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Honoring the death of a person who was difficult to love

– A combo memorial service / shiva minyan can help you do so

 A few months ago, I had the complicated privilege of helping a family plan a memorial/shiva service for their father, who had died after a long illness, and after an even longer period of pain of estrangement from his four adult children, their spouses, and his grandchildren.

“Andy,” as I will call him, was a complicated persotombstonen, which is why I described my job, as the rabbi, to be “complicated.”

Andy was in his 80s and was hard to get along with, perhaps even abusive at times to his children. He played favorites in a way that the adult children had learned to cope with, but which had surely created much pain and heartache when they were younger and less mature. Andy had divorced his kids’ mother and she had no interest in attending any kind of memorial. None of the women he had dated since  the divorce cared to attend any kind of service either. It appears he had no friends.

Jewish burial practices were clearly made with a different kind of person in mind. Jews and non-Jews alike, including the world of psychiatric research, has a great deal of admiration for the way Jewish tradition handles end-of-life mourning practices. People have written many books about the wisdom of Jewish mourning traditions, and how they seem designed to gradually lead the survivors through the stages of mourning, and eventually back into the world of the living.

I agree. They are brilliant. And I encourage Jews who never do more Jewishly in their lives than appear at Kol Nidre services to take the time to familiarize themselves with the Jewish ways of mourning when a loved one dies. Together, they betray a keen awareness of how we humans process loss, and how marking intervals of time over this mourning process with specific rituals and prayers can help us move through our grief.

I won’t go into the various elements now – you can read them many places. Rather, what I would like to talk about here are those deaths that we feel a need or desire to ritually acknowledge in some way, but for a variety of reasons, the Jewish script on how to do so doesn’t fit quite right.

• The death of someone who is very old, and thus leaves few survivors, is one whole category of cases where classical Jewish mourning practices don’t entirely make sense.

• The death of someone who was, essentially, a hard person to love, is another important category. This is the situation “Andy’s” family found themselves in.

 *   *   *

Before we explore what alternatives might work best in these types of situations, let’s first review what a “typical” series of events would be following the death of a beloved, when Jewish tradition kicks in with a set of clearly prescribed actions:

1.         Call the funeral home.
2.         Plan for either a burial or cremation.
(40% of Jews today are being cremated; it’s the hush-hush secret no on talks about.)
3.         Schedule a date and plan on 100+ people coming to the funeral home for a service inside the funeral home.
4.         A portion of those mourners will then drive to the graveside, where thtexte rabbi will read a few more psalms or poems, and conclude with the mourner’s kaddish. The final act is the throwing of dirt on the casket or the urn that is being buried. You can assume steps 1-4 will take about 5 hours out of your day, much of it in travel time, since the funeral homes and the burial grounds are often located very far apart. In Philly, most of them are located in the far outskirts of the city.
5.         Then comes shiva. Traditionally, it is 7 nights, but most families outside Orthodoxy observe only 1 or 2 nights. The rabbi who led the funeral usually leads the shiva as well, unless you have an educated friend or family member who can lead the service. (This is one way of saving some money, if that is an issue.) While a shiva service itself usually takes just 40 or so minutes, it is essentially a daylong event, emotionally speaking. Folks almost never go to work during shiva, and many families feel obligated to have food on hand for those attending — even if it’s food that others have brought.
6.         Then, about 6 months after the death, immediate family members gather graveside for the unveiling of the tombstone. This is a brief ceremony, 15 minutes tops, but people often have lunch together afterward. Due to travel time, this often takes another 3-4 hours — so in other words, another half day spent.

The average cost for all this (assuming a burial and not a cremation) is $35,000, according to national statistics. The rabbi makes a miniscule fraction of this sum, by the way. In Philadelphia, the fixed rate for a funeral is $645 for the rabbi; (shiva minyans and tombstone unveilings are negotiated separately, and vary depending on travel time.)

At the end of the day, this “whole big megilla” of a traditional Jewish burial is a whole lot of money, (and time, and emotional latitude.) It’s especially a lot of money if you suspect few people will even attend the funeral, the graveside, or a shiva, either because the deceased had outlived his social circle, or because the deceased did not endear himself much to others.

