This was my first year doing Pitch Wars.
I didn’t get picked.
In fact, I didn’t get a request for pages, an encouraging note, or correspondence of any kind; and while that is disappointing it’s not surprising.
One of the most interesting parts of this experience for me was approaching it with little expectation about my personal success. I only considered entering days before the submission date and cobbled together the required pieces. My manuscript has been finished for a while, having been written, revised, revised, revised, revised again, put away, pulled back out, obsessed over, revised, and put away again. When Pitch Wars presented itself as an opportunity I pulled it out again, put together a revised query, a synopsis, and away we went.
Ultimately, at the end of the day, given the efforts, talents, drive, and hunger from you, the other authors – the reason I didn’t get picked is that I simply didn’t deserve it as much as those that did. I’m not saying my writing wasn’t good, that’s not for me to judge. I’m not saying that my characters weren’t interesting, or that my idea wasn’t unique, or that my work wasn’t worthy – I’m saying that’s not what this contest was necessarily about. It was about those who were ready and had positioned themselves on a great cliff, willing to step off the ledge to see if they had wings made from feathers or stone… and the mentors looking for the right hand to hold as they stepped.
I know that wasn’t me. Not this year.
Being part of this group has let me experience those who also have a passion to fulfill the manifest destiny of the soul. You, we, they, them… have some part, a whisper deep in our chest, that grows to fill out every ounce of our being until it can’t be contained anymore and pours onto the page through our fingertips. I feel it. I do. I know you do too. We stare off into the middle distance, trying our best to parse and compile thoughts into some coherent stream of story – to aspirate life from imagination and exorcise a singular moment of intangible thought out into the physical world.
Pitch Wars is the first “writer’s community” I’ve been a part of. It’s the first time that I’ve been able to experience – not just a conjoined communal passion for writing – but also the passion for being heard. The passion to have a voice. It’s a recent thing in my life to have the moxie to let people read what I write. It’s a recent thing in my life to understand that I’m just as entitled to be heard as anyone. I didn’t get picked because I didn’t understand that the way I do now, and others did. Many, if not most of you did.
If you, like me, didn’t get picked, don’t think for a second it’s because your voice didn’t deserve to be heard. The submissions were a murder of diamonds, with the mentors sorting through them not for their worth, but for their inclusions; and whether or not they liked the particular way you sparkled, doesn’t make you any less precious.
I’m excited for next year. I’m working on something new, and hopefully it will be done in time to spend more mental equity on the other parts – to use the community for help, to refine my voice in trying to describe my story – and with luck, maybe next year I’ll find myself on that cliff ready to jump off. I hope you will be there to jump with me.
Thinking about this past weekend’s events in Charlottesville, I find myself often lost in thought about the “why” of all this. Why did Heather Heyer lose her life? Why did that man feel enigmatically compelled to commit such a horrible act? Why did a sea of people feel the need to take up torches, a symbol intrinsically tied to a very specific hate group, and march in the street? Why did it take our President two days to condemn those groups? Why do those people feel so proud to be white?
It’s overwhelming and sad, and that last question gnaws at me.
Why do you, I, or anybody take pride in being white, black, brown, gay, trans, or any other race, ethnicity, creed, or identity? What is pride anyway? Is it simply being proud of some characteristic that accidentally was bestowed upon you at birth, or is it more? Is pride ultimately is the emotional connection to perseverance in the face of hate?
I have pride in my Jewish heritage because my people throughout history have been persecuted and murdered, and to take pride in that heritage is to shake a fist at those who failed to extinguish our light while honoring those that fell to the venom of hate. Similarly, black pride, LGBTQ Pride, Latino pride is about squaring your shoulders to the gale of inequality that has tried to push you back. To say you’re proud to be Black, or Proud to be Rainbow, or Proud to be Latino is to acknowledge the perseverance required to be those things and to honor those that fell to the hurricane while still providing shelter to those walking behind them.
White pride is to take pride in power. If you’re proud to be white – yes, you’re proud of the accomplishments of white people – which, sure – white people have contributed many great and wondrous things to the world – but when it comes to power and subjugation, if you proclaim “White Pride,” to those that have been subjugated, oppressed, enslaved, murdered, controlled, demoralized, criminalized, and segregated – you’re taking pride in those accomplishments too.
