The fight broke out about five minutes before the wedding was scheduled to commence.
It all started when the bride's biological father appeared. His epiphany was noteworthy since he had disappeared twenty-two years ago while the bride was seven months in utero. He reappeared to assert his "right" to walk "his" daughter down the aisle.
The designated aisle escort -- the beloved long-term stepfather -- objected. Fisticuffs ensued. Sperm donor daddy scored last by sucker punching the step-father several inches below the belt. I was mesmerized. Alerted by a despised voice from the past, the mother of the bride arrived ... a white-hot rage gleamed in her eyes, frightening but exquisite. She held a chilled champagne bottle by the neck.
A moan from the stepfather in the fetal position on the floor seemed to complete the ignition of her fuse. The eyes of the male biological parental unit opened wide, bulged out and then closed swiftly as the bottle bounced off his head. The mother of the bride firmly spoke: "We will notify the authorities after the ceremony."
I checked for a pulse. His was steady, mine was revved up. The matrimonial deal went down. True to form, after the ceremony, Bio-Dad was nowhere to be seen.
I have served as an unindicted co-conspirator in over 200 counts of aiding and abetting those intent upon committing matrimony. Or, I have officiated over 200 times at "The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage." I have deep respect for the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. But the "inward and spiritual grace" part takes awhile to appear while many of the "outward and visible signs" tickle my irreverent streak.
I have observations and stories to share that have been polished and repeated over the past 20 years. Nevertheless, they are true. Believe it or don't.
I am here to take you behind the scenes and cut to the chase.
Speak now or forever hold your peace
When two people are under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive and most transient of passions, they are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal, and exhausting condition continuously until death do them part.
-- Getting Married, G. B. Shaw, 1908
I think it was Dennis Miller who said that "the only two times they pronounce you anything in life is when they pronounce you 'man and wife' or 'dead on arrival.'"
After many months of planning and preparation, the wedding day has arrived. I have addressed a herd of strangers as "dearly beloved." I have then spoken a few words of questionable theological justification regarding the spiritual basis for matrimony. And then I issue the challenge: "If any of you can show just cause why they may not lawfully be married, speak now; or else forever hold your peace."
A cough or the clearing of a throat is one thing; having someone actually speak up is something else entirely.
I have witnessed this. Twice. Neither time was it pretty. When someone enacts the "speak now" part, my primary role is to hasten to protect the objector -- the ushers usually turn into vigilantes and must be restrained. I escort the speaker into a nearby room. I have to discern if there really is a legal reason to stop the ceremony.
"Are they brother and sister? Is he already married? Is she really just twelve years old?" Both times I heard the same sad refrain. The male objector stated: "She doesn't love him. She loves me." The female objector stated: "He doesn't love her. He loves me."
Neither understood that love or the lack thereof is not a sufficient legal reason to halt the proceedings. The spurned paramours had obviously ingested "heroic doses" of some mind-altering substance(s). In the very act of speaking out they had experienced what combat tactics instructors refer to as a major "adrenaline dump." If it weren't such a major display of jejeune emotional chaos, if it were not such a major pain in the ass, it would be kind of pathetic. It is never pathetic.
Are you familiar with "The Plague of the Unity Candle"? For the uninformed, allow me to explain. The "unity candle" is, in reality, three candles: one large candle flanked by two smaller candles. A representative from the bride's and the groom's family ignite the two flanking candles as the service begins. At some point in the festivities the bride and groom approach the "unity candle," each grasps one of the smaller candles, and together they set fire to the wick of the larger candle. "And the two shall become one" seems to be the underlying motif.
Not only is it hokey theatrics but it is also fraught with hazards. Candles are temperamental. The couple ignites the unity candle, the ceremony proceeds, and then a collective gasp is emitted by the congregation as the unity candle commences to sputter and then flickers out. Bad omen! The candle is transformed into an augury, a harbinger of doom who announces with clarity that the fates have turned thumbs down on the marriage. It is over before it ever gets going.
It is not as bad when the couple makes an attempt and inadvertently snuffs out all three candles. I just walk over with a Bic and let them go at it again. I once watched in amazement as the groom managed to set his rented tux on fire. Two times I have watched as shaky hands caused the entire wax ensemble to keel over and smash to the floor. Let me tell you, unity candles are inherently evil.
Matrimony and flying monkeys
The bride looks as good as she ever will. An ill-fitting tuxedo serves as camouflage which detracts from the groom's deer-in-the-headlights look.
He laughed at the rehearsal. I was plotting out the ring swapping strategy and said, as I always do, "If the ring doesn't slide easily onto the finger, don't force it. Sometimes emotions cause fingers to swell up. Beginning wedded bliss by breaking your beloved's finger is not recommended." His rehearsal "haw, haw, haw" was trumped; his ring finger had swollen up like a ballpark frankfurter.
Pre-marital counseling is required by my denomination. I begin by trying to talk the couple out of getting married. Why? What needs are being met? Why don't you just continue to live together? Do you know the odds? Do you understand the concept of lifelong fidelity?
Sometimes I show them a cartoon of a marriage ceremony featuring a couple standing before a minister. The bride looks ecstatic and the groom looks appalled as the priest intones: "And do you, Donald, promise to make love to no one except Lydia, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade, until you are dead?" If they both laugh, I proceed. If neither laughs, I proceed. But, if one laughs while the other remains silent, I am compelled to share my "flying, winged monkey" theory with them.
I begin by comparing the virtues of fidelity and a lifelong union with the type of people who absolutely love the movie The Wizard of Oz. They are delighted with the original movie, and all the subsequent permutations.
