The word is in there twice. We took out one of them. We’ll both get over it.