Bigotry is real. Black people have a long history of oppression in the country. LGBTQ people are still fighting for equal rights in many states. Study after study shows that being white, on the aggregate, means higher wages, more employability, might rights, and more safety. You can pick any individual out on the scatter plot and say, “Not that white person!” or “that Black Lesbian makes more money than me” – but that ignores the cumulative effects of systemic, proven, institutionalized racism and inequality that minority communities still face.
Yes, poverty is the great equalizer, but solving poverty doesn’t end racism, bigotry, or hate.
Black Pride, in part, comes from this: “There comes a time when people get tired of being pushed out of the glittering sunlight of life’s July and left standing amid the piercing chill of an alpine November.” – Martin Luther King, Jr. (Assassinated)
LGBTQ Pride, in part, comes from this: “It takes no compromising to give people their rights. It takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no survey to remove repressions.” – Harvey Milk (Assassinated)
Jewish Pride, in part, comes from this: “Our freedom was severely restricted by a series of anti-Jewish decrees: Jews were required to wear a yellow star; Jews were required to turn in their bicycles; Jews were forbidden to use streetcars…” – Anne Frank (Killed in the Holocaust)
Latino Pride, in part, comes from this: “It is my deepest belief that only by giving our lives do we find life. I am convinced that the truest act of courage, the strongest act of manliness is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally non-violent struggle for justice.” – Cesar Chavez, advocate for basic humanity in work
More often than not “pride,” particularly in the context of race, ethnicity, creed, or sexuality, is intrinsically tied to perseverance in the face of oppression, bigotry, and the exertion of power.
“White Pride” lacks that essential perseverance, as in this country, White people have been the ones oppressing, subjugating, and exerting power. A friend and I had an earlier conversation where my friend said that for him, pride in being white came from the story of his family, who a hundred years prior, came here from Eastern Europe and built a life, tasted the American dream, and setup future generations; but that’s not “white pride,” that’s pride in your family. That’s pride in America. To have “White Pride” for that is take pride that your family most certainly had opportunities that black families that had been freed from slavery a scant 35 years prior still didn’t have. I’m not saying those immigrants didn’t work hard, or struggle, or suffer, or require grit and perseverance themselves to make it – I am saying that taking pride in your race as part of why you got there is to take pride that your family had opportunities, that many descendants of slaves absolutely did not.
In my family, it’s the same reason Benjamin Gendenlaf changed his name to Benjamin Love, as there was an advantage on paper in people thinking he wasn’t Jewish.
Charlottesville shows us all that we have a long way to go. While there is an absence of leadership in the White House, we can look to our community leaders, the voices who still ring out loudly on the topic, and the echoes of the past to light the dark tunnel ahead.
"No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion…" pic.twitter.com/InZ58zkoAm
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 13, 2017
Most of my life I’ve been white… except when I wasn’t. As a young child, maybe six, I came up what I thought was the perfect insult: “Goo Goo on You.” It was marvelous in its simplicity and ease of use. Mom would say, “Eat your vegetables”, and I’d respond “Goo Goo on You!” My mother would laugh, and of course, I’d still have to eat my vegetables — but it was empowering, and silly, and fun, and I used it often… that is until someone else in the family responded with “Goo Goo on Jew.”
According to the generally accepted notion that Judaism is passed from mother to child, I’m not technically Jewish. My mother, a woman of mixed western-European decent, met my father, a Jewish man from Philadelphia, in the mid-1970’s where his afro was at the height of popular hair styles.
I didn’t grow up going to Synagogue or Hebrew school and only had the vaguest notion that I had any kind of otherness. My father through most of his life practiced a new-age spiritualism, meditating and talking the healing power of crystals. My mother has always been Christian, her faith waning and strengthening at various parts of her life. I would describe my childhood religion as moderately theistic, but not in such a way that put religiosity forward as a crucial element to our family. When I was five, my parents divorced, further distancing me from religion or a notion of belief.
When I was twelve I became friends with a guy from school named Josh. He was the son of the local Rabbi, and I was invited to my first Shabbice dinner at their house. Everything was strange and formal. The lighting of the candles, the washing of the hands, the prayers in Hebrew; I marveled at it all, and the Rabbi, Jonathan, presented each part as if it was something that had always been part of me. From the beginning, he treated me as a Jew, ignorant only to the mechanics of belief, but part of the greater tribe. A month later, my father and I were invited to the Passover Seder and I saw for the first time in my life my father don a yarmulke and recite prayers and perform rituals he had left behind two decades before.
