I received a phone call from a number in Seatle on Friday afternoon. Given that I had been officially ‘jobless’ since that past Monday, my normal propensity to ignore any calls from unfamilliar numbers had dissipated- anything could be a potential moneymaking opportunity, or at least an interruption from the day’s monotony.
“Hello?” I said, not wanting to give to much away- as in, “Hello, you’ve reached writer/bartender/wedding officiant/travel advisor Liz Norment, how might I be of service?”
“Hi, is this Liz, with Have Lover, Will Travel?” a voice, from the other side, said.
“Have Lover, Will Travel” was the wedding officiant/honeymoon travel planner arm of my most recent ventures, and the one I was most excited about building at the present moment, despite the fact that every potential block built within the industry was falling apart. If I was to have the words to unite bride and groom, forever, I presently needed to have just the right words to comfort those brides whowere realizing that their dream weddings were indefinitely postponed.
“Hi! Yes, hi, this is Liz,” I said.
“Hi, my name is Dan. I was wondering if you’re available to officiate a wedding tomorrow,” he told me.
Knowing that the city would be officially under quarantine by Sunday night, or at least some American version of what we’d seen happening in China and Italy, I understood his urgency. “Yes, I’m available,” I told him. “This would be an elopement?” I inquired.
“Yeah, our wedding has been postponed… so we were hoping just to do something small now while we still can,” he explained.
“I love this idea,” I told him, suddenly filled with more hope than I had been in the past bleek week. “Let me send you an email with my general ceremony outline and a few questions for you and your partner, and we can go from there,” I told him. “What time are you thinking, for tomorrow?” I asked him.
“I don’t know, how about 2:30?” he asked.
“That sounds great,” knowing that really, I would make any time work.
I sent him and his partner an email with my ceremony outline and also the specific questions I liked to ask couples to help recite their love story, create the personalization of their vows, and offer suggested readings. This exchange usually took at least 3 weeks, allowing an in-person meeting with the couple so I could come to understand how best to deliver what would become their union, forever, unto those who they deemed most loved ones.
I would have less than 24 hours, no formal meeting, and was told that their most ‘loved ones’ would be present via FaceTime… I imagined myself as the nightly talk-show hosts who somehow necessarily gleaned energy from a now crowdless audience. Would my lines hit with the same impact, given the very apparent lack of a grandmother’s trembling hands, a bridesmaid’s audible sob, a father’s hesitant tear?
While I worked to adjust the set of questions and preferences I sent to couples, altered given the current, urgent, and fragile landscape, I received another phone call from Dan, who I now understood lived in Brooklyn, via Seattle. “Hey. Sorry. Are you still interested in making this happen? We just don’t want to miss our chance to get an appointment at the courthouse…” he told me.
“I’m just finishing up the email. I’ll send it to you in a few minutes and we’ll go from there,” I told him. “Trust me, there’s nothing I want more than to make this happen tomorrow.”
After I received each partner’s responses around 9pm, I went to work writing what I hoped would be a ceremony that would bring hope amid despair, and closeness amid apparent distance.
Given my emailed proposal, the couple let me know that they preferred not to read or approve of the ceremony I would create. This was an ideal approach so that we could experience the most natural reactions from those physically, or virtually, present. This made my interpretation of their every typed word all the more prescient.
I first met Dan and his fiancee Sam after at the edge of the park, as I, along with my boyfriend, exited a cab. He had been recruited as the on-site photographer, videographer, and the one who would help keep me calm. At this point, he knew nearly every word of their ceremony, after at least 30 ‘rehearsals’ in our apartment the night before.
Sam and Dan were bright-eyed and young and contained all the hope I myself needed at the moment. I wanted to hug them both, of course, but couldn’t. We walked over to what had been designated as “the altar” of sorts and went over a few basic questions before their two designated witnesses arrived.
“You must be James,” I said, to a curly-haired bow-tied man.
