Marital bliss

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I stumbled on an unforeseen new calling last fall at the apartment of friends in Brooklyn, a longtime pair who had recently gotten engaged. Like so many gay couples, Mark and Kevin had decided to make it legal because they finally could, and were just starting to work out the details of their big romantic day. Having had several glasses of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo with my lasagna, I exuberantly suggested that I get an instant-minister credential and perform the wedding. 

No less excited about my idea in the clear light of day, I Googled my way to Open-Ministry.org in milliseconds the next morning. Right in the middle of the home page was a purple button: Get Ordained. Underneath it a line of copy read, “Join the global community of ministers now!” I clicked it and poof, I was a minister. There was no charge, though I did eventually send money for a certificate of ordination, notarized letter and other materials needed to register as an officiant in various states.

Next, I got on Facebook to hang out my shingle. My post—“Have Reverend Marion perform your next wedding”—got 175 likes and 52 comments, but most importantly, drew a message from a young woman who had taken a personal essay class from me 10 years ago at York College. Layla Rahimi said she was planning nuptials with a very short lead as her dad was critically ill. She wondered if we could put together something as early as January.

As it turned out, Layla’s father, Habib Rahimi of Habib’s Kabob and Bagel Cafe in Eldersburg, Md., worsened so quickly the first wedding date she set had to be canceled. By the time the morning of the rescheduled event arrived, the family
and friends of the couple had recently attended his funeral, and had to carry on without what surely would have been the proudest of papas. One woman at our table looked wistfully out the window at the unusually warm, sunny February day and murmured, “Habib must have sent this gorgeous weather.”

It was hard to believe that the lovely, slender woman in a dove-gray gown who greeted my 13-year-old daughter Jane and me when we arrived at Overhills Mansion in Catonsville was a recent widow. Kim Rahimi didn’t even look old enough to be the mother of the bride. I confided in her that I had been in a similar situation to Layla’s when my father died a month before my planned wedding date in 1985. But she already knew this, because her book club had read my memoir First Comes Love.

This flattering news helped a bit to calm my jitters, but man, I was nervous. I had spent hours choosing my “minister outfit,” a deep scarlet crepe dress with a long, fitted black jacket, Celtic heart earrings, a pearl choker and, pinned to my lapel, a stuffed heart with tiny bells that arrived in my mailbox Valentine’s Day with no card or return address. (I could tell by the writing on the envelope that it was almost definitely from a girl, so don’t get too excited for me.) We’d stopped at Barnes and Noble on the way, where I’d dropped 30 bucks on a red leather-bound journal to use as a Marriage Register—a tip in the Open-Ministry packet inspired the purchase. I had a nice pen for signing the marriage license and I was ready to go.

The ceremony we’d agreed on was an adaptation of the civil one, adding vows the bride and groom had written themselves. The groom, dressed in gray twill Aladdin-type pants, a matching vest trimmed in blue satin and cloth slippers, pulled crumpled notebook pages from his pocket and read a slightly rambling yet adorable speech in which he revealed that his mother had predicted the marriage when the two were teenagers. He said Layla was his goddess and he would spend his life loving her. The bride, wearing floor-length ivory chiffon, made equally romantic promises, including professing her intention to try to become more inter-ested in snowboarding and more tolerant of really loud music.

After stumbling over a word or two in the beginning of my text, I found my sea legs and finished up with a blessing from the Persian poet Rumi, who was one of Layla’s dad’s favorites. Then, by the authority wildly invested in me by the County of Baltimore and the State of Maryland, I pronounced them Mr. and Mrs. Eddie Garmzaban, and the two beautiful young people kissed as their guests cheered. I followed the recessional out and got a huge hug from my daughter, who was beside herself with the romance of her first wedding ceremony.

It was an unparalleled honor and a thrill to be the instrument of people’s happiness on the happiest day of their lives: the connector in the completed circuit of true love. A Hebrew school dropout like me might be the last person you’d expect to find in this position, but recent studies show the religiously unaffiliated number 1.1 billion worldwide. Somebody’s got to run all those weddings and funerals and naming ceremonies. Maybe you too should join the global community of ministers now!
Have a couple glasses of wine and see if you don’t agree.

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