Back in the spring, when my godson Connor knocked on my door and asked if I would officiate his wedding, I said yes without trepidation.
I was thrilled. Flattered. Over the moon. I would get a one-day license from the state. I would ask my friend Anne, who has married many couples, what I should say. And I would buy a tailored, reverend-like dress.
I didn’t panic until a few days before.
I thought I would simply stand before Connor and Jess, his fiancee, and say, “Will you?” and “Do you?” and “I now pronounce you husband and wife.” And then we’d break out the champagne.
I totally ignored the “celebrant talks about marriage and gives advice” part of the program until people started to ask me, “So what are you going to say?”
I have been married for 44 years. In the world of academia, I’d have many doctorates.
I should have something to say.
I wound up stealing from an idea from a good friend, the late Father Bill Coen.
He married a lot of couples.
Often he would take the first letters of their first names and use these to construct his talk.
The bride and groom liked this.
Most even remembered a little of what he said.
So I began with the bride, Jess.
J. Joke, I said. Laughter is the best medicine. Laugh together. Laugh at yourselves. Laugh after you have a total conniption fit because you realize that what you’re having a fit about doesn’t matter. Losing your keys. Even a missed plane. “Will this matter a year from now?” my father used to say. Most things don’t.
E. Embrace. It’s hard to believe when you’re standing at the altar, but people do stop kissing “hello” and “goodbye” and even “I love you.” Don’t stop. My son-in-law goes right to his wife when he comes home from work and kisses her every night. It’s the first thing he does. No matter who is around. No matter what is going on. Every day for 13 years.
S. Speak kindly to each other and about each other, You are going to argue. You have argued. That’s fine. But be careful with your words. Don’t demean each other. Don’t tell on each other to friends. It’s okay to talk to friends to get a different perspective, to seek advice. But not ammunition. Don’t use talk as fuel.
S. Surprise. It’s the small things that really are big things. “Connor, I got you these concert tickets.” “Jess, I saw this book and thought you’d like it.” My husband surprised me with a self-starting lawnmower once. Out of the blue. So I wouldn’t hurt my back. Surprise keeps romance alive.
C. Comfort one another. The world can be tough. There’s always work to be done, people to be dealt with. It’s nice to come home to someone who understands.
O. Own up to your mistakes. “I’m sorry” is hard to say. It sticks in the throat. Say it anyway. Say it sometimes even if it’s not your mistake. “I’m sorry you feel that way.” “I’m sorry I made you feel that way.” Being kind is always better than being right.
N. Notice each other. Notice what he’s wearing. Say she looks nice. We tell strangers when they look nice. Sometimes we don’t treat the people we love with the kindness that we treat strangers.
N. Nurture. Nurture the relationship. All the books tell you to put each other first, but sometimes this is impossible. Sometimes someone else will need you more. Sick kids, sick parents, a friend in trouble. But during those times, make time for one another. Help each other out.
O. “O” used to be the obey word. Not anymore. Overlook is my advice. Overlook the wet towel on the floor. The unmade bed. The take-out food that was yours but that he ate. Don’t let little things become big things.
R. Remember today. Remember how you feel right now. Remember all that has led up to this moment. How sure you are. How right you are. How in love you are. Spend a moment every day for the rest of your life remembering why you chose each other. Make it a habit. Give thanks for it. Treasure it.