At first, everyone thought we were crazy, not the least because we had limited funds. But since it wasn't the first unusual thing either of us had done nobody was especially surprised.
My husband already knew a bit about this ritual ceremony, as well as a good deal about himself. He wanted a courthouse wedding--no hoopla--a simple, private exchange of vows between two maturing adults. After all, he said, getting married is between us, and we had been living together for a number of years already.
"What's the real reason," I asked?
"I just can't take the pressure: the preparations, the big, public promise of forever again, and the actual vow all at once."
I had my own concerns. There was my rocky relationship with my immediate family. Other brides simply bit the bullet, but I knew from previous experience with my family that the tension could easily ruin this big day for me. There was the question of location. I had always imagined returning home for my wedding. On the other hand, many of our friends who had become like family, who had supported our relationship during its first pleasures and tribulations, wouldn't have been able to attend an out-of-town occasion. We wanted them to be present to midwife us at this juncture. Most importantly, it was also proving impossible to find a rabbi in our city who would perform a Jewish wedding for a mixed couple, and that felt essential to me.
In a sense my life seemed divided between the world from which I came and the world I had created for myself. Given the situation, how could I enter this new, important stage of life, bringing both my selves into the ritual and celebrating each fully?
Like the supportive couple we worked daily to be, we compromised; we did it all. First was the civil ceremony in January, making the bond legal, so that my husband could be fully present for the other weddings with his commitment safely tucked in his heart when he made it again, in public, twice. I have to admit that I was so nervous uttering this first "I do" that I was glad I'd get a chance to do it more than once, myself.
Our first wedding was indeed performed by a judge in Baltimore, in January.
Our second marriage, three weeks later in my home town of New York City, under the chuppah, or wedding canopy, with my whole family present, and klezmer music in the background. You would have thought you'd entered a shtetl! Without trepidation, I was able to love my troubled family just for showing up, because I knew that no matter what transpired on that afternoon, it would not be my only memory, my only wedding day. There was no less a sense of reverence vowing this second time, in fact there may have been more (we were, after all, warmed up). We had married each other, and now we acknowledged our vow, in the rite that compelled the power of tradition for me, before God and family, feeling welcomed by both; we broke the glass, danced a hora and the roots of my being ushered us into our new life.
In April, our final wedding, a spiritual/secular, non-denominational one, was with all of our friends back in Baltimore. For this ceremony, we wanted to do something equally as memorable and profound. Since it was this community that had supported and would support our relationship, we decided it was only fitting that they perform the last observance of our wedding. We printed up the text of the service on the programs, and, in unison, the entire congregation spoke the words of invocation, asked for our vows, and pronounced us husband and wife. The choir of their collective voice resounding around us was the final embrace. At the reception we danced to a Blues band; several friends blessed us from different religious traditions; and we spent our third wedding night in the same bed where we had spent our first.
According to Jewish tradition, a couple is considered a bride and groom for the first year of their marriage. We certainly were that. I remember my weddings with total joy the way all brides hope they will. My husband admits that it was the best wedding he ever had.
"Which one," I ask? "The one where I married you," he answers. Clever man.
And on what date do we celebrate the anniversary of our marriage? Like the wedding, and our married life, the celebration unfolds.