Through most of my high-school years, I spent Friday nights at Rabbi Jonathan’s house, always welcome to dinner. I often attended Synagogue on Saturdays and studied and learned as much as I could. When I was sixteen I was invited for the first time to participate in services, acting as one of the people to open the ornate Ark on the Bima. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was in many respects a Bar Mitzvah. What’s more is that in truth it was a gift from Jonathan, letting me really understand my Jewish heritage and my place among those who proudly say, “I’m Jewish.”
My life at home, living with my father, was always overly independent. He was a good man who worked hard to provide, but while I lived with him from seventh grade through the end of high school I was mostly left to my own devices and to fend for myself. I spent most nights alone and learned self-reliance. In some ways, this was great for me, and in most other ways it was quite lonely. My mother’s house was turbulent with the upheaval of her third divorce, so the only real sanctuary I had was Jonathan’s house. His sons, Josh and Derek, remain two of my best friends to this day, and at Derek’s wedding (after five too many bourbons) I pulled Jonathan aside to thank him for making me feel part of the family, feel Jewish, and feel accepted.
As an adult, I’ve become quite atheistic in my beliefs, but still feel culturally Jewish. I feel a connection to the culture and rituals that will be with me my whole life. From the inane and silly love of Matzo Ball Chicken Soup when I’m sick, to the occasional lighting of Shabbice candles, I’m, for all intents and purposes, a Jewish Atheist. To most of the world, when they see me, I’m a white guy. Sure, my features might give me away to someone in the know, but I’ve also been mistaken for Persian, for Italian, for Russian. Most of the time, I am accepted as your run of the mill Caucasian. If you ask me, I’ll tell you I’m Jewish — Ashkenazi Jew specifically, my family hailing mostly from Poland.
Chris Rock, in his hilarious Bigger and Blacker stand-up comedy special, said, “I’ve never been in a barber shop and heard a bunch of brothers talking about Jews. Black people don’t hate Jews, they hate white people. We don’t have time to dice white people up into little groups.” So, I’m white — until I’m not
With the election of Donald Trump and the increased volume of the antisemitic “Alt-Right” movement, I find myself once again as an “other.” Facebook friends scorn the proliferation of freshly painted swastikas, but I don’t know think they understand the fear that puts into me and my fellow Jewish friends.
We like to think that we learn from history, that we as Americans will never let the horror of the holocaust be normalized here, but a decent portion of those same Americans will turn their cheek to call for a Muslim ban… or at very least vote for the person calling for it. Those who say we’ll never put people in camps fail to remember that America did just that to Japanese Americans in the 1940s. An article from the website “The Hill” cited an NBC News / Survey Monkey poll that showed 50% of respondents supported a Muslim ban.
When people ask me what I fear from a Trump Presidency, my answer isn’t President Trump. He seems to be swayed by the loudest voices screaming in his direction and right now the loudest voices are those that drive ideals that, while rooted in American history, don’t feel very American. I fear his supporters, emboldened by what he represents, and what they might do. Whether it be antisemitism, or Islamophobia, or Homophobia, or Anti-Latino, or Anti-Immigration — and the actions that follow those hollow belief systems — that’s the real fear. We, every one of us, regardless of race, sexuality, ethnicity, or immigration status, need sanctuary from this fear. It starts in our homes, with our own compassion. It needs to radiate to our communities, town, cities, and nation. A Sanctuary city is the one of the many concentric circles it takes to defeat evil. Your personal decision to not hate, to have empathy, and to educate yourself to the plight of those with less is the point where those circles begin.
That is the lesson I learned from Rabbi Jonathan; it starts with me. It starts with a call to action to not hate those who are different than me. To not look at someone and instantly judge them. To not fear someone because of what they wear or believe. To not be complacent as others do that to them. To accept I am an American — personally built on a history of different races, religions, and nations, and that as an American, as a member of two minority groups, I have a voice as important as anyone, and a role to play as someone willing to stand up for what is right. To open my checkbook when I can, to offer a couch or a blanket to someone cold, and to wield any amount of privilege I have for those lacking.
