I don't worry anymore about the institution of marriage, especially the wedding part of it. Despite relentless efforts to disparage, devalue, distort, or deride marriage, people do it all the time. Even young people see something valuable in marriage, the old-fashioned compact that remains so effective at delivering long-lived satisfaction, comfort, and even success, if two people give it a chance. Even if they've given up on newspapers, as everyone says they have, the kids still get married.
Now, it may be that it is the wedding ceremony that is the big attraction, rather than the marathon (or half-marathon, or call it an iron man and woman triathlon) that follows, but the wedding ceremony, and especially the party after, endures as a happy, not-to-be-missed early fixture of marriage. Everybody loves a wedding.
I now worry about the institution of summer vacations. The institution of summer vacations is increasingly under attack by the institution of marriage, and particularly by all those summer weddings that launch marriages. Everybody insists on getting married just when you want to go on vacation or take a long weekend. Well, almost everybody. My very sensible older daughter elected a date just after the autumnal equinox and well in advance of winter's unwelcome arrival. Perfect.
One summer we attended three weddings, one of them at a flying distance in a wilting climate, plus one and perhaps two bar mitzvahs. All of them were on weekends, which pass for vacations in the newspaper business.
(I know bar mitzvahs are not the same as weddings, but work with me here. After all, most of these kids who are being bar mitzvahed and bat mitzvahed will get married some day, almost certainly on a weekend when you thought you might go sailing.)
The good thing about weddings is that those of us who got married a while ago hear again the good and true ceremonial words: " . . . that they may love, honour, and cherish each other, and so live together in faithfulness and patience, in wisdom and true godliness, that their home may be a haven of blessing and of peace. . . ."
Of course, you go to all sorts of wedding ceremonies, and the words are not always the same as these, from the Book of Common Prayer. And, increasingly, these days, weddings often stray from the effective range of such simple words as love, honor, faithfulness, and patience. But, no matter, sensible advice about marriage is on offer in many traditional wedding services.
For instance, Apache wedding vows go like this: "Treat yourselves and each other with respect, and remind yourselves often of what brought you together. Give the highest priority to the tenderness, gentleness, and kindness that your connection deserves. When frustration, difficulty, and fear assail your relationship - as they threaten all relationships at one time or another - remember to focus on what is right between you, not only the part which seems wrong. In this way, you can ride out the storms when clouds hide the face of the sun in your lives - remembering that even if you lose sight of it for a moment, the sun is still there. And if each of you takes responsibility for the quality of your life together, it will be marked by abundance and delight."
Apache, Anglican, Methodist, Lutheran, Jewish, Episcopal, Catholic, you name it, it doesn't matter. All the words are good, and everybody needs reminding of them.
The bad thing about weddings is that you have to get out of your sandals, have the kids cinch you into the cummerbund the way Scarlet was cinched into her dress in the movie, remember how to tie the bowtie, suffer the pinching indignities of jackets that don't button across the front of you the way they ought, and then shed tears in front of your friends and family because you are moved by the words. If you have a wife like Moll, she'll be squinting through her own tears to see if you are similarly (and appropriately) affected. You're crying, aren't you, she says accusingly. Not a bit, you say. Oh, yes you are.
What one wants is a smiling, charmed wedding, uniting two lovers and their two families. Maybe their roots are deep in distant soils: the West, the Southwest, the East, places you've never been. Maybe, among the guests there are Islanders and Texans and Californians. Maybe some of them dance funny, or at least different. Maybe the music sounds strange, emanating from iPods rather than Victrolas. But the essence of the day is celebratory and affirming.
One hopes the minister is dependably wise and modest and, despite the national statistics about marriage, he's unambiguously for it.
One hopes that things don't get too theatrical. They can sometimes. I hope you don't, I haven't yet, thank God, but, as I say, you might, unfortunately for you, find yourself trapped in a ceremony with vows something like this: "Me, being of found Mind, do now pledge with all my Power to Believe this Life is just a Movie, and I am Free to write my own Script, develop my own Talent, and cast my own Co-Stars. I hereby dedicate each Moment of Time to craft the Memorable Character who will play The Best Me in the Movie of My Life, in the sure and certain Fear My God is a lofty Studio Exec who expects to be Entertained. My Only Purpose is to Play my Part as if Real Life depends upon it. Because it does. However, To make Great Art takes two people. One, the Great Artist. The Other, to tell the Artist when to stop."
Oh, please stop. Let's not waste a day, especially not a day off, with bad words.