Group Writing: Surprising Wedding Vows

 

When I was young and imagined myself being married, I didn’t stop to think about the kind of vows my beloved and I would recite. As a rule, people didn’t write their own vows; they relied on the officiant to recite the ceremony and for the couple to reply with simple, “I dos.” Even today I wouldn’t want to write my own vows; it makes me nervous just thinking about it, and I’m a public speaker! But I have three situations where wedding vows were involved, and all of them had a significant impact on me.

The first situation must have been 50 years ago when a family friend who was about my age and Jewish married a Catholic man. Back then, intermarriage was beginning to increase, and since her family was not very religious, I don’t remember there being a big deal made of it. At the ceremony, however, I was surprised and stunned to hear them recite their vows. I didn’t know exactly how they were going to make their vows to each other, given their two religions, but I heard both of them take their vows “in the name of Jesus Christ.” They had a minister perform the ceremony and he had agreed to offer two different sets of vows, but he fell into his usual wedding pattern—and forgot his promise. Oh well. I don’t know how many people heard it or cared, but as a teenager, I was already conflicted due to the mixed marriage and felt chagrined and embarrassed by his error. I’m sure he felt uncomfortable, too.

The next time I was faced with the question of wedding vows was when I was engaged to my current husband, who was raised Catholic but wasn’t practicing. I knew my parents wouldn’t be thrilled with my marrying a gentile, but he was a wonderful man and I wanted to marry him. I had heard nice things about a Conservative Jewish rabbi and thought I would ask him if he would marry us. When I told him our situation, it wasn’t enough for him to politely say “no”; he was outraged that I would even ask him. I guess I was pretty naïve, at least not anticipating that he might say “no;” I didn’t expect him to take it as a personal affront. Naturally, I was once again embarrassed and wondering what to do next.

Although my husband wasn’t concerned about how we would wed, I was very concerned. For those of you who are Christian, please don’t be offended when even then, with my minuscule engagement with Judaism, I didn’t want to be wed “in the name of Jesus Christ.” I wanted to have a religious ceremony that spoke to the little faith that I had, and to my values. I finally found the right man to do the job.

My parents had attended a Reform synagogue for a time, and really liked the rabbi—Rabbi Frank. They thought we might like him, so I contacted him by telephone and told him our situation, prepared for the worst. Instead, he said he needed to know more about us and our situation, and agreed to meet with us. I breathed a sigh of relief.

So, one afternoon the three of us met. Before we even sat down, he and my husband were talking like old friends. My husband grew up near the Covington, Ky area, and the rabbi had attended the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, not far from there. The two of them were laughing and sharing stories about the gambling houses and the other questionable activities that took place during that time, the 1950s and 1960s. I sat and watched and listened to them get to know and like each other. Although I felt a bit like a third wheel, I couldn’t help enjoying their exchange.

Finally, we got down to business. The rabbi wanted to know how both of us related to our faiths. Although I felt an affinity for Judaism, Jerry didn’t relate to the Catholicism he was raised in; if anything, he had some negative memories that had remained with him.

After a lengthy discussion, the rabbi observed that my connection to Judaism was sincere; that Jerry had no objection to whatever holidays I chose to observe, and that there would be no conflicts in observance, although Jerry would likely not participate in my activities. So the rabbi agreed to conduct the Reformed version of the ceremony, down to the breaking of the glass. And we have been married for 46 years.

*     *     *     *

What are my thoughts about our wedding vows after all these years?

First, let me say that I love my husband more now than when we married. Any of you who read my posts about his taking care of me during my cancer time know what a loving man he is.

That said, our marrying added limitations and an awkwardness to our lives. He has never voiced any objection to my religious choices, except that when he realized I was becoming more committed to Judaism, he volunteered that he would not keep kosher. Period. We no longer have pork in the house nor shellfish (which he doesn’t like anyway). But I have made a commitment not to do anything that would make him uncomfortable otherwise. I keep a limited version of the Sabbath, have daily prayers that I recite, study Torah, and follow other rituals. All of these I can do on my own.

So I’ve done my best to honor our wedding vows. In many ways we have matured and become closer, for which I am extremely grateful. Over time, we have grown to appreciate and love each other.

For that, we are blessed.