What can you do? Recognize that somewhere in your history you too were an other. It’s what America was built on, and you too have a role to play, a voice to be heard, and a vote. Join a protest, join a campaign, join an online community. Be an active participant in providing sanctuary where it’s needed. In our homes, in our communities, in our town, our cities, our places of worship, our schools, and in ourselves.
My community now isn’t just Atheists, or Jewish — I’m in the community of the others. White, brown, black, Asian, Native, Arab, Indian, Gay, Straight, Trans, Deists, Theists, and everyone else deserves sanctuary from the fear that someone is coming for us for something we can’t change. I’m willing to stand with you all and fight for what’s moral and right. I’m a Jew. I’m an Atheist. I’m a Father. I’m the Grandson of an Immigrant. I’m a feminist who believes in equality. I’m a liberal. I’m a voter, and I’m willing to speak up.
As an adult in my late-thirties when people find out I’m a professional wrestling fan they often seem confused. “You know it’s fake, right?” It’s difficult for someone not in the know to understand the appeal of two oiled up men or women rolling around together in a choreographed fight. Most see professional wrestling for its surface appeal, and I’ll go so far to agree that if you don’t come to the show with a base level of understanding you may never quite understand the what the fuss is about.
The irony of professional wrestling is that people who outright dismiss it as a low brow, “Soap Opera for Men” don’t fully understand the nuanced performance and requisite beautiful athleticism and skill required to perform at the professional level; nor do they understand the subtleties of the performance and dismiss it with the tried and true, “you know it’s fake, right?” They equate a professional wrestling match to a boxing or MMA match, and since it’s a scripted performance where the winner is pre-determined, it is an inferior form of entertainment. What they’re missing is that professional wrestling is more akin to ballet than boxing, and should you watch it through that lens you’ll understand a little more what the appeal is to millions (and millions) of fans around the world. Imagine sitting dead-center while watching a ballet performance and the person next to you leans over and says, “that’s not really a black swan.” Yeah buddy, I know. That guy wasn’t a Mouse King either. Professional wrestlers are athletes, performance artists, actors, dancers, acrobats, comedians, deft public speakers, and work through injuries, pain, and difficult lifestyles to entertain the people who love it.
Before I delve into my personal love for pro-wrestling / sports entertainment, let me first give a little bit of history regarding how professional wrestling really became what it is today.
The first name on your road to becoming a fan, or at very least understanding the appeal begins not with a man named Hulk Hogan, but a man named Lou Thesz. Lou Thesz is generally considered the greatest wrestler of the 20th century and invented many of the moves wrestlers still use today. More importantly is that Lou Thesz was so wildly popular that he would sell out arenas and propelled professional wrestling from being a sideshow attraction to a mainstream form of entertainment. He really opened the door for making professional wrestling the international phenomenon that it is today.
There are many names between to be talked about, but let’s fast forward fifty some-odd years and get to Vincent Kennedy McMahon. Vince McMahon, having just taken over the World Wide Wrestling Federation from his father (also named Vince McMahon), had one of the hottest promotions, one of the hottest stars, and a great idea. Prior to McMahon wrestling was territory based and wrestlers moved from territory to territory to build their character and audience. You might have been Sterling Golden in Memphis, but in New York, you’re Hulk Hogan. Vince McMahon the younger took the numerous professional wrestling territories and started buying them out one by one, eventually created an international brand. He put nearly all his money into this endeavor, lastly putting his proverbial dick on the table to try a closed circuit (pre-pay-per-view)“Superbowl” of wrestling, Wrestlemania! On the back of stars like Hulk Hogan, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, and more, Vince pushed the boulder down the hill that eventually became the multi-billion dollar international corporation and entertainment company that is World Wrestling Entertainment today. Vince McMahon, whose wife Linda is Donald Trump’s Head of the Small Business Administration, is a true American success story.
In the 1990’s Vince McMahon was put on trial for Steroid distribution, and the “kayfabe” of wrestling — the idea that wrestlers never broke character and maintained everything was real — was broken for good. That’s when “Pro-Wrestling” morphed into “Sports Entertainment.”
There are two important terms that fans of professional wrestling throw around a lot; “Mark” and “Smart.” A mark is someone who thinks it’s a real fight, while a smart understands it’s a performance. Even those of us considered “smarts” occasionally “mark out” when something legitimately surprises us or something happens in a match that is worth celebrating. Imagine again watching Swan Lake and one of the ballerinas climbs up on a balcony rail and pirouettes perfectly only inches away from death. The crowd rises to applaud her show of skill and athleticism: that’s marking out. This is important because those “marking out” moments are what we, the intelligent professional wrestling fan, wait for.
