Sunday, July 3, 2011

Long-time-coming Contentment

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Relief Rollercoaster

Rabbi Rachel Weiss, smiling a beautiful, broad smile, as she has done practically throughout the relatively short and very sweet ceremony: "Now, if anyone would like to say a word -- not a sentence or paragraph -- about what they're feeling right now, please go ahead."

Pat, Rabbi Weiss, and me

Oh, no, I think silently, but loudly, this is the pressure-part for everyone. What if no one says anything? An otherwise surprisingly relaxing ceremony feels suddenly tense for me.

My mother begins, "I don't want to give away either of you because you're both too precious to me."

My tension drains. How perfect. Unsolicitedly, my mom has taken up the mantle, serving as the proxy for Pat's mom, who, at 87, is too frail to travel from Green Bay for the wedding, and for both of our dead fathers (z"l). My mom is all of our parents for the day, and also, finally -- genuinely -- Pat is her daughter-in-law.

"OK, 'precious.' Who else?" asks the rabbi.

"L'chaim!" says my brother-in-law Gary, coming into view behind the rabbi.

"Mazel tov!" says our friend of 18 years, Carol Vericker, who's holding one of the chuppah poles.

"B'hatzlichah!" says David Chase, our friend of 17 years, and another chuppah-pole holder.

"To your success [or good luck]!" the rabbi translates.

I reward David with a big smile. David, who's an athiest, is the most respectful person I know when it comes to others' religious and cultural traditions. I don't recall when he found out that "B'hatzlichah!" was an appropriate phrase to use with Jewish friends, just that it was prior to our occasion, for another pair of friends.

I don't say a word then, but if I had done so, I could have chosen from, "finally [after 19 years]" or "relief" or "joy" or "buoyancy" or "phew!" These words remind me that we were invited by the team to create a 3-minute-or-less-in-length video of how we met and got together, and we did so. In addition, we submitted an announcement, which was published today.

Directly prior to the wedding, my words would have been, "awed," "self-conscious," "on-display" and "torn."

Our niece Zoe, her grandmother -- my mom -- Sam & Max, Zoe's brothers, at the High Line

"Awed" because I was feeling that it was practically too good to be true that my immediate family and four dear friends-as-family were gathered for an occasion that was in honor particularly of Pat & me. That feeling stayed with me all day, including at lunch afterward as I looked at everyone around the table; at the High Line prior to Shabbat services; and then again at shul, during services.

The only other time I had ever had a special moment(s) with a rabbi prior to a ceremony that involved me was for my dad's (z"l) funeral when I was a year younger than Zoe (and our other nephew Zach), at 17....I don't even recall a rabbi at my bat mitzvah, which I celebrated with my family at Camp Ramah...and that was not my finest hour, as I had been too busy, having a vivid sleep-away camp experience, rather than practicing my Torah reading, and so I was a tentative performer; I guess I'm trying not to remember that occasion.

"Self-conscious" and "on-display" because I was wearing the most beautiful, most classically feminine, most cadet-blue dress I had ever had on in my life, including open-toed dress-sandals with lavender-painted nails and I felt as vulnerable as I predicted I would. I was convinced to wear what I did by a heterosexual friend who had said to me some weeks ago, "Well, doesn't everyone feel vulnerable on wedding days in any case?" By "vulnerable," both of us meant, super-public, rather than private, and in various senses, almost naked, rather than armored, no matter what we're wearing.

Another two, lesbian friends were influential, too, as both of them had chosen to wear a dress for their weddings in Massachusetts because, they agreed, it was an ultra-special occasion. One of them and I also share a love of using virtual worlds for learning and I said, "And besides, you're familiar with that Stanford research that says that thin avatars influence their obese creators to lose weight? Well, as you know, my Second Life avatar is super-femme and I think she's influencing my real-life choice of outfit."

My friend understood, and I think our avatars would have been proud of me.

"Torn" because three of my relatives hit traffic and were late, and the ceremony already should have been in progress. While waiting for them, I experienced a bonus-dilemma: I ran into a friend I had met through another friend and our affiliation with a national organization that advocated against gender-stereotyping. I didn't realize that she worked in Stamford's Government Center, where we held the ceremony, outside of the cafeteria on the 4th floor, in a space that resembled a city-park.

She was with a colleague and I was happy for the coincidence, but anxious about our late-start, and our conversation was holding up the proceedings further. Pat walked over and I said, "This is Pat, my...fiancée."

"Yes, hi. I think we've met," she said -- and I recalled Pat, being with me at a benefit or two for the organization. Since my friend lived in Stamford and my mother still did, too, I had brought her to my mom's house to meet my mother some years ago. Pat's presence by my side reminded me of the occasion and snapped me back into the present.

In a split-second, I decided, no, I won't invite her to join us; this is going to go as planned, as much as possible. We are having just my immediate family -- my mom, two sisters, brothers-in-law and collectively, their four kids, plus four friends to serve as Pat's proxy-family, and who we chose because they were the first two couples to befriend us as we were moving to New Jersey from Illinois more than 15 years ago.

"I hope you'll understand, it's just a small, family wedding," I told my friend.

She nodded, of course, and I hugged her and walked back over to Pat and the rabbi. Oy! I wish I had been more flexible and just said, "Please join us."

After the ceremony, which was brief by design -- about 20 minutes in length total -- I saw that she was still at the picnic table, where she had been prior, though her colleague was gone. I approached her.

She said, "I like to work outside when the weather's nice. Guess who sends her best wishes?" She had called our mutual friend to let her know that Pat & I were marrying. I felt like a jerk for not including her, since I'm supposedly so committed to inclusion everywhere, all the time; oy! Pat came over again, which helped wash away my guilt for a moment, as I was happier than guilty in saying, "And here's my wife."

My friend smiled and Pat made a nice comment about the friend this friend had called, and then walked back to the rest of our family. My guilt returned. I looked at my friend sheepishly and she switched topics, "You know, I still have those tefillin for you," she said.

"I *know*. Every time I'm in Stamford, it seems I'm here with my mom and then gone and back to see my mom and then gone, but yes, we have to figure out a time."

This friend is a transwoman and while she recognizes that women, who are not Orthodox Jews, are welcome to wear tefillin, they remind her of the years, where she had to present herself as a boy and man, which wasn't true to herself.

I wonder what she was thinking as I walked away. I hope she forgave me.

Bonus Reflections By My Mom and Me

Two days later, as I write this, above all, I'm happy to be Pat's wife, finally, after nearly two decades. It reminds me of a shirt that our friend Gerard changed into for the evening, which featured a great photo of David and read, "Married to David in 2003" above the photo, and below it, "His fiancé for 16 years."

As I pressed, "Publish post" just now, my mom called me. "You said that Pat told you I looked contemplative during the ceremony?" my mom asked.

"Yes, 'contemplative.'"

"I was. I was thinking, Thank God I lived to see this day."


Alice Elliott Dark said...

I love this. So funny to feel all that guilt on the wedding day! It is such a true portrait of human nature.
Best wishes.

Sarah Siegel said...

Alice, thanks for your kind feedback and good wishes. I'd rather have had the wedding and the guilt (and all of the other emotions), I can now confirm, than not. What a great rite of passage and in Pat's & my case, better late than never!

Bernie said...

A great thing to tell in your blog, for sure! I was happy rereading it for the second time.

P.S. Among other things, I like the fact that the blue and yellow of your flowers matched the outfits of you and Pat. Well done.

Clay Williams said...

I love the post - so wonderful and so Sarah. Mazel Tov on the wedding!