As the Spirit Moves Us
The big day approached, and we still hadn’t decided. "Let’s play it both ways,” I said.
"We get married at the Greek church in Queens; incense, chanting, light streaming through the icons, pictures of Jesus everywhere, we’ll dance around the altar with the priest in his gold robe, exchanging crowns of flowers on our heads. It'll be beautiful. ”
"It would be beautiful," she agreed.
"But,” I said, being fair, "there is your side. All I can see is an army of your mother’s Pennsylvania Quaker friends standing to speak in the middle of the service and a battery of short, bald Greeks swarming from every direction, hissing "Sit down, sit down, the priest is speaking.” I gave her my best Greek American accent. She laughed easily.
"That could be a problem," she said.
"And you are not Greek Orthodox. We would have to find a way around that.”
"That could be a problem too," she said, so careful and tender.
"Let’s play it the other way,” I said. "Tell me about the Quaker service.”
"It is just like the Sunday meeting for worship.”
"There is nothing special?”
"We would have to meet with a clearance committee. They would council us on a Quaker marriage, make sure we were suitable for each other and had thought it through.”
We had lived together for four years and been together for eight. Lately, I had been accused of thinking it through a little too much.
"I’m sure we’d pass.”
"I’m sure we would.”
"What else,” I asked. "Anything special in the service?"
"We could have a simple reading and we would have to exchange vows. We would sit on the facing benches in front and everyone would be looking at us.”
As a performer, this rolled off my back, but I knew, as a shyer personality, the thought of this terrified my wife to be.
"And then what?”
"Then anyone who wants to can stand and speak, just as the spirit moves them."
"Speak about what? Marriage? Us?”
"They can talk about anything, for as long as they like.”
"You are telling me; my relatives can get up and talk about anything they want, as long as they like?”
"My god, we will be there a week. Greeks have been talking for three thousand years. The whole tradition is not going to grind to a halt, out of deference to a Quaker meeting on Sept. 10. We are not known for our brevity.”
"I am sure they will say lovely things. I really love your family.”
"And they really love you.”
"Whatever we do, it will be great,” I said. “You just might expect a few surprises.”
"I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
We settled on a plan; a Quaker wedding in Pennsylvania, fancy food catered by one of her mom’s friends and Greek music and dancing under a tent in her parent’s backyard.
As she predicted, people said lovely things. And as I predicted, things sometimes took an unusual turn.
Martha’s father, Paul, stood first to set the tone.
"A Quaker wedding is a service to worship god, who we do not fully understand.”
The house quieted, as it did each time someone spoke.
Cousins and friends stood and offered well wishes and words to songs and amusing and meaningful anecdotes. An aunt of mine encouraged us to have children, to keep on the family name, not knowing Martha was already two months pregnant with our first son. We smiled noncommittedly.
The brilliant cousin rose. Even Martha knew this could go anywhere. As he stood, all the Greeks in the room shifted, now on high alert.
He spoke movingly and simply about "this Orthodox-Quaker union.”
The Greeks shared an inaudible sign of relief. He was saving his big guns for the reception.
Martha’s ninety-eight-year-old grandmother stood, still a strong-minded, upper-class Midwestern girl.
"A few years ago, I felt ready to die, but now, with all these great grandchildren popping out, I think I’ll stay around a little longer and watch them grow up.” She lived another six years, to one hundred and four.
My father stood. It was 1988 and Michael Dukakis, governor of Massachusetts, was running for president. My father was a great student of history.
"I was thinking yesterday,” he said. "We are not too far from where Washington crossed the Delaware, one of the most famous moments in American History. Who would think now, two hundred years later, a Greek would be running for president?”
Everyone seemed to have a way to tie it all together.
My brother stood. His job was easy. We had given him the only reading of the service- St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians about love, a staple of countless weddings, the one that says, "love is patient, love is kind.”
"Nick and Martha asked me to read Paul’s letter to the Corinthian’s about love,” my brother began. "I looked at it last night, and to tell you the truth, I couldn’t get into it.”
The Greeks were on high alert again. The Quakers were a sea of serious faces. Martha’s smile stiffened.
"What is he doing?” her eyes said.
"I don’t know," I answered, without blinking.
He certainly had everyone’s attention.
My brother had spent the last few years exploring Asian religions, Buddhism and Taoism, which he loved to talk about. My mind raced ahead.
"I’ve selected this passage from Lao Tzu that I thought was more appropriate,” I could hear him saying in my thoughts.
Martha stared at me even more wide eyed, as I smiled back and
avoided the look from my cousin the comedian in the front row.
"I was in Greece this summer for the first time,” my brother continued "and I went through Corinth, where Paul’s letter was written. It's not far from our ancestor’s village in the mountains.”
"Last night I took out a Greek -English dictionary and translated some of the words from the original. They have a different meaning than what we are used to."
"Where it says, 'Now we see each other through a glass darkly, but then face to face,' … the Greek word for face is prosopo, which Greek, also means person. So it really reads, "then we will see each other person to person.”
I wondered how far the linguistics lesson would go. At least we were back in Greece.
"So, as I read this, I want all of you picture a person you really love. See their face.”
He read the passage. There were more than a few misty eyes in the house.
Soon after, the service ended with a firm fraternal handshake to your neighbors, although the Greeks had to control themselves, not to kiss everybody in sight.
We signed the marriage certificate, and after a few pictures in front of the Meeting House, took the ten-minute ride to my new in-law's back yard for the party. The sky was a cloudless blue, the temperature perfect, and the guests mingled freely.
While the meats roasted on open grills, the band began to crank out Greek tunes and everyone, Greeks and non-Greeks were up, lines of dancers weaving in and out of the tent and snaking onto the grass.
As the food was served, in the midst of it all, my father held up a wine bottle, bobbing it in the air, keeping time to the music, while my mother cheered him on. She handed him another bottle and now he stood and held both aloft, my mother laughing and clapping in time.
After the meal, the band started again and played on into the cool Pennsylvania evening.
And Martha, radiant in her simple white wedding dress, was the first one up dancing.