As I prepared for the duties, I reflected on the number of weddings I’ve attended where, by the end of all the festivities, I couldn’t answer two basic questions:
- Who is the other person in the marriage? I know one person in the partnership really well, presumably. What’s the life story of the guy/gal who’s marrying my friend?
- Why are these two people getting married to each other? What’s the essence of their dynamic?
Based on this, I structured my remarks to make sure everyone in attendance could at least nominally answer both questions by the end of it. The three-part structure was:
- Describe the bride and groom each as individuals: their childhood, basic attributes/personality, professional activities. [This required interviewing the bride and groom beforehand and collecting stories/anecdotes/nuggets.]
- Describe who they are as a unit: why they’re marrying each other, how they’re similar (the hallmark of friendship), how they complement each other (the hallmark of partnerships).
- Look toward the future and offer some general perspectives on marriage, love, and life.
There were no other speakers or readings during the ceremony, so I ended up speaking for about 18-20 mins and could cover all these points. It worked pretty well.
Of course, no matter what you plan to say, if the audience can’t hear you — literally — it doesn’t matter. I’ve witnessed my fair share of wedding ceremonies where the house A/V doesn’t work, or more commonly, the people speaking don’t know how to use or hold a microphone. With handheld mics, 99% of people hold the mic like an ice cream cone instead of a toothbrush, and so the audio quality oscillates. (Hold it like a toothbrush very close to your lips!) A lav mic is almost always better for this reason but even still it can poorly positioned on the shirt such that as people turn their head when they speak, you start missing words. Anyway, in this ceremony, the mic situation worked fine, thank the Lord!
Below is an excerpt of my closing remarks from my officiating.
We know there will be moments of joy for you both, we just don’t know what, when, or how. Will they occur at predictable intervals, such as at the birth of a child or the realization of a huge professional goal? Or will joy sneak up on you, will it happen when the two of you are going on one of your regular walks around New York, and for whatever reason you see something that reminds you both of an inside joke and you both laugh uncontrollably?
A spiritual teacher once taught me: Don’t miss the joy when it comes! Stay present with the joy as you experience it, he said. He said to tell yourself, “Oh, this is what joy feels like.” “This is what it’s like when I feel happy.” “This is what it feels like to see a beautiful bouquet of flowers.” “This is what it feels like to experience a beautiful sunset.” We might even look around the room right now, at all our friends and family, and take a second to think to ourselves: This is what love feels like.
In addition to the joy, we also know there will be moments of serious hardship ahead, we just don’t know what, when, or how. Will there be a wave of expected grief at the death of a good friend? Or will malaise sneak up on you guys in a less expected moment, perhaps a pang of doubt on a cloudy day in late fall, doubt about whether you’re doing the right thing in your career or whether – god forbid – you married the right person.
Marriage, in my experience, brings more joy, and sometimes more pain, than if you were living life on your own. It adds dynamism and love and struggle. Amazing highs and sometimes really challenging lows.
The natural human thing to do is to try to hold onto the joyful moments, and avoid the unhappy moments.
But that’s impossible, because everything changes. In fact, someone once summarized the entire cannon of Buddhism in those two words: everything changes. The Buddha argued that everything in life is impermanent.
There have been so many joyful moments in your relationship so far. [Personal details]
So there have been some amazing moments. They’re now in the past. Marriage will be filled with millions more of these impermanent moments. The Buddha taught: Stay awake to the moments of joy that arise from being married to each other, and feel them. Know that they will pass.
Also be aware of the moments of dissatisfaction that arise from being married to each other. Know that they will pass.
And do what you can to have more good moments than bad ones. That is what I wish for the two of you.