But forget the money for a moment and just focus on the emotional costs. When the relationship was strained, you can’t help but ask yourself honestly whether you want to invest 10 or 20 hours of your life memorializing someone who, despite their kinship, caused you unmitigated grief or heartache.

How much time do you want to spend formally mourning a person who caused you to spend years of your life on a therapist’s couch?

I’m going to take a wild guess here and say: Probably not much.

And that also doesn’t mean you want to do nothing at all, either.

After all, a memorial event, however it is done, is done for the living, not for the dead. So, more than anything else, the event needs to meet the needs of those who are left behind. In the case of this family, the many layered, time-consuming, and expensive Jewish traditions usually done upon the death of a beloved was not what Andy’s family needed.

Although the death of a difficult family member, like Andy, is a different kind of loss than the death of someone close, but it is still very much a loss. Sometimes, quixotically, it can be an even harder loss because it can bring up all sorts of feels of regret, thoughts of “If only…” and “What if…?”

The death of a person with whom you had a broken relationship means this relationship can NEVER be repaired. Of course it couldn’t have been repaired by any means, because the man who died was himself too broken of a person, but having the window close of even an imaginary opportunity is its own sort of terrible finality. You, the survivor, is left with the shards of this broken vessel, and a memorial service, done the right way, can be your own first step to making peace with that fact.

Fortunately for me, Andy’s surviving children and spouses were an incredibly wise bunch. While they didn’t know exactly what they wanted as far as a formal ceremony or event marking Andy’s passing, they had figured out — intuitively really — that doing the traditional Jewish funeral rites was not what they needed. It would have been, pardon the expression, overkill. But they intuited that they needed to come together in some manner as a family, and in some way mark the passing of this person who had, for better and worse, made such an enormous impact on their lives.

After speaking at length with one of Andy’s daughters, and learning the details of their story, we concluded that having a modest, in-home memorial service with just immediate family members would be the best way to help them do that. So, working together, here is what we did, (I think of it as a Jewish funeral/shiva combo). It was inexpensive; it was respectful; and it served its purpose of helping the mourners mark the loss of their father and grandfather.

It was almost like building a new foundation out of the rubble: By making peace with the brokenness, they could then move forward in their own unbroken lives and relationships with each other.

 *   *   *

Combined Home Memorial  / Shiva Minyan Service

(in lieu of the traditional memorial service at funeral home /
graves
ide service / and then shiva minyan)

Timing: Andy had died and been cremated about one month earlier. An in-home memorial was planned for a few weeks after his death to give relativmosaices from out of town time to buy plane tickets at a reasonable price and prepare time off from work and school (in the case of the grandchildren).

Location: At the home of one of Andy’s daughters in the Mainline PA.

Time: Late morning or early afternoon on a Saturday or Sunday seemed to make the most sense. This minimized impact on their own work/school lives, while also making it possible to follow the home memorial with a meal together, which they had at a restaurant. (I led the service, but did not join them at the meal).

In Attendance:  Four surviving daughters, their four spouses, and all but one of the grandchildren (the missing grandchild was in college and had only met his grandfather once, so in his case, it didn’t seem to make sense that he would incur the cost and headache of missed collegiate work.)

Our Service:

We sat in chairs in a circle in the living room, where we could all face each other.

Rabbi: I began with a favorite reading from Albert Einstein, where he reflects on the meaning of life. I concluded by saying:

“Thank you to all of you who have come here today, to stand in comfort and support of the Smith family, as they mourn the passage of their father, father-in-law and grandfather, Andy Smith. Please turn to page 4a.

 Rise for the Shema.”

Rabbi: After group recitation of the Shema, service-leader reads a brief writing from Chaim Stern.

Mourner #1: Reads an English rendition of Ma’ariv Aravim.

Everyone: Recites the Shema together.

Mourner #2: Reads an English rendition of V’ahavta.

Rabbi: “There are times when each of us feels lost or alone, adrift and forsaken, unable to reach those next to us, or to be reached by them. And there are days and nights when existence seems to lack all purpose, and our lives seem brief sparks in an indifferent cosmos. Fear and loneliness enter into the soul. None of us is immune from doubt and fear; none escapes times when all seems dark and senseless. Then, the ebb-tide of the spirit, the soul cries out and reaches for companionship.”

Please turn to 13a as we rise and recite together the first three blessings of the psalmnatureAmidah. For the 15 remaining blessings, I invite you to recite them silently, or simply take this time for quiet personal reflection.

