“And now, by the virtue of the authority vested in me by the state of California, I now pronounce you husband and wife.”
And with those words — spoken by me as if they were all capital letters — I ended my first, and likely only, stint as a wedding officiant. My cousin stomped on the glass, then kissed his lovely bride. I proclaimed to the 150 guests: “Ladies and gentlemen, your bride and groom: Mo and Jason!”
I took a deep breath. Whew! I did it!
Three months ago, when Jason Forman and his fiancee, Mohana Amirtharajah, asked me to marry them, I was blown away. Me? The quiet guy who’s uncomfortable in a crowd of more than one? I was 65 percent honored, 35 percent stunned. Or was it vice versa? Speaking to a crowd? Eloquently? At a wedding? On the biggest day of Jason and Mo’s lives? Anxiety set in immediately.
The easy part was getting certified. Sort of. All I had to do was go to San Francisco City Hall and fill out a form. And pay $125 (thanks, Jason). No instruction. No Internet ordination with the Universal Life Church (as most people assume). I was sworn in as a deputy marriage commissioner for just the one day, Sept. 22, 2012, and for the one wedding only.
A clerk entered my data, including “Altmanohr” from my driver’s license. Then I practiced for the big day by filling in a faux marriage certificate. I wrote “Altman-Ohr” and signed my name with the correct hyphen. Holy moly! You’d have thought I’d committed a misdemeanor. I was duly warned: If I hyphenated my name on the actual document, the whole thing would be invalid. No Wite-Out, no erasing. (No marriage?) Ah, bureaucracy.
Also, because this was a city/county thing, I wasn’t allowed to use any religious wording during the ceremony. No God, no Torah, no Hindu references that Mo’s relatives might have wanted. Instead of saying we had gathered to join the couple together in “holy” matrimony, I said “solemn” matrimony.
As the big day approached, I got more nervous. Sounds easy enough: Introduce a few guest readings and cultural rituals, do a couple of “repeat after me” segments. Say “Mohana” in a Sri Lankan dialect. Gulp.
Also, I had to write and deliver a “sermon.” I procrastinated. Finally I began to write. And rewrite. And flip things around. I whispered it to myself, dropped attempts at humor that sounded ridiculous out loud. I shared it with no one, not even my wife.
The morning of the wedding, I trimmed a few lines, made a few final tweaks. Two hours before the ceremony at the San Francisco Design Center, I was calmer than I thought I would be.
Then it was happening. The string quartet. The processional. The bride and groom on stage in front of me. I started my welcome speech. Something didn’t seem right. What? What?! Oy my God, er, goodness: I never told the guests, who had risen for the bride, to “please be seated.” “My bad,” I said. Laughter.
I spoke nonstop for 10 minutes, a personal record. I said how my cousin, just like me, found his besheret after many in our family had given up hope. I talked about small things my wife and I do to nurture our love. I read a transcript of a conversation I had with Jason and Mo (with me playing both parts) about their adoringly different recollections of their first date. I compared marriage to a hike my wife and I took around a lake (the metaphor: looks oval and easy on a trail map, but lots of unforeseen twists and turns).
As a friend of the groom read a poem, I mopped my sweaty brow. My anxiety waned as the ceremony progressed. For my final words, I talked about sustaining affection and unforeseen trails, building to a climax. “And now,” I bellowed, “by the power vested in me … by Grandma Shirl …” I gave a shout-out to our 98-year-old grandmother in Cleveland who couldn’t make the trip.
Then I did the official “authority vested in me” part. Glass stomp. Kiss. Shouts of “Mazel tov!” from the groom’s side.
I rocked it. I really rocked it.
Afterward, I got more congratulations than I had ever gotten for anything in my life. People, especially my wife, were touched by how I talked openly about our love. People I’d never met told me it was a perfect mix of warmth and humor. I did it! I couldn’t believe it. I was so relieved. And happy.
Andy Altman-Ohr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to see a copy of the ceremony.