By Keith Hoffman
It was one of the biggest events of my life….
My wedding day…
Okay well actually it was not my wedding exactly.
I was only the officiant–the guy who marries the couple.
It really was a day about the bride and groom I suppose.
But as I stood in front of a well-dressed crowd that was looking at me with an expectation that I was going to lead two people through a hugely important life changing event, I had to think back to how it all began.
(Thinking Back to How It All Began)
The bride and I met soon after I moved to New York five and a half years earlier.
You would think you would remember the first meeting of someone who is about to become an integral part of your life but those first days in a brand new city were pretty much a blur for me.
The initial month of the job was utterly exhausting mainly because I couldn’t really show my true personality. I had to pretend I was cheerful, good humored, normal and worth the investment of these kind people who hired me Besides there was some clause in my hiring agreement that basically said they could ship me back across the country to Los Angeles in a return box no questions asked if things didn’t work out.
So I pretended I was normal–which used up every single ounce of energy I had.
The first time I realized Sara (the aforementioned bride) might be someone I could let into my life a little deeper was the day I slammed face first into a large pane of glass next to the revolving doors in the lobby of my office building. I’d like to say I just bumped into the glass but no…let me reiterate….I slammed into it. It made a thud that echoed throughout the lobby so loudly that the security guard looked up from his newspaper.
“Be careful,” he warned obviously a little too late.
I was mortified.
The weird thing about doing something so terribly embarrassing is that on one hand you hope and pray no one saw you but on the other hand you have an urgent need to tell someone…anyone…what an idiotic thing you just did—somehow it lessons the shame.
So I took a chance and timidly walked into Sara’s office ten minutes later.
“I just slammed into the glass in the downstairs lobby” I confessed.
She looked at me for a moment.
“I am so glad you work here.”
And with that response a great friendship was born.
Sara and I were both single when we met and shuffled through a lot of cads in the dating world on our search for a couple of good guys. She gave me good dating advice such as, “They don’t owe you anything on the first few dates” reminding me not to get upset if someone didn’t call or text me back in the early stages –something that sadly happened more often than I’d like to remember.
She met me for coffee before a particularly nerve-wracking date to coach me, and met me for coffee after a particularly devastating date to pick up the pieces of my hurting heart.
We even spent a Valentines together after a vow a few months earlier to have dinner together if we were both still single on that fateful day. I misunderstood and thought we had agreed to have a baby together–which lead to some awkward confusion right before our sushi arrived.
Eventually Sara met a great guy and fell in love. I thought that might change our relationship but then her boyfriend Eric became my friend too.
(Any GuyWho’ll Wear a Tiara for My Birthday is Ok By Me)
And he was more than happy for me to do things with Sara he didn’t want to do such as shop for shoes or attend Broadway musicals.
And then they asked me to officiate their wedding.
There seemed to be two reasons why I got this very important gig:
1) I had experience hosting TV shows
2) They thought I was less likely to cry throughout the ceremony like many of their other very sensitive friends
I suppose the first reason made sense although asking probing and insightful questions to Bigfoot experts in front of a camera didn’t exactly mean I was qualified to help two people commit their entire lives to each other.
The second reason was purely and simply a mistaken belief on their part as I’ve been known to weep over the fate of depressed people in Prozac commercials.
But once I snagged it, I took my job as officiant very seriously.
The creative part was fun. Having to get certified as a minister and representative of the state of New York was more challenging. I hate filling out forms. When I was on unemployment I resented the three minutes it took every two weeks to shade in the boxes saying I had looked for and was available for work in order to collect my money. Those government people are not dumb. My resentment motivated me to get a job.
I think forms are terrible things. There is always a chance to miss a signature or forget a box. Forms are very demanding of a part of my brain that seems not to have developed properly.
Some people can’t play music. Some people can’t fill out forms.
I can do neither.