So, let me outline a couple of different type of matches and what the appeal is for me.
The music hits and wrestler number 1, let’s call him Adam, comes down to the ring. Adam is a skilled performer, whose moves all look very authentic. He’s charismatic, has excellent verbal skills on the mic, and is rarely boring. He also knows how to “bump” (fall) extremely well and takes a beating with gusto. Music hits for wrestler number two, let’s call him Matt, who comes down to the ring. Matt is also a seasoned and convincing performer, though not as crisp on the microphone as Adam is, and as such hasn’t quite broken through to main event status. If this was just a normal match, I’d watch this as a performance. I’d watch how they improvise (call) the match (though the winner is pre-determined, the choreography is done on the fly), and how they interact and execute the moves. I appreciate not only the well-performed body slam but also the convincing way the guy being slammed writhes in pain and “sells” the move. I let myself “mark out” a bit waiting for the finish and overall find it to be an entertaining story.
Imagine the exact same scenario as above, with a small exception: Matt, in real life (called “shoot” in wrestling parlance), was dating one of the female wrestlers. Not long ago Matt was injured and left the road to rehab. While on the road Adam and Matt’s girlfriend (let’s call her Amy) began having an actual affair. Matt returned from the road to find out his actual friend and his actual girlfriend were sleeping together. Management has gotten wind of this and decided to turn the situation into a story-line and take advantage of the “realism” the actual scenario would provide. Adam and Matt are looking across the ring at each other and they’re job is to put on a good show and not injure each other. Of course, in this particular match, the punches look a little more real than normal.
Adam and Matt are at it again, except this time they’re performing at Wrestlemania, the biggest show of the year in a match called “Tables, Ladders, and Chairs.” Matt and Adam work the match with “spots” (specific spectacular moves) that range from falling from the top ofifteen-footfoot high ladder through a table, to forcefully hitting each other in the head with chairs. The match is finally won when Adam retrieves a belt hanging from a cable fifteen feet above the ring floor. This is Adam’s first championship, which is a recognition by the company that Adam has achieved a personal level of success and thus is worthy of being the “face” of the company. He’s respected by his peers and fans alike and deserves a run with the belt.
In all three of the examples above, the entertainment is the same; two professionals performing at the highest level in a violent ballet that is meant to look convincing, tell a story, and be exciting. From the ring of the bell to the finale, the match itself tells a story and, even to a “smart” like myself, is unpredictable and surprising. In Match 1, it’s all about their skill. In Match 2, it’s about their skill and their professionalism in not letting personal feelings get in the way of protecting their partner. In Match 3, it’ also about the respect for these two performers to put their own bodies on the line for the sake of entertaining the fans and the recognition that Adam has proven himself worthy of a championship run.
Something that most people overlook and dismiss with the “you know it’s fake” comment is that professional wrestlers, while trained, still risk their well being every night because they truly love entertaining in their specific art form. Like a ballerina who sacrifices her own physical health through intense and robust training, professional wrestlers spend hours perfecting their moves, bodies, and performance skills all because they love their chosen discipline. For any WWE fans reading this, they’ll recognize that the scenarios above actually happened.
Ironically, people who consider themselves “above” professional wrestling because of their perception that it’s two men rolling around in tights simply don’t understand the nuance of the art form. It’s possible that their pre-conceived perception won’t ever allow them to see it any other way, which in my opinion is unfortunate for them.
If you’re looking for a primer on what professional wrestling is supposed to be seek out the following matches and performers:
Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H @ WrestleMania 30
Undertaker Vs. Shawn Michael @ Wrestlemania 23
The Rock vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin @ Wrestlemania 17
Undertaker vs. Mankind (Mick Foley) @ King of the Ring 1998
Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels @ Wrestlemania 12
Macho Man Randy Savage Vs. Ricky The Dragon Steamboat @ Wrestlemania 3
Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat @ WrestleWar ‘89
Words, written or spoken, have a power and influence like nothing else. No sword broken on shield, no bullet from a gun, no invention by God or man, beyond perhaps fire, has the power wielded by words. We so often take them for granted, letting them loosely fall from our lips with little regard for their weight or impact… but occasionally on certain days, we come together to acknowledge the power of words and use that power to invoke vows, build lives, and forge destinies.
