When you're planning a big, fancy, blowout church wedding and reception, there are myriad details requiring the happy couple's attention, from choosing bridesmaids' gowns to selecting musicians to strategizing over seating charts as you accommodate exes and long-festering family feuds that people really should have gotten over decades ago.
It's so easy, in fact, to get wrapped up in all the little details like making sure Uncle Jack gets diabetic-safe cake or that the Patagonian posies for the bridal bouquet are delivered by refrigerated truck at a crisp 45 degrees, that it's easy to miss some whopping big details. Like the fact that the reverend who is marrying you plans to use the occasion of your happy union to deliver a rambling sermon against the theory of evolution, culminating in the statement, "Life's a bitch, and then you die."
This literally happened at my first wedding.
We were lucky that none of the grandmothers in attendance went into cardiac arrest — mainly because another detail we had neglected was making defibrillators handy.
My first wife and I are not religious people. But our parents are, so we decided to make them happy by being married by a preacher. Plus, we had fallen in love with the quaint, white, wooden 1880s Bon Air Christian Church as a perfect backdrop for our wedding photos. We chose her parents' preacher to preside over the wedding. In the pre-marriage counseling sessions, he seemed very understanding about the fact that neither of us was religious or considered ourselves Christians.
In hindsight, we probably should have asked what he intended to say at the service, but we were 23 and, frankly, stupid. We assumed it would be like the quickie, do-you-take-this-man weddings we saw on television, with long, sappy romantic gazes (but minus any long-lost evil twins showing up with last-minute objections).
Cut to 12 years later: Divorced for five years, I had two young sons from my first marriage. My fiancée, Miriam, and I had been dating for about three years when we decided it was time for us to take the plunge.
We briefly considered having a large wedding. We thought about the logistics of bringing her family from the Shenandoah Valley to Richmond for the wedding. We thought about holding a big reception.
And then we decided to get married by a justice of the peace — no muss, no fuss.
I called around and found B. Meredith Winn Jr., a "Layman Celebrator of Marriage" who performs nondenominational civil ceremonies in a room reminiscent of a Colonial Williamsburg tavern in his lovely, antiques-filled home in Henrico County. My older son, Daniel, then 7 years old, served as my best man and ring bearer. He brought along his little, yellow, stuffed dragon, Max, for support. Daniel was the only family member in attendance.
My new wife looked beautiful, if a little punky, sporting chin-length eggplant-colored hair, a nose ring, a designer T-shirt and a frilly purple peasant-skirt. The best part for me? I was able to rock it without a tie, Obama-on-the-campaign-trail-style.
It was relaxed. It was intimate. It was memorable and romantic.
Thirty minutes later, we were on our way home, married.
My memories from my first wedding ceremony are a nervous blur, with flashes of me standing uncomfortably in front of hundreds of people, several of whom I didn't even know.
I remember my second ceremony in detail. I remember staring into my wife's beautiful blue eyes between strands of her eggplant hair and seeing tears form. I remember looking over at my son, smiling down at him and squeezing his shoulder.
I was able to take time to smell the roses in the bouquet.