“Hey! Yes! Hi!” he said, before measuring his relative distance to me, to Sam, to Dan. As Sam bent down to try to change into her bridal shoes, a young girl in a pink fur coat came walking up, waving excitedly.
“Oh my god, I’m already crying,” she said.
“Olivia?” I asked the other witness.
“Yes, hi!” she confirmed.
And that was all of us, physically.
We briefly went over when the witnesses’ readings would take place, while we used all the iPhones present to connect with 36 family members and friends from all over the country. There was a father doing dialysis in Ohio. A sister in Boston- “I just put my dress on over my pajamas!” she told the group. A mother and son who looked exactly alike, with their faces squeezed together within the 3×5″ screen.
When we were ready to start, the two witnesses and my boyfriend all stood 6 feet from each other, and a safe enough distance from the couple so that the family could still hear their ceremony over the early March wind.
I began. We were brought here today even knowing, that perhaps, we shouldn’t be here. The entire city has been shut down in an unprecedented mandate to avoid the very prevalent invasion of an unfamiliar virus. Yet we were brought here, despite this warning, in the name of a very coveted, yet familiar, feeling- we were brought here for love.
I looked out, beyond the couple, at the cherry blossoms just bursting to life, for what would be a temporary moment of perhaps unnoticed beauty. The Spring would go on, it seemed, without our bearing witness to it.
Standing here now, even amidst temporary chaos, we are confident that this moment will undoubtedly withstand the test of time.
As a small crowd gathered beyond the fence that surrounded the six of us, standing there below the towering oak trees, the inability to contain, repress, or quarantine certain feelings was palpable.
I mentioned a quote that the groom he had emailed me the day before.
Dan has said, “Once we met, I just knew that I had found something so unexpected and special. There was never a thought that anything could be better than this.”
The air between them seemed to stand still as it was so apparent that they couldn’t wait to embrace each other.Irrepressible. It’s what brought these two together, a feeling that they could neither deny nor contain, and what brings us here now, despite all odds, and current circumstances.
Some things are too strong to hold back, or to wait for what can be thought of as a sensible amount of time. It’s simply, and quite knowingly, irrepressible.
Their witnesses were called individually to ‘walk up’ and stand, while still maintaining a 6-foot distance from the couple. There were tears and laughs and more than a few admittances of “this is justsoyou guys…” all meant to solidify the bond that these two would share forever, upon the rooted, gnarly soil and uncertain earth of a park in transition. Winter to Spring, social gathering area to legally enforced distance, tranquil greenspace to quarantined chaos. There, with a few words, two would be transformed from engaged, to married.And now, feeling this foundation beneath us, within us, and the future of these two before you, I ask you, present loved ones and those with whom we are virtually connected, to join hands with the person beside you. Dan and Sam, look out and feel all of the love that surrounds you now, this moment, within the historic landscape that we find ourselves. I now ask all of you, do you give your support for this union?”
I heard enough clapping, cheers, tears, and muffled affirmations to confidently proceed.
They exchanged rings. They exchanged vows. They solidified their love in a bond, forever, amid two witnesses, through the authority of one stranger, with the virtual blessing of 36 faces trying to transcend the miles of separation, before a haphazard congregation that had been stopped in their tracks, less than 24 hours before the city would be ordered to stop completely.
Dan and Sam, having been present here to witness your vows of marriage with all who are assembled here in support of you, and by the authority vested in me, it is with great joy that I can now pronounce you husband and wife. Dan, you may kiss your bride.
As the words hung in the air, the world seemingly stopped. The moment felt untouchable, irrepressible, eternal.
The two newlyweds waved to the assembled crowd, all cheering and congratulating them, these two strangers who were now one. Most of the faces on the other sides of the collected phones were wet with tears. Champagne was popped. The marriage license was signed. Elbows were tapped. We said goodbye and then went on with our lives for the next day until we were told that we no longer could go on. And now, we wait.