I had the opportunity recently to perform a wedding ceremony for my sister. Excited to play dress up and pretend I was clergy, I dutifully accepted the task and went about writing a ceremony.
Writing a wedding is dense and interesting work. You can’t simply dive into it. It’s a performance piece, so you have to find the melody of the ceremony as much as the words. Will I have a microphone? Will I have to scream it? What kind of crowd will it be? How religiously slanted should it be?
I worked through most of these questions with the bride and groom, asking for their input, and outside of the logistics of the event itself, they left it to me.
I began writing under the assumption that you should start with a welcome and maybe some kind of benediction.
Good Afternoon. Welcome. Welcome to our bridge and groom. Welcome friends, family, plus-ones, and anyone else I’ve missed. Before we begin I wish to take a moment to honor those who couldn’t be here today. I personally know one chair in particular that would be filled today if not for unfortunate happenstance, and I’m sure there probably are a few others. Those that couldn’t be here are here in thought, in spirit, and in the smiles of us all.
That’s the paragraph to get the nerves out. It is public speaking after all, and a good opening paragraph helps set the cadence and volume you’ll need.
When I performed the ceremony it was outside a friendly town in Arkansas at an outdoor venue overlooking a valley. The afternoon was waning and the temperature was pleasant. I arrived an hour early to go over the writing and play with the wording a bit. There wasn’t a rehearsal to speak of, and somehow over the years I had become the responsible one in the family that people relied on to pull it all together. Everyone was looking to me to ensure this went smoothly and I was taking that duty seriously.
I’d arrived in Arkansas two days before and had mostly isolated myself from the family. They were staying in Bentonville, world headquarters to Walmart, and I decided to stay closer to the ceremony location. I ended up getting a room in this classic hotel in the very quaint town of Eureka Springs.
After checking in and getting my room I went about walking around to get a feel for the local color. Shops full of curios and local wares lined the streets. I popped into a hat shop where an overly friendly woman skilled in the arts of haberdashery took over my life for an hour. “You’d look great in a porkpie,” she told me putting various hats on my head until she found the right one. We chatted for some time. I told her why I was there and read her some of the ceremony from the notebook I carried. I bought the pork pie she recommended and have worn it quite a bit since. I even wore it to the wedding. It made me feel more official and dynamic; after all, wearing a hat requires confidence and authority.
For dinner that night I went to the hotel restaurant. The food was pleasant enough and the waiter, who was somewhat distinct in his mannerisms, asked me where I was from. “San Francisco,” I told him. “You?”
“Chicago,” he told me.
“How does a guy from Chicago end up in a small Arkansas town in the middle of nowhere?”
“Oh,” he began as gestured with his black capped bic pen, “I had enough of Chicago and a friend of mine called and told me there was this town that was friendly toward people like myself,” the emphasis he gave those words gave me a nod and a wink toward his sexual preference, “so me and my boyfriend, that’s him at the bar,” he used the pen to point to a friendly looking bearded man, “moved down here. We’ve been here three years and love it.” He went on to talk about the culture of the town and how it was an island in a sea of the stereotypical. I went about eating my dinner and he went about waiting on his tables. After my meal I sat at the bar, met his boyfriend, and a variety of the other characters from the town. It was a fun and friendly place, and the people were kind and welcoming. I considered it a good omen for what was to come.
We’ve come together today as friends, as family, as the unique witnesses to the power of words as Breana and David have come together to join in a state of matrimony.
There are so many things that come with such a commitment and union. A promise of love, a promise of patience, a need for understanding, a promise of fidelity in body and spirit; and a most importantly for them that day, a public declaration that though sometimes the rain falls, and sometimes there is no moon to the light the darkness, and though the path forward may be shrouded in shadows and doubt — that someone will be there to stand next to you and hold your hand. Someone will be there to shutter the windows to the storm and if need be scream at the wind until it abates.
So as we stand before you all, what we seek to do here today is to begin to define the love that Breana and David have for each other. The process to define it has already begun. It began when they met and began to forge a life together. Today we pause to acknowledge those efforts and the efforts yet to come in working to define that love through time.