Group: Recites the Amidah (Also called “The Tefillah”).

Conclude the Amidah by singing together Oseh Shalom.

Rabbi: Shares a reading from Marge Piercy.

Rabbi: Shares some highlights from Andy Smith’s life: where he was born, raised, what kind of work he did. Mention his strengths and those things he did well in life.

Then open the circle to anyone else who would like to share some memories. Three members of the family shared some brief positive memories they had of Andy. (We all knew that these thoughts did not reflect the larger arc of his life, but that was okay. It was an act of love, really — one final unrequited gift that they gave him — by choosing to focus only on the positive and the joyous.)

Mourner #3: The circle closed with a recitation of the poem by Albert Fine: “Birth is a Beginning, Death is a Destination.” (The poem had been suggested by one of the daughters; she had heard it at another funeral and liked it.)

Rabbi: Sings/Chants El Malei Rachamim – a chanted prayer of mourning filled with beautiful allegory whereby the petitioners ask that the soul of the departed carry on into the next world on the wings of angels.

Rabbi: Leads the concluding Mourner’s Kaddish.

 *   *   *

Shavuot: Let's keep it the harvest holiday it was originally meant to be!

This is just one of many ways a combined at-home memorial / shiva service can be conducted. The readings and content was selected after speaking with the family members. In total, the service lasted about 40 minutes.

Every death is different, and the needs of every family of mourners is always different. The service outlined above, for example, assumes that those attending have a basic understanding of core Jewish liturgy, and that the mourners are in favor of references to God in Hebrew. What the right service might be for your family could look very different.

To discuss what kind of service might meet the needs of your family, please give me a call. There is never any charge for a consultation, and if I feel I am not able to meet the needs of your family – for whatever reason – I am happy to help you find someone who will.

Every death, even the most difficult one, deserves to be honored and recognized in some way. Working together, we can make this happen for you. I am an ordained rabbi with formal training all across the non-Orthodox spectrum: Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal, and Secular-Humanist. (I’ve been a quintessential “Wandering Jew” in my learning and life; hence the name of this blog! 🙂 ).

We can craft a ceremony that reflects your relationship with the deceased, however it might have been.

I’m not always checking my electronic devices, so if you have a time-sensitive inquiry for a funeral, a memorial service, or a shiva minyan, please text my cell and send me an email. I will be in touch as soon as I see one of the other. If possible, please give me a general sense of what day you either must or hope to have your gathering, and how much flexibility you have on that scheduling.

Rabbi Joysa Winter: 267-902-7752; joysa.winter@gmail.com.


In 2014, I had the pleasure of officiating a wedding at the most unlikely of places: a downtown antique auction house and furniture store called Material Culture. Located in north Philadelphia, just east of East Falls at 4700 Wissahickon Ave., the store promotes itself as “A spacious emporium carrying an array of global antiques, arts & crafts, plus other unique finds.”

Unique indeed! Built in 1920, the 60,000-square-foot store occupies a former train station of the Atwater Kent Radio Factory. With towering ceilings, expanses of glittering light, and galleries adorned with architectural elements and artwork from around the globe, the store provides an amazing backdrop for any couple looking to bring a Pier One-aesthetic to their wedding day.

Here are just a few shots I captured that day. The smudge on all of them came from a toddler’s fingerprint that I didn’t know what there! 😦 You can view much better photos from a variety of events in the store’s photo gallery, which you can find here. 

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From the outside, Material Culture looks utterly commonplace. It isn’t until you go inside that the real magic begins!

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Looking down at the reception.

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One of the funky furniture pieces for sale.

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The colorful chuppah under construction before the ceremony.

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The carpet room provides lots of places for folks to sit down and enjoy cocktails. 

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The tech-savvy couple had fun jumping online right after the ceremony and registering the change from Dating to Married on their relationship status on Facebook!

 


Their Secret Was
Jalal al-Din Rumi, 1207 – 1273

A married couple used to come see me once in
a while. Among the many I knew who were wed,
they appeared the most happy.

One day I said to them, “What marital advice
could you offer to others that might help them
achieve the grace you found?”

And the young woman blushed and so did her
husband; so I did not press them to answer.
But I knew.