As they age, their devotion to Oz grows deeper and stronger each time they watch it. They always perceive something new and exciting and yet are comforted by the familiarity of each subsequent viewing. They are content to watch this one movie forever. Are you with me thus far?
"OK. Now, do you two lovebirds recall the scene which features the witch and her cadre of winged, flying monkeys? OK. Well, every relationship has its own winged, flying monkeys. If you cannot handle the occasional airborne simian, you'll have trouble with a lifelong marriage. If you love the 'movie' and can handle the 'monkeys,' then you have a chance at lifelong marital bliss. Do you understand what I am trying to tell you?" At this point they usually glance at one another, check out the nearest exit, and look puzzled.
"Let me clarify my theory," I say. "The very first time I saw The Wizard of Oz, I was so terrified by the winged, flying monkeys that I fled from the theater. Since then I have tried to watch the movie several times. When the winged, flying monkeys appear, I depart. I have never seen that movie through to the end. I still don't know how the story turns out. I don't care what happened to the girl and that dog. For me, the movie ends when the winged, flying monkeys appear. If you can't get past the monkeys, you shouldn't plan on marriage."
This theory is generally not helpful to the couple but it does soothe me.
Don't forget the smelling salts
The bride was a basket case. She was teetering on the edge of flipping out. A helpful bridesmaid gave her a "mild tranquilizer." The Xanax was just kicking in as she walked to the nave. She had to pass through the adjacent reception hall and I was informed that she had availed herself of the opportunity to knock down a glass or two of white wine.
She looked remarkably composed, almost jaunty, coming down the aisle. She was positively radiant. A maidenly blush turned her face bright red. This dimmed down to a glowing pink. The glowing pink soon became a "whiter shade of pale," a fish-belly white. I had always thought that the expression "the color drained out of her face" was figurative.
There was no veil to help disguise my actions. I had grabbed the bride by the back of her neck and cracked open an ammonia ampule (aka: smelling salts) under her nose. She struggled to back away and shook her head from side to side. I stuck my fingers through the wall of hair spray and held on. The groom looked puzzled. The bride's eyeballs, which had been doing a rather interesting pinball tango, snapped into focus, looked directly into mine, and she quietly whispered, "Would you please get on with the ceremony?" I did as she asked.
Nothing so introduces a sour note at a wedding than the abrupt disappearance of the bride: "In the name of God, I, Elizabeth, take you, Robert, to be my husband, to have and to hold..." Then there was a pause, a real long pause. I whisper "from this day forward" a couple of times -- but she had not forgotten the words.
"No. No, I don't think I do 'take you.' I don't want to get married. Goodbye, Robert." She gently handed her bouquet to him. I said something stupid like "Go in peace to love and serve the Lord" while heading to the nearest exit. My jams had been kicked out and I was booking. Trouble was brewing -- hell, trouble had boiled over -- and it was not my fight. Never underestimate the power of a woman wearing Keds underneath a $1,500 satin gown.
Rev. Christian B. Platt is chaplain of St. Augustine's Episcopal Church in Lexington, Ky.
Minister to Minister
At the rehearsal:
At the rehearsal:
Warn the wedding party about locking their knees. If they lock them, they will fall over.
Warn of the effects of ingesting massive amounts of drugs. If they ingest them, they will fall over.
Warn the bride's Maid of Honor that the bride's high heels cannot get snagged in the hem or train of the bridal gown. If they get snagged, the bride will fall over.
Heed the aforementioned warnings yourself.
It is unseemly for the minister to fall over.
At the wedding:
Wedding consultants and mothers are always trouble. Clearly state your rules. After that, never argue with them and always allow them to do whatever they please. Then, about an hour before the ceremony, tell them to undo whatever breaks the aforementioned rules. If they refuse, tell them to find another minister.
Always carry your car keys in your pocket. A fast getaway is sometimes essential.
Always carry at least two ammonia ampules.
Sugar-free mentholyptus drops will be needed.
Two new white handkerchiefs are a must.
Brush your teeth.
Wash your hands.
Check your fingernails, clean if necessary.
If you have a "concealed carry permit," well...
Before the ceremony, check the groom's shoes. If he kneels and his soles proclaim: "Help Me" or "Dial 911," there will be hell to pay. We are not in the business of enlarging hell's treasury.
Children are cute. They will wreck the entire ceremony if you don't watch them.
Do not glare at children in the service (flower girls, ring bearers), as they have a tendency to cry.
Never, ever attach the actual rings to the ring bearer's pillow.
Make sure there is a valid marriage license.
Did I mention keeping the car keys in your pocket?
At the reception:
This is usually where the check is slipped to the minister. Leave as soon as you get it.
If the cake has been cut, dancing commences, and you still haven't gotten paid, show some class and depart.
The party is NOT going to start until the dude or dudess with the collar leaves.
No one knows what to say to the minister after a wedding: "A beautiful service, Reverend. Nice words." This is the equivalent of having the funeral home employees tell you how great a funeral it was. The proper response in either situation is to state: "Quit blowing smoke up my skirt. Help me get out of here."
Rev. Christopher B. Platt
For those contemplating committing matrimony:
Take off the rose-colored glasses and wipe the cobwebs or the tears out of your eyes.
Take a good, hard look at yourself.
Take a good, hard look at your intended.
Is this a good idea?
Are you elated in body, heart, soul and mind at the prospect of living with this one person forever?
If not, what in the world is the matter with you?
It is not over until the Fat Lady sings. Until you are pronounced, the entire deal is up for grabs.
Always hire a minister who knows about the shoe sole checking part.
Rev. Christopher B. Platt