Luckily Sara helped me. I became a minister by email (feeling somewhat superior to my good friend Leanne who spent years at a seminary school) and went to the courthouse to become registered to marry people in New York. Despite having enough on her plate getting ready for her big day, Sara was by my side every step of the way making sure every box was checked and every necessary line was signed.
But there was a price to pay in giving her so much involvement and power.
Sara had definite ideas about what she wanted and especially what she didn’t want at her wedding—no racist provocative jokes to make people think about the entitlement of the oppressors …no bawdy blue humor to titillate and amuse…no topical political jabs or go-for-the juggler speeches about gay marriage. I thought the ceremony was starting to sound rather bland but she insisted on no surprises.
I mean….what was left to talk about?
I met Eric and Sara at our favorite restaurant to hear what they wanted. Sara gave me a copy of someone else’s wedding ceremony that she had attended and liked that I used as a starting point. This was when I fully realized what they were looking for. This wasn’t some run-of-the-mill cookie cutter ceremony—these two wanted it personalized with amusing yarns and touching anecdotes.
So I winged it asked them questions about the beginning of their relationship….when they first met and where…what they thought about each other…at what moment did they know this was the one? Each of them gave their own specific and intimate details together and separately. I gathered all this important information in a notebook I bought for the occasion, thanked them, left the restaurant and promptly lost it.
“Where could it have gone?” I wondered desperately as I frantically searched for it a few days later I was mortified. Clearly I was a terrible officiant. How could I tell them I lost everything we had painstakingly gone over detail by detail and would have to do the entire questioning all over again? I supposed I could wing it and make up some facts about each of them but I was pretty sure they would catch on halfway through the wedding
I had to face it. I was going to ruin the most important day of their lives.
Just as I was about to tell them and accept that I most likely would be demoted from officiant to bathroom attendant, my boyfriend Saul called to tell me he had found it in his apartment.
I was so happy and relieved I would have married him then and there if he had asked me (well…if he had asked me down on one knee, with a tasteful ring and dowry).
I kept the notebook safe after that and worked on the document on and off for weeks at a time. I deleted and added sections such as “How I met Sara” “How I met Eric” “What in Christ’s name is a Chuppa?” At one point I had quotes from everyone from Paul Newman to Michael J Fox and the ceremony clocked in at an hour and seven minutes.
“No” was Sara’s replay when I told her this.
“But it’s an hour and seven minutes of amazing material!”
This idea that a wedding need to be short was a new idea to me. I had grown up attending Catholic weddings that involved hours and hours of kneeling and standing and sitting and singing and doing the sign of the cross and genuflecting and taking communion. And that was just the appetizer for the real thing. In Catholic weddings you had to be strong and you had know how to endure.
But I whittled and added back in and then whittled some more until finally I had all the details ironed out and shared it with my boyfriend Saul.
“Too much you” he said matter-of-factly when I finished at a respectable 35 minutes. “One story about you is fine,” he continued. “Three and a half is overkill.”
“But they amazing stories!” I replied.
I was reminded of when I had to pick out childhood pictures for my sister’s memorial and handed a huge stack to her good friend for the slide show that would be playing throughout the ceremony.
“Um…most of these are pictures of you…”
“What are you talking about? She’s right there in the background! And besides they are amazing pictures of me. Look how cute I look in this one!”
It seemed like everyone was trying to keep me down.
(My Favorite Picture of My Sister’s Hand)
As the wedding day approached I wrote and rewrote and practiced out loud and in my head several times a day. I bought an outfit that said I’m in charge but approachably handsome and ordered a nice 3 Ring Binder from Amazon Prime. I wrote down each of their friends’ names who were participating in the service phonetically. I had discovered that these two seemed to have no interest in friends with simple names like Mary, Sue, Jim or Bob. They liked friends with foreign exotic sounding names that were impossible to pronounce or, if they did have simple names the accent would be on a surprising syllable–Not simply Jimmy and Melissa but JimME and MeLISSa.