Their secret was this: That once every day, for
an hour, they treated each other as if they were
gods and would, with all their heart, do anything,
anything, their beloved desired.

Sometimes that just meant holding hands and
walking in a forest that renewed their souls.


It’s possible to be married under twinkling stars in the planetarium of The Franklin Institute! It is definitely one of the most memorable and ethereal wedding venues in metro Philly.

Should you write your own wedding vows? It’s a question only you can answer; it’s a challenge only about 1 in 10 couples whose weddings I officiate choose to take on.

Below is an example of a great personally written vow — it’s an ideal length and strikes the perfect tone.

I’m sharing it with permission; their anonymity was requested:

They say love comes to those who still hope after disappointment, who still believe after betrayal and who still love after they’ve been hurt. I know this is true because I found you.

Patrick – you are my best friend and I thank god he brought you into my life.

I love how tenderhearted you are toward me and when you show your sentimental side, the side that comes out when I am having a bad day and lifts my spirit.

I love how you love me, a pure love that I have never found in anyone else; the kind of love that is accepting of my flaws, knows my deepest insecurities and pain and continues to love me without judgment, but with acceptance and strength.

In this sometimes chaotic world, I know I can find peace with you by my side (and by that I mean binge watching Netflix and HBO Go).  I know with you beside me it will all be okay because of the love and friendship we share.

I promise my unconditional love for a lifetime, to listen and to hold your hand, to always kiss you goodnight and to do my best to always make you feel loved.

I promise to remember that although neither of us is perfect, we are perfect for each other.

I promise to fight for us, and to forgive quickly, no matter what challenges might carry us apart.

I promise to always find my way back to you.

Finally, (because this could be a deal breaker), I vow to love you when you are 65, retired and still playing Xbox.

I love your soul.


Whenever a couple has a piece of literature, movie or music that they share passionately in common, it presents such a fun opportunity to try to work in some quotes or passages into the wedding ceremony. This week, by happenstance, I finally found a perfect excerpt from Star Trek, which could be used for a Trekkie-loving couple!

Here, in Season 6, Episode 7 of Deep Space Nine, “You Are Cordially Invited,” we watch the wedding ceremony between Worf and Jadzia Dax. Watching the choreography in the episode is much better than just reading the script, but I’ve typed up the exchange below, for anyone who might wish to adapt it in their own ceremony.

Acting out the batlyths and the drumming would probably be a bit over-the-top for most folks, but even just using some of the quotes, or passages, as spoken by the officiant, could sound completely beautiful in a ceremony. Obviously, the references to “Klingons” would be replaced with “human” – as in No one can oppose the beating of two human hearts. And you could skip the fable about destroying the gods. In other words, this scene could be adapted into a funny, yet touching, text for the vow exchange.

For all of you random Google-readers out there, who have happened upon this blog entry, I’m an officiant in metro Philly who writes about Judaism and weddings (and sometimes both!). If you want a creative Star-Trek inspired wedding ceremony, I AM willing to travel! 🙂

 

 

Prior to the ceremony, the Klingon Martok says this:

And yet I love her deeply.

We Klingons, often tout our prowess in battle, our desire for glory and honor above all else. But how hollow is the sound of victory without someone to share it with? Honor gives little comfort to a man alone in his home, and in his heart.

At the ceremony, his wife Sirilla speaks as the Officiant:

{Officiant} (drumming) With fire and steel did the gods forge the Klingon heart. So fiercely did it beat, so loud was the sound that the gods cried out ‘on this day we have brought forth the strongest heart in all the heavens’. None can stand before it without trembling in its strength. But then the Klingon heart weakened, its steady rhythm faltered, and the gods said ‘Why have you weaken so? We have made you the strongest in all creation!”

And the heart said {groom} “I am alone”.

{Officiant} And the gods knew that they had erred. So they went back to their forge and they brought forth another heart.

{bride enters} {batlyths presented} {Officiant} But the second heart beat stronger than the first. The first was jealous of its power.

{ceremonial clash} Fortunately, the second heart was tempered by wisdom.

{bride} If we join together, no force can stop us.

{Weapons set aside. Couple embraces}

{Officiant} And when the two hearts began to beat together, they filled the heavens with a terrible sound. For the first time, the gods knew fear. They tried to flee but it was too late. The Klingon hearts destroyed the gods who created them, and turned the heavens to ashes. To this very day, no one can oppose the beating of two Klingon hearts.