Shakespeare wrote, “And when Love speaks, the voice of all the gods makes heaven drowsy with the harmony.” That’s what I was seeking. I wanted the crowd to marvel at the coming together of two people willing to borrow from the foundation of their individuality to build a life together. Breana had given me months to plan and write. When I got assigned the job I read a few of the “standard” versions of wedding ceremonies, looking to thread the needle between being romantic and sweeping in scope, to personal and unique; and knowing this was taking place in God’s country, I thought a bible quote or two would be a good idea.
First Corinthians says, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
Though these words are poetic and lovely I don’t entirely agree. Love is the exercise of patience as it is the exercise of kindness. Love is about boasting and shouting about it being proud to have achieved a synergy with someone. Love, to me, is understanding, and forgiving, and love learns from wrongs and doesn’t omit or ignore them. Strength in love comes from partnership. Equality among participants wherein those who seek to engage and find happiness mustn’t ignore the follies of youth or past, but learn and grow from them. Sometimes love does fail — in the gale force of rigidity, confusion, and ill communication — and a wedding is two people willing to publicly declare their desire to be flexible. To communicate. To provide clarity; and in doing so give love, as if it were their first child together, a chance to grow and thrive.
No one, certainly not me, purports that forging a shared destiny is a small task. No one purports that there is no value in this great adventure; and that’s what I was tasked to shepherd; The start of a grand adventure. In crafting this speech I wondered where will this adventure would take them. It had already taken me into a flurry of words and hyperbole, and ultimately a fleeting moment lost in the breeze of fading memories. It may eventually take them around the world and back, to the moon and beyond, but it started, really started there; and it was my great quest to give them a strong wind at their backs.
When the ceremony started there wasn’t much structure to it. The groom in a classy grey suit, and his two groomsmen — one also in a suit, the other in work pants and a short sleeve shirt and tie, walked down the aisle. Seeing that there wasn’t anyone but me to direct traffic I position them to my left as I faced the sixty or so people assembled in the white folding chairs in front of me. My step-mother, the wife of my deceased and missed father, sat to my right, on the bride’s side of the aisle in the front row. The groom’s father, a stunning and fantastic stereotype of an Arkansas man, sat across the aisle from her, his long grey hair falling over the shoulders of his dated and ill-fitting tuxedo. He looked proud and on the verge of tears.
Next came the one bridesmaid and two small flower girls. She looked lovely in a blue dress and white sweater to keep her shoulders warm. I directed them to my right. The crowd looked back and instinctively rose as my sister Breana was led down the aisle by her father, who was beaming himself with the pride and gravity of the moment. When they reached halfway down I realized I hadn’t written anything about giving the bride away.
“Who gives this woman away?” I improvised, shouting a little louder than I had anticipated my first words to be.
“I do.” He said sternly, shaking David’s hand, then mine. I gave a quick bit of quiet stage directions, and then more loudly asked them to face each other.
Behind them, that rocky aisle she had just been led down was the first steps of their adventure together. That’s why we gathered that day. That’s what it meant for them to stand there and exchange words. We, as a group, acknowledged that they were about to begin this new time together, forging a life together, first by public declaration of love and commitment, and then when these words — these words we’d all bestowed with the power to bind and to join — were done, they’d seal it with a kiss and take the first steps of that adventure.
It was a great personal honor for me to be performing the ceremony. I’ve known Bre since she was a little girl, and it was a privilege to be chosen to stand there and unite her and David in marriage. When I sat down to write this ceremony I spent some time lost in how best to express both the pride I feel in its performance, but also how to encapsulate the love these two people are sharing today.
Lost in the stillness of my mind as I desperately sought the skill to order words in such a way that it would be worthy of the moment, I found myself feeling as though the task was impossible. How could I begin to articulate their love? How could I have the hubris to think myself loquacious and emotive enough to stand in front of a group of strangers and deliver something worthy of such a moment? I considered bowing out, asking Bre to turn to someone else. A justice of the peace, maybe a local priest would have the experience in at least faking grandiosity. They wouldn’t make it overly unique and impactful, but they also had less of a potential to ruin it with hyperbolic gruff.