Anniversary Dinner, 2018

Published in Group Writing
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  1. Douglas Pratt Coolidge
    Douglas Pratt
    @DouglasPratt

    And we are blessed to know you and share your thoughts and experiences. Kudos and best regards to your husband, who is wise in the ways of tending a relationship. May you both continue for many more satisfying years.

     

    • #1
  2. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Douglas Pratt (View Comment):

    And we are blessed to know you and share your thoughts and experiences. Kudos and best regards to your husband, who is wise in the ways of tending a relationship. May you both continue for many more satisfying years.

     

    What a lovely sentiment, Doug. Thanks so much!

    • #2
  3. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    … must keep Covington jokes under my hat …

    • #3
  4. WiesbadenJake Coolidge
    WiesbadenJake
    @WiesbadenJake

    My wife and I attend a fair number of weddings that we are invited to by former students; we have heard a variety of vows, from the traditional to very personalized. I will admit to occasions of embarrassment when the vows become too ‘personal’ or ‘intimate’. So, I find the traditional vows relaxing as well as meaningful. Some things are best said between a husband and wife in private…

    Congratulations on 46 years! What a statement of love and faithfulness you have made to each other and to this world. May the next 46 years be as happy as the first!

    • #4
  5. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    I love these personal glimpses into the lives of Ricochet people. 

    The only thing that matters, for me at least, is that each of the partners in a marriage  respects the beliefs — and the quirks, quiddities, and quibbles — of the other.  You two seem to have embraced that point of view.

    Marie and I have been married for 58 years.  Marie has always been a Christian believer and she loves her church. I’ve always been a skeptic.  We have never had a scintilla of a conflict about our beliefs. 

    It probably helps that I’ve always appreciated the Judeo-Christian world view and the book from which that view flows.  (I used to teach a sophomore course called the Bible as Literature.)  It also helps that Marie has a mellow personality who has a natural empathy for others, including me. 

    So good for you two.  

    • #5
  6. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    KentForrester (View Comment):
    Marie and I have been married for 58 years.  Marie has always been a Christian believer and she loves her church. I’ve always been a skeptic.  We have never had a scintilla of a conflict about our beliefs.

    That’s wonderful, Kent! I love when you write about the two of you; you seem to have found the perfect balance for maintaining a loving relationship. And here’s a toast to both of you for many more years.

    • #6
  7. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    Lovely sentiments, masterfully expressed — as usual.

    • #7
  8. CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill
    @CarolJoy

    What a blessing that you found the rabbi who was clearly meant to be the one to officiate your wedding. Things do often work out for the best despite minor obstacles that may show up first.

    One of my favorite wedding experiences was my minor diversion from an amazing Girl Scout Jubilee celebration that took place in a downtown  fancy pants Chicago hotel.

    I would have been 11 or 12, and my Girl Scout leader Andy had asked me to go  from the fifth floor down to the second or third floor and bring up the keynote speaker for the event.

    Well I got off the elevator at the wrong floor. I found myself  in a sumptious banquet hall. The lighting was dramatic, with the walls being ornate deep red and which reflected everywhere in a warm glow. This lighting was dim in some places and dark in others.

    I truly thought at the tail end of the gathering I might find the lobby where the keynote speaker would be waiting. So rather than turning back, I kept walking forward.

    Much of the space of that hall was taken up by Jewish people doing some type of dancing.

    A middle aged man saw me walking on the edges of the hora, and gently guided me into a group of other young people. I am having a senior moment as I type this, but the music was that song that is often portrayed as being the Jewish anthem of a decent party celebration. The whole thing was so exuberant, so I found myself joining in and repeating the phrases.

    I expected at any moment to be ejected for crashing the ceremony. After all, I was attired in a quite obvious Girl Scout uniform. But everyone was too giddy to care.

    After five minutes or so I reluctantly slipped out. Although the experience took up only six minutes or so of my life, I can still recall the special sights, sounds and tone of that event like it was yesterday.  But I had to leave so soon or otherwise the GS  keynote speaker would have been left in the lurch.

    Some years later, when I started to date, often by the end of the evening, I would ask my date if he was Jewish. I tried to cover up  my disappointment that all my dates ended up being Catholic like me.

    • #8
  9. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill (View Comment):
    A middle aged man saw me walking on the edges of the hora, and gently guided me into a group of other young people. I am having a senior moment as I type this, but the music was that song that is often portrayed as being the Jewish anthem of a decent party celebration. The whole thing was so exuberant, so I found myself joining in and repeating the phrases.