{Officiant turns to the Groom} Does your heart beat only for this woman?

{Groom} Yes.

{Officiant} And will you swear to join with her and stand with her against all who would oppose you?

{Groom} I swear.

{Officiant} (Bride), daughter of ____ , does your heart beat only for this man?

{Bride} Yes.

{Officiant} And will you swear to join with him and stand with him against all who would oppose you?

{Bride} I swear.

{Officiant} Then let all here present today know that this man and this woman are married.

{Then guests rush them with padded sticks and konk them!}


On the summer day in 2015 that the U.S. Supreme Court finally legalized gay marriage, it was a day that 28 years earlier, I could never have imagined coming. That year, at the tender, naïve age of 16, I was deeply in love with a man, whom I chastely dated for 5 months. The chasteness didn’t bother me. In my mind, if I were him, I wouldn’t have wanted to kiss me either. So I could hardly blame him for all of those dates we spent laughing, talking and bonding — all the while remaining stoutly vertical in orientation.

Sometime as the six-month anniversary neared, he invited me to breakfast at a good home cookin’-type of place called Perkins, where he invited me to  the prom and told me he was gay in the same sentence. After I choked on my – whatever it was I was eating – I blurted out “Sure!” Then, after a more reflective pause, I said: “I can’t see any reason why not.”

Later … years later … I could think of quite a few good reasons “why not.” Such as the fact I would get all decked up and looking the best I had probably ever looked in my life, and proceed to spend h-o-u-r upon h-o-u-r slow dancing with the most beautiful man I had ever laid eyes on, and we would not even kiss. Not even once. Getting weak in the knees would not be an option, as fainting couches had gone out of style about a century earlier. Passing out was not an option either.

Or there was the simple fact I was desperado in love with a person who, for a simple fact of biology, (and me having the wrong version,) was incapable of ever returning my feelings. Yes, a great early lesson in the principles of equality, (and one might point to this experience as a crucial formative experience that helped me become a passionate advocate for equality issues however they might appear.) But an experience that would nurture and build confidence in a young girl with Zero confidence and maybe even Negative Zero confidence — it was not.

Then, there was the logistical question of what to do AFTER the prom, since, well, we obviously wouldn’t be doing THAT. Instead, we became that couple that all the teachers who planned and staffed the After the Prom Party drooled over because we didn’t just go to the After the Prom Party. We stayed at the After the Prom Party. And by stayed, I mean we STAYED. The entire night. Until sunrise, at 6 a.m.

There were so few people left at the After the Prom Party by the time we left, my date even won the Top Prize at the raffle! Yup, that’s right! Mr. No- Kisser won an honest-to-goodness, bona fide color TV, and let me tell you, in 1989, that was still a pretty damn cool thing.

Ohhh, was I jealous. But what an unfair injustice this was! Mr. No-Kisser didn’t even like TV, and wasn’t I the one who had just spent my entire junior prom at a sans-kissing junior prom? It seemed like the powers of the universe could have at least given ME the 20-inch TV. You know, as some sort of consolation boobie prize or something.

***

Fast forward, and it is now 2015, and I officiate weddings. Once word got out that Pennsylvania would allow gay marriages – slightly before the national referendum was issued – I was the first in line to make sure that the world knew loud and clear that I would be not just happy, but honored to officiate such a wedding.

I didn’t so much as pause before forking over thousands of dollars in advertising, adding my name to the “LGBT special sections” that were being added into all the wedding magazines and wedding websites, letting people know who the “LGBT-friendly officiants” were. Had I not, after all, been an “ally” for well over two decades? I figured Wow, a chance to finally live my values. A chance to prove to all the people who weren’t looking and didn’t care one way or the other that Yes, I went to the prom with a gay man, and 25 years later, I’d do it again too!

Thousands. Of dollars. It’s been nearly two years and my phone has not rung even once. (At least not from any LBGT couples. The other uber-liberal, pro-LGBT straight people are still calling me all the time.)

Doesn’t the great entity that balances those scales of justice up in the astral archaepolego remember that I have been advocating for gay rights for 25 years? Shouldn’t that knowledge somehow enter the subconscious of gay and lesbian couples looking for an officiant, that they might somehow, just in their kischkes, intuit that I really am the perfect officiant for them?