I’d written maybe a sentence when I was ready to throw in the towel; but there exists a voice in my head — A familiar tone of a man long since passed, who’s voice once soothed me back to sleep after nightmares, and cheered for me from the stands even when I struck out. My father once told me that if we are created in the image of god, and god always appears as a flame, then we too must be fire. “We are star stuff” he’d tell me quoting Carl Sagan. “When we were forged in the heart of a star all those eons ago, we were split in two. Twin flames.” My father demonstrated this to me by saying true loves fits like holding hands, while twin flames fit like interlocking fingers.
My father was a man of poetic license and cognitive dissonance, but in remembering that story I realized any one of us could stand there and meet the challenge of the moment. The hard work was done. Breana and David’s life together has already begun. I could read the dictionary, have them answer a question and they’d still be married and forging ahead.
After my father’s words, I turned to Walt Whitman and a line from his poem Perfections:
ONLY themselves understand themselves, and the like of themselves,
As Souls only understand Souls.
Only themselves understand themselves. Only Breana and David truly understood the love they shared. It’s as true of them as any one of us who choose to share their lives and heart with someone. We let them into our world — we open the door for them — at first just a crack — and eventually they are let all the way in to see our soul, bared, our emotions raw, our face smiling or tearful. I had finally found my voice and, though slowly at first, I started to write.
Drawing from another poet, Arthur O’Shaugnessey, I found in his masterpiece Ode that he expressed the hope and desire of fate and fortune, in love and in life. He wrote:
We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams; —
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.
Breana and David were the music makers, the dreamers of dreams; and though the world is not perfect, and as they were acutely aware, neither were they — this was their world, and they were the masters of it.
The odd task of the officiant is essentially to find a poetic benediction, to engage in ceremony, and to assist in the public declaration of love between two people — but in truth, I was redundant as they were already married.
The irony for me, particularly in crafting the ceremony, was that Breana married David the moment she knew she’d stand by his side and love him no matter what. David married Breana when he realized the depth of which he loved her and that he’d never let her go. The ceremony was just the legal affirmation of love; it’s certainly wasn’t the creation of love, and in truth it wasn’t the declaration of love, the ceremony is merely the expression of love, love already created. Love already affirmed. Love already declared. We joined in the expression of that which already was, in hope that for an instant, a bolt of lightning across our beings , that we get to live vicariously through them . We don’t envy, we hope. We remember. We fall in love again. Mostly, we celebrate. That’s what a wedding ultimately is, a celebration.
We stood there warm in the sun, and I prattled on through my words as they stood there staring at each other.
We’ve now come to the time where I offer prose, and formality as I ask you both a question. David — do you take Breana to be your wife. To hold, to help, to understand, to listen, to treasure, and to love as your equal and partner? […]Breana — do you take David to be your husband. To hold, to help, to understand, to listen, to treasure, and to love as your equal and partner? […] Do we have the rings?
David, please place the ring on Breana’s hand and repeat after me:
Take you Breana Rose
Vows are funny things for me. I asked Bre if she and David wanted to write their own, or had any input. “Nope,” she flatly told me. I knew I wanted to write something that was recognizable but also thought that if two people are entering into what is essentially a verbal contract based on five thousand years of tradition I wanted to endow it with a certain amount of modernity.
First to get a rewrite was the typical “to have and to hold” line. It’s cute but cliché.
As you are, as you will be
To be my wife, my partner, my twin flame
Next was I wanted to do away with the “Death do us part” bit.
From days long before this
Until days long after
Then I just got wordy and poetic.
And thus promise
To not be complacent
To be calm in the storm
To provide light in the darkness
And to love you, honor you, respect you, and cherish you
This is my vow
As David, and then Breana repeated after me, I felt words that I had thought were just a formality, just hyperbolic, poetic nonsense, slowly take on weight. With each sentence, as they spoke them to each other, they believedthem. Those words became a solid and understood contract between them; not about the literal meanings of the word, but as a mutual understanding of their life together. The real vow they took was to be more than themselves, taking the life and responsibility of another into their hands.
Vows had been exchanged, “I Do” has been said not once, but twice, and so it was with great pride that, in their expression of love, the power of their words and vows, and acknowledgment of that ceremony, that I declared them to the crown on hand to be Husband and Wife. Down that path behind them was the beginning of another great adventure. They took it together, with boldness, and courage, and moxie — and did so willing to walk off the ends of the earth with each other if that’s where the path took them — but before I sent him, I informed David, now a brother, politely, “you may now kiss the bride.”