It’s no wonder that when the day finally arrived and I was jittery and anxious. Sara Facedtimed from the hotel where she was getting ready and was somehow way more relaxed than me. “You’ll be great,” she assured me but how the hell did she know? Her only concern was the weather but I realized in that moment I was just like the weather—a big factor in this being the perfect day.
Sara stood at the end of the aisle with her mother and brother on each side of her.
Although I had seen her in the dress more than once I was awestruck by her beauty.
And I was overwhelmed with emotion.
My friend…my beautiful friend…was getting married…by me!
As she walked towards us I heard Eric next to me sigh and laugh, as he too must have saw how beautiful she was. Although he said no words I could only guess he was thinking “Yay!”
Then I started to panic.
I was about to totally lose it.
I feared I would swoon and have to be held up by the best man as I wept into the bridesmaids’ collective bosoms.
I told myself I had to pull myself together!
And just like that..I did. The tears instantly dissipated and I was calm, cool and composed.
After a lifetime of being ruled by my emotions I discovered in this moment that I had total control over them all this time.
Oh the awkward moments I could have avoided if I had only known this earlier in my lifetime. Friends, coworkers, loved ones and fellow subway riders could have avoided seeing my ugly crying face.
But that was just the first of several things I learned that day:
OTHER TIPS I LEARNED OFFICIATING
TRY TO REMEMBER: IT’S NOT A COMPETITION
I had the audience in the palm of my hand.
They were laughing in all the right places, nodding in agreement at the pithy wise things I said that helped them understand love and marriage in a deeper more meaningful way, and gently weeping when I touched on one universal truth after another.
Then I introduced the bride’s brother to do a reading. I thought of this section, as the “non-Keith” part of the wedding so hadn’t really paid it much heed.
Before I knew it, this brother was reading from the Velveteen Rabbit.
He was weeping.
The bride was weeping.
The entire audience was suddenly crying their hearts out! This over a piece that’s wasn’t even written specifically for the ceremony?!” I thought to myself, “I could have gone out and bought books to read from too and saved myself the trouble of writing!”
Okay, I’ll admit…as I looked over the crowd of Sara and Eric’s closest friends and loved ones with tears running down their collective cheeks, I may have rolled my eyes just ever so slightly.
But no one saw.
The tissues they were using to dab their eyes blocked their vision.
(Who Doesn’t Love a Mopey Rabbit at a Wedding??)
Oh and don’t even get me started on the applause that erupted after the prayers recited in Hebrew by some of their friends later on. Excuse me for doing my part of the ceremony in boring old and apparently unimpressive English.
PICK GOOD SUBJECTS
Eric and Sara were nice people—polite and well groomed. It made my job easier. It would have been a lot harder if I were marrying Charlie Manson to some prison groupie for instance–more publicity but a tougher audience.
(Orange is the New White?)
OPEN MY HEART
When I confided to a friend that I was nervous before the ceremony he gave me this good advice:
A wedding is a heart-opening ceremony. All you have to do is approach it with an open heart.
It’s good advice for a lot of things in life and except for the Velveteen Rabbit debacle I did pretty well.
MAIL THE MAIRRAIGE CERTIFICATE WITHIN FIVE DAYS OF THE CEREMONY
Remember how I hate forms? The only thing I hate worse than forms has to buy a stamp and mail in the aforementioned forms. (You can see why unemployment was just not doing it for me). Poor Sara and Eric didn’t know how big of a chance they were taking with the document that actually certified their union. It had every chance of getting lost somewhere behind my desk between my unfinished application to be part “Jimmy Carter’s Volunteers of America” and my unmailed fan letter to Betty White congratulating her on being named TV’s Next Hot Ingénue.
Maybe I didn’t get the biggest tears or the loudest applause but I mailed in that damn form and I did it on time.
That’s something that dumb stuffed worn down rabbit couldn’t do no matter how much he was loved.
Anyway I guess this is my way of saying to them — thanks for making me old and shabby and real.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Keith Hoffman is available for weddings, funerals and ceremonies girls’ first periods.