Maybe this is why I found so much solace, so much endless, unbridled laughter, when the world’s greatest comedic writer, David Sedaris, recently offered up his take on the long-fought, newly won right to gay marriage. For reasons of copyright, I’m sure it would break all sorts of laws every which way to Sunday to reprint his entire article here, so I won’t do that.

Instead, I urge you to read the whole megilla by going to its source, The New Yorker, at: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/09/28/a-modest-proposal.\ It appears in the Sept 28, 2015, issue under the title ‘A Modest Proposal.’

In the meanwhile, after the intro (to help set the stage), I offer a few excerpts that hone in on ONE of Sedaris’ hilarious observations about his newly found right to marry his boyfriend of 18 years. Here we go:

“A Modest Proposal” by David Sedaris
(an excerpt)

“London is five hours ahead of Washington, D.C., except when it comes to gay marriage. In that case, it’s two years and five hours ahead, which was news to me. “Really?” I said, on meeting two lesbian wives from Wolverhampton. “You can do that here?”

“Well, of course they can,” Hugh said when I told him about it. “Where have you been?”

Hugh can tell you everything about the current political situation in the U.K. He knows who the Chancellor of the Exchequer is, and was all caught up in the latest election for the whatever-you-call-it, that king-type person who’s like the President but isn’t.

Prime Minister?” he said. “Jesus. You’ve been here how long?”

It was the same when we lived in Paris. Hugh regularly read the French papers. He listened to political shows on the radio, while I was, like, “Is he the same emperor we had last year?”

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When it comes to American politics, our roles are reversed. “What do you mean ‘Who’s Claire McCaskill?’ ” I’ll say, amazed that I—that anyone, for that matter—could have such an ignorant boyfriend.

I knew that the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage was expected at 10 A.M.on June 26th, which is 3 P.M. in Sussex. I’m usually out then, on my litter patrol, so I made it a point to bring my iPad with me. When the time came, I was standing by the side of the road, collecting trash with my grabber. …

My iPad could get no signal at 3 P.M., so I continued walking and picking up trash, thinking that, whichever way the Supreme Court went, I never expected to see this day in my lifetime. When I was young, in the early 70s, being gay felt like the worst thing that could happen to a person, at least in Raleigh, North Carolina. There was a rumor that it could be cured by psychiatrists, so for most of my teens that’s where I placed my hope. I figured that eventually I’d tell my mother and let her take the appropriate steps. What would kill me was seeing the disappointment on her face. With my father I was used to it. That was the expression he naturally assumed when looking at me. Her, though! Once when I was in high school she caught me doing something or other, imitating my Spanish teacher, perhaps with a pair of tights on my head, and said, like someone at the end of her rope, “What are you, a queer?”

I’d been called a sissy before, not by her but by plenty of other people. That was different, though, as the word was less potent, something used by children. When my mother called me a queer, my face turned scarlet and I exploded. “Me? What are you talking about? Why would you even say a thing like that?”

Then I ran down to my room, which was spotless, everything just so, the Gustav Klimt posters on the walls, the cornflower-blue vase I’d bought with the money I earned babysitting. The veil had been lifted, and now I saw this for what it was: the lair of a blatant homosexual.

That would have been as good a time as any to say, “Yes, you’re right. Get me some help!” But I was still hoping that it might be a phase, that I’d wake up the next day and be normal. …

The fantasy remained active until I was 20. Funny how unimportant being gay became once I told somebody. All I had to do was open up to my best friend, and when she accepted it, I saw that I could as well.

… While I often dreamed of making a life with another man, I never extended the fantasy to marriage, or even to civil partnerships, which became legal in France in 1999, shortly after Hugh and I moved to Paris. We’d been together for eight years by that point, and though I didn’t want to break up or look for anyone else, I didn’t need the government to validate my relationship.

I felt the same way when a handful of American states legalized same-sex marriage, only more so: I didn’t need a government or a church giving me its blessing. The whole thing felt like a step down to me. From the dawn of time, the one irrefutably good thing about gay men and lesbians was that we didn’t force people to sit through our weddings. Even the most ardent of homophobes had to hand us that.