    Jewish weddings are fabulous–at least the orthodox Jewish wedding I attended was (@iwe‘s family). I had lots of people looking out for me (mostly women), taking me where I needed to be, dancing like crazy and just having the time of my life. There are a number of songs they could have been singing, but any of those would have been joyous and celebratory. What fun that you had that unexpected encounter!

    • #9
  10. Steven Seward Member
    Steven Seward
    @StevenSeward

    Thanks for sharing those moments and insights, Susan!  As you know, Caryn and I are in the same  situation.  Sounds like both your and our situations have turned out well.   Frankly, I’m amazed at how much the Orthodox Jewish world tolerates me! (Now pardon me while I go sneak a bite of ham)

    • #10
  11. Steven Seward Member
    Steven Seward
    @StevenSeward

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill (View Comment):
    A middle aged man saw me walking on the edges of the hora, and gently guided me into a group of other young people. I am having a senior moment as I type this, but the music was that song that is often portrayed as being the Jewish anthem of a decent party celebration. The whole thing was so exuberant, so I found myself joining in and repeating the phrases.

    Jewish weddings are fabulous–at least the orthodox Jewish wedding I attended was (@ iwe‘s family). I had lots of people looking out for me (mostly women), taking me where I needed to be, dancing like crazy and just having the time of my life. There are a number of songs they could have been singing, but any of those would have been joyous and celebratory. What fun that you had that unexpected encounter!

    I’ve been to so many of these now that I am all wedded-out!

    The wildest one we attended, a couple years ago in Brooklyn New York, was the marriage between a couple, each of whose father was the head of a different Jewish Hassidic Dynasty, sort of a “royal marriage.”  The men and women were not only separated by a barrier, but had two separate buildings down the block from each other.  They had to.  There were between 4,000 and 5,000 men in attendance!  And every one of them was wearing those huge furry hats and long black gowns.  It looked like an army of Russian Cossacks.  

    I was one of less than 10 men wearing an ordinary yarmulke and suit & tie.  But I was friends with the bride’s family and they welcomed me with big smiles as if I was an important relative.  They sat me near the front of an immense music hall the size of a football field and set up with literally hundreds of tables on the floor, flanked by standing-room-only bleachers for about 1,600 students.

    The music was out of this world.  They didn’t have just a small band with a singer or two.  They had an orchestra with a chorus of twenty or thirty guys just raisin’ the roof with music like I’d never heard before.  The students in the bleachers chanted along and did their Jewish version of “the wave,” with 1,600 of those furry hats undulating  through the air like a “dance of the tribbles.”

    I’ll probably never see anything like it again, though for pure numbers, Caryn’s got me beat. She attended a public outdoor wedding in Israel that had something like 20,000 attendees.  Not kidding.

    For reference, here is a stock photo taken from the Internet showing the dress of Hassidic Jewish men.

     

    • #11
  12. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    This happier ever after surprising story is part of October’s group writing theme: October Surprise. Join in with your own expression of surprise, good or bad, mild or great.

    You are invited to play off of “surprise,” “October,” or both. Stop by today to reserve a day. Interested in Group Writing topics that came before? See the handy compendium of monthly themes. Check out links in the Group Writing Group. You can also join the group to get a notification when a new monthly theme is posted.

    • #12
  13. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    Susan Quinn: As a rule, people didn’t write their own vows; they relied on the officiant to recite the ceremony and for the couple to reply with simple, “I dos.” Even today I wouldn’t want to write my own vows; it makes me nervous just thinking about it, and I’m a public speaker! But I have three situations where wedding vows were involved, and all of them had a significant impact on me.

    It was revealed to me by my priest (my uncle) at the dress rehearsal that my husband and I needed to have our vows memorized.

    I used to recite them for the B&G, but he had too many marriages fall apart on him, so he made us memorize them…

    Some of it was close enough to what you always hear, yet different in some fundamental way, that I had a lot of trouble with it.

    But we did it. We’ll be married 13 years in December.

    • #13
  14. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Glad you made it through! What is “B&G”–boys and girls?

    • #14
  15. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Glad you made it through! What is “B&G”–boys and girls?

    Bride & Groom 

    • #15