Last weekend was a crowded one on the Triangle sports calendar: Duke, Carolina, and State football training camps are in full swing. The Panthers played their first preseason game at home. And the Durham Bulls were finishing their last long homestand of the season, looking to shake off a late-season tailspin as they close in on a division title.
What better time to leave town?
My baby sister, Courtney, called me two weeks earlier to let me know that a. she was getting married in Wisconsin in “a small ceremony that we’re throwing together quickly” and b. no, she was not pregnant.
She’d been planning to elope in Las Vegas in October. She let me know about a month ago, so I’d have time to book a flight to get there, giving me some very serious concerns about whether she truly understood the definition of “elope”. The Wisconsin plan was at least closer to the true spirit of the word.
My family always gets very involved in family weddings. My father made the veil for my other sister, Wendy’s wedding, and Wendy made the cake for my wedding. My father also recorded himself singing “Daddy’s Little Girl” to play for the father/daughter dance at both of my sisters’ weddings (Clearly, we’re also big on crying uncontrollably at family weddings.) So when Courtney asked me to officiate, I immediately went online to get myself ordained.
I was worried that two weeks wouldn’t be enough time to complete the Universal Life Church’s rigorous ordination process, but it doesn’t take all that long to type in my name and email address and click “enter”.
The plan hit a snag when we discovered a Wisconsin law requiring anyone conducting a wedding to be a resident of the state. There was a loophole, however. An out-of-state minister could officiate if they received a letter of support from an in-state minister from the same religion. So we went back to Universal Life’s website to ordain an in-state relative who could vouch for me.
The next crisis occurred about a week later: The “small ceremony” had grown to include relatives from as far away as New York and California, as well as most of the groom’s hometown. A tent was being rented. Caterers were brought in. When the dust cleared, I’d be performing my first wedding in front of about 80 people. And Courtney and Pat weren’t planning on writing their own vows—or any other part of the ceremony. That was all part of the minister’s job.
Despite my standing as a legally recognized minister in the state of Wisconsin, quoting the Holy Bible felt a bit sacrilegious. So instead, I chose readings from the book of Albert Einstein (“Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity”) and the Velveteen Rabbit
I sent Courtney and Pat a script for the ceremony, and they signed off on it. Then I drove 1,000 miles, which gave me time to think.
I hadn’t included my own thoughts and words for my sister and her new husband, which, while part of a minister’s job, was something I’d struggled with. My own marriage ended recently, and the idea of giving advice on the topic seemed troubling. As one of my own daughters said in the weeks leading up to the big day, “Are Aunt Nene and Pat going to get divorced? Because if they are, then what’s the point?” I explained to her that life experiences are important, regardless of how they end, but the words seemed empty and hollow—a sportswriter’s words, not a clergyman’s.
On the ride north, in between speeding tickets and rainstorms, an idea started to germinate. I knew enough to leave it alone, and let it finish on its own. A few hours before the ceremony, I scribbled it down on the back of one of the pages of the ceremony script.
The first time I said it out loud was with Courtney and Pat standing in front of me, and 80 people looking on.
“Every little girl dreams of her wedding day, and Pat, maybe some little boys do too. They imagine what they’ll wear, who will be there, what they’ll carry. They want it to be big, fancy, romantic, and perfect. They want it to be the best day of their life.”
“My wish for you today is that this is not the best day of your life. I hope that when you’re older, you’ll look back at your life together and have trouble picking out a best day. I hope it will be like looking at the nighttime sky and trying to pick out the brightest in a canopy of shining stars.”
“And just like a nighttime sky, the stars can best be appreciated when it’s darkest out. I hope that when the dark times come for you both, it gives the brilliance of your love to shine its brightest.”
By the power vested in me by the state of Wisconsin, and the Universal Life Church …