We were the ones who toiled behind the scenes while straight people got married: the photographers and bakers and florists, working like Negro porters settling spoiled passengers into the whites-only section of the train.

“Oh, Christopher,” a bride might sigh as her dressmaker zipped her up. “What would I have ever done without you?”

What saved this from being tragic is that they were doing something we wouldn’t dream of: guilt-tripping friends and relatives into giving up their weekends so they could sit on hard church pews or folding chairs in August, listening as the couple mewled vows at each other, watching as they’re force-fed cake, standing on the sidelines, bored and sweating, as they danced, misty-eyed, to a Foreigner song.

The battle for gay marriage was, in essence, the fight to be as square as straight people, to say things like “My husband tells me that the new Spicy Chipotle Burger they’ve got at Bennigan’s is awesome,” and “Here it is, Valentine’s Day less than a week behind us, and already my wife is flying our Easter flag!”

That said, I was all for the struggle, mainly because it so irritated the fundamentalists. I wanted gay people to get the right to marry, and then I wanted none of us to act on it. I wanted it to be ours to spit on. Instead, much to my disappointment, we seem to be all over it.

I finally got a signal at the post office in the neighboring village. I’d gone to mail a set of keys to a friend and, afterward, I went out front and pulled out my iPad. The touch of a finger and there it was, the headline story on the Times site: “SUPREME COURT RULING MAKES SAME-SEX MARRIAGE A RIGHT NATIONWIDE.”

I read it, and, probably like every American gay person, I was overcome with emotion. Standing on the sidewalk, dressed in rags with a litter picker pinioned between my legs, I felt my eyes tear up, and as my vision blurred I thought of all the people who had fought against this, and thought, Take that, assholes.

The Supreme Court ruling tells every gay 15-year-old living out in the middle of nowhere that he or she is as good as any other dope who wants to get married. To me it was a slightly mixed message, like saying we’re all equally entitled to wear Dockers to the Olive Garden.

Then I spoke to my accountant, who’s as straight as they come, and he couldn’t have been more excited. “For tax purposes, you and Hugh really need to act on this,” he said.

“But I don’t want to,” I said. “I don’t believe in marriage.”

He launched into a little speech, and here’s the thing about legally defined couples: they save boatloads of money, especially when it comes to inheriting property. My accountant told me how much we had to gain, and I was, like, “Is there a waiting period? What documents do I need?”

That night, I proposed for the first of what eventually numbered 18 times. “Listen,” I said to Hugh over dinner, “we really need to do this. Otherwise when one of us dies, the other will be clobbered with taxes.”

“I don’t care,” he told me. “It’s just money.”

This is a sentence that does not register on Greek ears. It’s just a mango-size brain tumor. It’s just the person I hired to smother you in your sleep. But since when is money just money?

“I’m not marrying you,” he repeated.

I swore to him that I was not being romantic about it: “There’ll be no rings, no ceremony, no celebration of any kind. We won’t tell anyone but the accountant. Think of it as a financial contract, nothing more.”

“No.”

“God damn it,” I said. “You are going to marry me whether you like it or not.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Oh, yes you are.”

After two weeks of this, he slammed his fork on the table, saying, “I’ll do anything just to shut you up.” This is, I’m pretty sure, the closest I’m likely to get to a yes.

I took another ear of corn. “Fine, then. It’s settled.”

***

So like I said in the beginning folks, if you are gay, or lesbian, and you are looking for a wedding officiant, you’re welcome to give me a call! No, I’ve never done a GLBT wedding before. But yes, I did waste thousands of dollars in advertising, which you apparently never saw, in an effort to find you and let you know that I happily extend my secular humanist, Jewish, interfaith and Irish handfasting ceremonies to couples of all gender combinations.

And, I don’t know what this has to do with anything, but don’t forget: I did go to my junior prom with a gay man! And 28 years later, I still remember him as the first person I ever fell in love with. He lives in San Francisco now, and me being in Philadelphia, we couldn’t possibly live farther apart and still be on the same continent.

But we are still friends on Facebook.


Okay, okay, I admit, the headline is a little misleading. I haven’t found out a way to bring an actual bona fide cartoon into a wedding ceremony. But I can think of few humorous ways to bring cartoon humor into the wedding program!

How about adding some of these classic funnies onto your program? Credit due to The New Yorker magazine — of course.

 

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